Sunday, February 12, 2006

6 Nations Roundup 2

A slightly topsy-turvy round of matches this weekend. To begin with the best game of them all, Ireland against France. France were quite simply magnificent in the first half, looking every inch potential world champions. They had warned of a backlash after last week, and here it was. 50 minutes of marvellous attacking rugby. And Ireland were poor, missing opportunities, making basic handling errors, and generally looking very second-rate. And then, for the last half hour, they play inspired attacking rugby against a French team that were, metaphorically, taking an early shower. Verdict: if France want to win the World Cup, they have to stop taking off the pressure when games are half won, and Ireland just have to start games better - taking an hour to get in the game isn't really on.

Italy continued to show how much they've improved, with a spirited performance in defeat against England, who looked pretty flat and one-dimensional. The danger of having what is universally acknowledged to be an overwhelmingly powerful pack is that it starts to dominate your attacking play to the detriment of all other aspects of play. Watching England's pack batter fruitlessly at the Italian line in the first half was to be reminded of the Sprinboks of 2001 - strong, powerful, heavy and dull. In the end, however, class told and the eventual victory was more comfortable than the score suggested.

And finally Scotland v Wales. In truth, you're always going to struggle when you're reduced to 14 and Scotland were no different. However, watching the Welsh pack - so comprehensively humiliated at Twickenham - drive the Scots to their knees and to a penalty try lent weight to the adage that its the battle of the forwards that determines the victory and the battle of the backs that determines the margin. Bright point for Scotland: the lack of moral collapse that allowed them to steal two tries in the final two minutes. The new coaching system seems to have accentuated the positives, and the Scots seem to have reacted well to it.

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