Six Nations: Match Previews Week 2

So we did well last week – predicting wins for Ireland and the Jocks and a cakewalk for France. Oops – 0/3 against the spread. Egg even got the Superbowl wrong, backing New England. Boooo. Still, luck has got to even out, so we can’t be that wrong again!

Italy v England

So, England are back! Stuart Lancaster’s Revolution began with a resounding victory over Scotland. According to the English press anyway – Stephen Jones had Phil Dowson down as “wonderfully effective”, Owen Farrell’s debut was lauded by all and Moritz Botha will be a mainstay of the team for years to come. In reality, England were dire – of the debutants only Ooooooooooooohh Brad Barritt (and Ben Morgan off the bench) impressed; the halves were anonymous, and only Scottish butchering saved them from a hammering.

Italy, on the other hand, lost but played quite well. The pack looked ordinary beforehand, but made the French 8 work and broke even in the tight. They even tried to play a bit of rugby in the backs. It all seems set for a monumental ambush in the Olimpico, but we have our doubts. The Azzurri have never beaten England, and generally get wiped out, although the last 2 games in Italy have been lost by 4 points and 5.  Their first up tackling continues to be a weakness.

Ironically, Italian teams of recent vintage which concentrated on 8-man rugby may have had a chance here – the English pack is horribly lightweight and looks ripe for a complete mauling. As it stands, Italy’s desire to play it more open might count against them – England’s strongest players are in the backline. Having said that, it can’t be that hard to close down England’s attack – Scotland managed it with ease and the boshing centres don’t get ball to the dangerous backs quickly.

If this comes down to place-kicking, its a definite advantage for England – Farrell is not a man who misses.

Verdict: Until Italy prove they have the mental, its England for us.The spread is 8 points, which seems generous given this is the worst England pack either of us can remember. We won’t be shocked if Italy do it, but look to Italy-Ireland last year for a template for this game – Italian missed chances and away win.

France v Ireland

On paper it’s nigh on impossible to see where Ireland can win this game.  Lethargic and borderline passive against Wales, a largely identical 15 now soldiers on to Paris, where they simply don’t win, even on their good days.  France, as is customary, have a made a few changes to their team, but only one looks to weaken their side.  Harinordoquy and Maestri offer lineout options, while Poux is a technical scrummager par excellence (see what we did there, Gerry?).  The only peculiar one is the starting of Szarzewski over the dogged Servat.  Sure, the great Toulouse hooker can’t go on forever, but while Szarsewski looks like a Roman God, he doesn’t really play like one.  The backline is unchanged, and looks set to purr; there are some big chaps in there too.

These games in Paris usually go one way: Ireland often make a reasonably good start, often creating, but failing to score a chance in the first few minutes before France up the tempo, and clinically rack up the points.  A final twist is usually provided with France falling asleep at the wheel late on (a few terrible substitutions can go some way to helping here) and letting Ireland back into the game.  Ireland’s only chance of winning is to get the first try and put doubt into the minds of the Frenchmen.  They would also do well not to fawn over the beautiful blue jersey’s and Szarzewski’s immaculate hair – they must be utterly belligerent, feral at the breakdown, maniacal in defence and uninhibited with ball in hand.  So, no chance then!

A curious side note is that our favourite double team Blind Dave and Wayne are back in action this weekend.  While this has been generally lamented, it might just work in Ireland’s favour.  Blind Dave might just have it in the back of his mind to be nice to the lads this week to even things up for his abdication of responsibility on Sunday.  [We’re clinging on to a life raft here folks, we’re utterly desperate!]

Verdict: If the pattern of Ireland delivering good performances only when painted into a corner is to be continued, then expect Ireland to leave absolutely nothing on the freezing-cold Stade de France surface.  Another sterile defeat, and Ireland’s campaign will be moving in worrying parallel with the 2008 Championship.  Either way, France to win.

Wales v Scotland

Wales were probably the most impressive of all the sides last weekend, but it’s pretty easy to look great when you have free ball and the opposition let your huge and talented backs run at them. Ireland’s “gameplan” backfired and play straight into Welsh hands. Yet they nearly lost.

Scotland rucked the English back-row into oblivion, tore plenty of holes in the defensive line and had all the try chances. And lost miserably. How Nick De Luca manages to maintain a spot in the team with his hands is beyond us.

The Welsh won’t find it as easy this week – the Scottish back row are manic and won’t allow the freedom of the park to Wales like Ireland did. The Welsh will welcome back Dan Lydiate for some ball carrying threat from blindside, and the Scots ditched Dan Parks after Robbo belatedly accepted his post-RWC retirement. Ironically, Parks ability to kick behind the skillful but not-that-mobile Welsh 3/4 line might have come in useful – but they’re better off without.

As it stands, Greig Laidlaw will attack the gainline with aplomb in a way not seen since his anaemic attack coach retired from playing, and if – big if – they can cut out the handling errors, we might see Scotland actually score some points. Maybe even a try!  They seem to do better on their travels than in the pressurised cauldron of Murrayfield.  Wales will look to get their backs on the ball at speed, and if they do, it’s difficult to see any problems for them. If Phillips, North and Davies are prominent again, you can bet Wales have done enough.

Verdict: Scotland are limpetty and difficult to play against, and we’re going against the usual writing off. We think they will get it together some day and explode in semi-glorious fashion. Not today though – Wales to eke it out, but it will be clsoer than the 12 point spread.

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2 Comments

  1. I've decided to keep faith with your predictions this week. I trusted you last week and lost a few quid to a Patrick Power! To be fair, you were pretty spot on with the RWC so you're still in the black when it comes to my account balance. Keep up the good work!

  2. Oh God! Now we feel really responsible! Just promise you won't hold us to account when you're hanging out on street corners asking passers-by for change…

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