Well that didn’t go to plan.
Joe put the Irish performance best:
‘We arrived at the stadium 10 or 15 minutes late. We were late for most things in the first half’
It’s hard to point at any one failure that cost Ireland the match, mostly because there were so many of them. Overrunning plays, poor breakdown work, squiffy lineout, the only real advantage we had was the scrum and we didn’t really make the most of that.
To be honest, the two Hogg tries I can forgive because the man is just ridiculously good (and ruined my hopes for Liam Williams outscoring him this weekend for fantasy rugby). However, the Alex Dunbar try was a shambles in my eyes. The fact that the Irish pack weren’t paying enough attention to notice a back sneaking into their domain is sacrilege. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t notice it either, but these lads should have twigged something funky was going to happen.
Fair play to Scotland though, their lineout was varied all day and to call that sort of play against a team you haven’t beaten in a good few years takes guts.
Overall though, Ireland gave a much better showing of themselves in the second half, and nearly completed a comeback, but Scotland managed to squeak through with a couple of penalties. All told, it was a pretty great starting point for the Six Nations, with plenty of back and forth between the two sides. While it’s been nice to enjoy a one-sided rivalry with the Scots over the last few years, a more competitive edge to this head-to-head is definitely welcome.
If you’re gonna do it, do it with Flair
After the 5-try slugfest that Ireland and Scotland treated us to, and considering England’s 2016 form, you’d have been forgiving for expecting more of the same in Le Crunch.
While there weren’t any tries in the first half, the French gave me plenty to be hopeful/fearful for when they come to Dublin. Whisper it, but French flair may be seeping back into their rugby. There were at least four or five occasions where France had England on the ropes, and only fell short because of poor execution or great England scrambling. Even though the score was 9-9 at the break, it was fascinating to watch.
Also, this happened:
Welcome back Dylan, glad to see you’ve got that match fitness back.
France managed to pull away slightly with a lovely fatman try, but England unleashed Ben Te’o and James Haskell from the bench and nearly immediately scored and took the win by 3.
Overall, you’d have to say France brought much more endeavour but weren’t clinical enough, whereas England were very scrappy but were able to take their one gilt-edge chance efficiently using the bench.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Eddie decides to rejig the backs to include Big Ben from the start or if he’ll persist with his dual playmakers in George Ford and Owen Farrell. As for Haskell, I reckon he’s a cert to start this weekend against Wales.
When in Rome…
Finally, Italy and Wales faced off in a sadly half full (although that could have been down to the horrendous weather) Stadio Olympico.
Italy started the brighter of the two teams, and even showed a bit of verve by scoring the only try of the first half and taking a 7-3 lead into the break. It was some try as well, beautifully setting up a midfield maul on the Welsh 5m line and then driving over, but there were enough signs in terms of dropped balls and poor decision making to point to Wales working their way back into the game.
Sure enough, Sam Davies replaced Dan Biggar at half time and was an absolute revelation. I haven’t seen too much of him in the Pro12/Challenge Cup, but dude was managing to tie the Italian defence up in knots. He had a direct hand in Wales’ first and last tries, the latter of which was George North getting close to peak George North and going a good 60 metres to score. All we needed for peak North was him to empty someone along the way or carry them for a few metres as well.
Wales couldn’t secure the bonus point, but they certainly went hell for leather for it, nearly getting it at the death.
On We Go
Despite the disappointing result for Ireland (and the Falcons, sigh), I think there’s a lot to look forward to in this Six Nations. France are threatening to be resurgent (watch them throw up some utter dross against Scotland this weekend to prove me wrong), the Scots are showing signs that they might have developed the mental toughness to go with their physical toughness.
And on top of that, you’d have to hope that Ireland will show up to Rome (preferably on time) and vent all their frustration on the poor Italians to the point where we’re questioning whether we need promotion/relegation again.
England and Wales both have work to improve on, but since it’s in Cardiff it’s bound to be a cracker.
I’ll be back on Friday to talk about more fantasy rugby picks, see ye then!