Five things we learned from this week’s Six Nations

Another week, another set of bogus predictions from the Whiff of Cordite boys.  I only hope all our loyal readers have been going to the bookies to lay exactly what we’ve been forecasting.  Wales to cut loose, Ireland to win a tight game and France to beat England.  Erm…

Ireland’s attack: now with 40% more penetration

Before the tournament, the one thing we asked – begged! – for was to see Ireland’s attack improve.  Credit to Deccie and Kiss; they have delivered.  Ireland look a threat with ball in hand now, and the flat, lateral play that characterised Ireland over the last couple of seasons has been largely dispatched – 13 tries in four games, and no fewer than two in any match, tells its own story.  It said a lot that even after a nervy, ponderous start, Ireland were willing to go to the corner with an early penalty, and take the game to the Scots.  It’s been a collective effort, but two players who deserve particular credit are Rob Kearney and Keith Earls.  Kearney’s counter-attacking has been a joy to watch, and Keith Earls has shown himself to be up to the job at 13.

Wales slam-in-waiting has echoes of Ireland in 2009

Wales have effectively won the Championship, barring a ridiculous set of results next week.  Their journey to the Grand Slam has been reminiscent of Ireland in 2009 – opening with an impressive flourish in the first match, before regressing a little with every game.  Ireland relied on an accurate kicking game, while Wales have fallen back on their power.  It’s almost as if they’ve bought into the press’ fawning over the size of their backline. No side that wins a Six Nations deserves to be sniffily treated, and less so one that wins a Grand Slam, as Wales surely will.  They are the best selected, best coached, and it would appear, fittest, team in the competition, but this is not a vintage championship.  Ireland, and indeed England, will not see them as especially superior, and are entitled to have some regrets.

Just how awesome is Richie Gray?

Very is the answer. Watching Scotland on Saturday was a little bit like watching Italy in recent times, when one player is just so much better than all his team-mates. Gray was physically and metaphorically head and shoulders above anyone else in a navy shirt, and indeed many in green. His try was a thing of beauty – Bob Kearney is getting some stick for buying Gray’s dummy, but Gray combined the dummy with a subtle change of angle and pace, and it was that, as much as anything, which did for Kearney. At times you felt he should step in at 10 to give Wee Greig a break – he most probably has the skills for it.

Gallic shrugs for all

It’s pretty clear France aren’t very engaged in this tournament. We thought they would stroll it, so mea culpas all round, but they just don’t seem too bothered. When they look like they might be embarrassing themselves, they step it up for a while (last quarter vs. Scotland, third quarter vs. Ireland, last 10 minutes vs. England), but generally aren’t too concerned. Why might this be? Well, PSA was roundly congratulated for his continuity, contrasting with Lievremont’s selections, but that has a flip side. Firstly, they were all physically and emotionally drained after the RWC. Secondly, the team’s key players are from Toulouse, Clermont and Biarritz – three teams with key months ahead, for differing reasons.

The rumour mill is already rife that Yachvili (and the FFR) would prefer to be with Biarritz to save them from relegation rather than devote time to Les Bleus. At the other end, Clermont are aiming for a unique double – and expect to see the Aurelien Rougerie we are used to and not the ponderous and disinterested passenger of the 6N when Les Jaunards pitch up in Lahndan in April. It’s not that the national jersey means nothing, it’s that these men can only give so much; and being a Basque, Catalan or Auvergnat is equally as important as being French.

And by the by, for a nation which professes to be in love with the drop goal, they’ve been utterly useless at them in this competition.

Lancaster’s investment in youth has paid off

England might have looked desperate at times, but they have done what they have needed to do, and, but for Mike Brown’s inability to fix a man, would be playing for the Championship this weekend. Lancaster tore up the tired old script and gave youth its head, and he has been rewarded. England are improving with every game, and it’s down to Owen Farrell (20), Manu Tuilagi (20), Ben Morgan (23), Alex Corbisiero (23), Chris Robshaw (23) and Brad Barritt (25). The youngsters are beginning to look comfortable in their surroundings, and England look in decent shape all of a sudden.

The test will of course come in adversity. Johnno tore up a pretty successful playbook after getting hockeyed by Ireland last year, and the result was a farcical RWC. England have their nemesis of recent times, a rejuvenated Ireland, up next, then a three test tour of South Africa at the end of a draining season. If their performances hold up, they don’t ship any heavy beatings, and they get two wins (or one if it comes in SA) from those four, England will have come through a very tough time to get to a pretty good place.

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