Four Plus Two Nations

If this Six Nations has yet to produce any truly classic matches, it has at least risen above the torpor of the last couple of seasons – the three middle game weeks were appalling last season, for example.  The weather has been largely favourable and the standard of play has been decent, for the most part.  It has also provided us with a uniquely intriguing endgame, where four teams share the lead with two wins from the opening three games.  Talk about up for grabs; any of England, France, Wales and Ireland can win it – with all this competition it’s almost like the .. err .. Five Nations used to be.  The championship will almost certainly come down to two matches: England vs. Wales this weekend and France vs. Ireland, the last game in the tournament.  The match in Twickenham will rule out one of England and Wales, but provided Ireland and France can overcome the might of Italy and Scotland this weekend, they’ll join them on three wins and any of three teams will go into the final weekend as potential champions.

It’s hard to call.  England are probably marginal favourites.  They look the best team of the series and they have home advantage in their crucial game against Wales.  Wales themselves are the outsiders; they have yet to spark and look jaded, their points difference isn’t looking great and beating England in Twickenham looks tricky for them – despite them being the BEST TEAM EVER ©BBC.  Ireland have looked good (admittedly at a very narrow subset of competencies i.e. technical forward play), and their points difference is very healthy, but they have to win in Paris, which almost never happens (once in our lifetime).

But here’s the bizarre bit; totally misfiring, abject, awful, bickering France are in a pretty good position.  They have two games left against teams they habitually beat.  This weekend they travel to Murayfield.  Scotland may have won against Italy, but against the better sides they have been inept, accruing six points in aggregate against Ireland and England.  Even in third gear, presumably fighting with one another and relying on Picamoles to bail them out, France should win at a canter.  Then they play Ireland in Paris.  The last two matches between the sides have been drawn, but playing Ireland has a habit of bringing the best out in them.  Can even this rubbish French team find a faster tempo and run Ireland ragged as so many previous vintages have done?  Doubtful, but you never know – Ireland have a habit of standing off the handsome Mediterraneans like a bunch of hewn demi-Gods and letting them do whatever they want – and France like nothing better, apart from maybe a spooked New Zealander in a crucial World Cup game.

Aside: we really need to get out of that habit – when the RWC15 draw was made we said we had three years to learn how to beat France – we’ve made a good start, time to follow through.

For the sake of the championship one hopes France do not win.  Unless France find some inspiration from somewhere, they would be a most unworthy winner.  Indeed, it looks like their win over England could be the defining result of the championship, and with the benefit of hindsight, we can now see it bordered on the freakish.  England must be kicking themselves, especially after watching the tape of a mediocre Welsh side dispatch Les Bleus with ease.  Against England, France raced into a somewhat fortuitous early lead as England looked jittery and tentative – Jack Nowell in particular, but the bounces of the oval ball were pretty favourable to the home side.  However, England dominated the remainder of the match and were easily the superior side, fighting back to deservedly take the lead.  They had the game won, until an ill-advised switch at 9 (by England, the French switch was 100% advisable) and an extraordinary, totally unexpected and really quite brilliant try from Gael Fickou stole it at the death.  It was a try that never looked like coming, but it has given France something to play for, and has stopped England from racing away from the chasing pack.

What about Scotland and Italy? Last season looked like they might have taken a tentative step away from being perennial basement dwellers, but an ageing pack and still-too-young backs isn’t a good combination for Italy and useless coaching and mystifying selections isn’t working for Scotland. Transition, then, for both, a familiar state.

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35 Comments

  1. Picamoles won’t be digging the French out against Scotland, he’s dropped (for giving gyp to Alain Rolland). Of course that means he’ll probably return against us with a point to prove.

  2. andrewdcs

     /  March 5, 2014

    I still wake up screaming at Heaslip to stop Clerc…. that was 8 years ago….. 8 YEARS AND NO RESPITE.

    • Some mental scaars never heal. I still get a little sad when I think of Clerc’s try under the posts at Croker.

    • andrewdcs

       /  March 5, 2014

      Wow, thats some Freudian slip, not Heaslip, but Hayes!!! And I think Neil Best and Denis Hickie we’re also wrong footed….. Heaslip tore France to bits a few seasons later…. ah 2009. My whole life ahead of me. 🙂

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 5, 2014

        I think its ok to pin it on Heaslip at this stage(I mean, what hasn’t he done wrong?), after he strangled those puppies and robbed those job-bridge payslips(hence his “hilarious” moniker) his credibility has been muck with Irish fans. I too scream Heaslip whenever my car breaks down, the dinner gets burnt, Ireland lose(at anything), as he is inevitably involved somehow, such is his nefarious nature.

        • osheaf01

           /  March 5, 2014

          You’re making sense, for once…

      • Yep, ’twas Hayes alright. A midfield mismatch unfortunately. This was the peak of the Eddie regime and Heaslip was very much up-and-coming but something of a persona non-grata with Steady Eddie, who really didn’t take at all to his outgoing personality traits.

