The Grand Slam, The Birdie Putt and the Wooden Spoon

The Grand Slam

‘Tis a biggie alright.  Wales are the Six Nations’ all-or-nothing men.  World Cup disaster in 2007?  Wales, I’ll stick you down for a large helping.  Blazing a trail in 2008 with an outstanding slam?  Yes, indeedy.  How about mid-table mediocrity for the next three years, Wazza?  Ah sure, go on. Following their World Cup success with a Grand Slam would count as an all too rare bit of consistency, and there’s a feeling that this Welsh side is built for a less fleeting spell of greatness.

They certainly have a robustness that 2008’s high-class but flaky geniuses didn’t.  If they don’t quite have the silken touch of the likes of Williamses Martyn and Shane or James Hook and Gavin Henson in form they have never looked remotely like repeating, they certainly have power.  They haven’t looked as good as they did in the opening week in Dublin over the last couple of games, but they should have enough bosh to get the job done.  Oooooooooooooooohhh Wales – who’d have thunk it?

France can be all or nothing themselves, but usually all within the one match.  PSA has had a miserable tournament, winning few friends with his Anglo-centric rugby philosophy and fewer still with some poor results.  His team look jaded and uninspired, but the squad has been given a shake-up.  It’s highly unlikely they’ll win, but a bit of fresh enthusiasm – hopefully from the likes of Ouedraogo and the exciting teenage Clermont full-back Jean Marcel Buttin – might just rouse them from their slumbers.

Verdict: Wales to secure the slam.

The Birdie Putt

Two teams looking to finish ahead of par with a win.  Both teams started terribly, but have improved as the show has gone on.  The winner will finish second in the log, and can feel pretty good about the tournament, but for the loser it’s a fair-to-middling season if you’re England and a middling-to-poor one if you’re Ireland.

Hopes are for a decent game between the two sides finishing well.  England’s gameplan isn’t that different to the side which flunked out of the World Cup.  Their carriers still run hard and straight, and Owen’s primary ploy looks to be the inside pass.  It’s readable enough stuff, but they have a handful of threats: Ben Morgan (a player we’ve liked for some time) is a fine carrier, Manu Tuilagi will fancy a cut at Ireland’s midfield and Tom Croft, while he isn’t the best 6 in the world by a long shot, can do damage in wide channels.  Not all that surprisingly, England have found their confident voice again – it doesn’t take much for these guys to believe their own hype.

If Ireland can hit the rucks and use a similar defensive line to that which we saw in Paris, they should have the class in the backline to win.  Expect to see Stephen Ferris smash anything that moves in the middle of the field, while Heaslip and O’Brien will be employed closer to the ruck.  And forget the overrated Rhys Priestland: Sexton v Farrell is the shootout for 10 of the series.

Vedict: Ireland to finsh first in the match and second in the tournie.

The Wooden Spoon

Lordy, this could make for grim viewing.

Verdict: Scotland to squeeze out a win.  Expect a cagey don’t-lose-it-whatever-you-do approach from both sides.

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