  3. SportingBench

     /  March 5, 2014

    I think there is a danger that Ireland could underestimate Italy. They have been improving in recent years but the assumption is that after losing to Scotland they are done for the season. I’m not so sure. I hope that the arrogance that has infected Irish rugby at times in the near past and the excitement about a possible championship mean the basics aren’t executed and Italy don’t get dispatched efficiently.
    Also, while my cup is half full, France look like they will have both Picamole and Para back and fired up just in time for the Ireland game. Which is nice fior them.

    • Len

       /  March 5, 2014

      One up side there is Parra’s only had one game since coming back from injury. Hopefully PSA will stick with the glacial pased Doussain for the game against us. At least we won’t have to face a centre partnership of Fickou and Fofana, that would be scary.

      I totally agree re Italy, however I’m sure Joe and the team are fully focused on Italy. I think it’s just the rest of us letting our minds wander further a field.

  4. contraflow

     /  March 5, 2014

    Let’s not hold France in too much esteem, as we usually do. We are usually beaten before we even take the field, especially in Paris.

    Please resist following the various Irish “taking heads”, e.g. Gerry Thornley, George Hook, Neil Francis, etc. as they drop to their knees and prostrate themselves before the awesome Gallic rugby super gods begging that they take pity on the little pixie headed Gaels.

    It’s embarrassing seeing Irish journalists and pundits engaging in an unseemly race to be the first one on their knees to fellate the French rugby super gods… these genetically superior rugby space men.. much like the genetically superior BNZers…. who to borrow from Niel Francis “would beat us at Gaelic Football if they played that too”.

    • Bueller

       /  March 5, 2014

      Franno may have a point there though in fairness.

      • osheaf01

         /  March 5, 2014

        Except the BNZers would probably lose to the Finns in the final…

    • hulkinator

       /  March 5, 2014

      +1 on that Contraflow! No wonder Irelands players always seem to do bizarre things against France to cost them matches. We’re not supposed to be beating them! Same with NZ. Even with the match won Ireland threw it away because thats the natural order of things.

      The same journalists spend many months criticising France but then talk them up like they’re the greatest sports team of all time.

      • Indeed, fellows. We’ve made numberous references to this in recent weeks. More than ever, this is the year to end the hoodoo, because this French team is rubbish. I can’t see Schmidt being too willing to go on bended knee before the Galois-smokers, so hopefully he can instil the belief in the players that this really is a game they should be winning.

        • osheaf01

           /  March 5, 2014

          For the first time in my lifetime, this is a game in Paris that we ought to be winning, should expect to win and ought to be very disappointed if we don’t. Even given a truly horrendous 2 wins in 60 years there.
          Whereas, despite our great recent record at Twickenham, that game was always a tight 50/50 call.
          We’ve slain the Scottish hoodoo; we’ve won 3/8 6 Nations fixtures at Twickenham; we haven’t had problems winning at Cardiff since 1985.
          Only the Parisian bogeyman remains to be slain…

  5. Leinsterlion

     /  March 5, 2014

    We have no reason to fear any of our final two opponents, at all, Italy are a slightly better version of Scotland(though they inexplicably lost to them, killing my accumulator), solid unspectacular(Roman god Parisse aside) team. France are a mess, they have given zero indication we have anything to fear beyond miracle plays from one of their back three or Fofana. We should beat them, it will be entirely Irish mental weakness if we dont.
    As an aside, for the sake of rugby, never mind winning the championship, we need to beat France, they are a horrendously coached side. Bluffer extraordinaire Phillipe St.Andre is utterly killing French rugby, never have I seen a French team as badly coached as this, bad selections no tactics outside of, “give it to Picamoles”, I hope we hammer them on the final day and he gets the sack, justice will be restored to the rugby universe.

    • @Completebore

       /  March 5, 2014

      Surely we need to hope the French blazers (which are incredibly stylish) don’t fire this muppet before the World Cup?

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 5, 2014

        My loathing or PSA and his “brand” of rugby has coloured the bigger picture, Its literally a struggle to sit through a France match, surely thats not good for the global game, never mid the 6 nations(which has been largely substandard, and in Frances case abject)?

        • @Completebore

           /  March 5, 2014

          Well, yeah, if you want to be open-minded and think of the good of the game as whole, then that makes sense.
          I was approaching it from a purely parochial, one-eyed perspective.

          • Agree with this about PSA, it’s fucking infuriating. I mean, god, I’m not hoping they start playing to their potential and hammering teams, but no rugby fan can watch this rudderless rabble and not marvel at how that guy is still in a job.

            He finished last with France in the 6N and kept his job, that’s like you or I walking into work and having a slash on the boss’s desk.

    • osheaf01

       /  March 5, 2014

      Completely disagree as a partisan Ireland fan who wants us to do well at the next World Cup. We desperately need PSA to coach France through to the World Cup. Like David Moyes at Manchester United, he’s doing a marvellous job for all their rivals!
      I agree that it’s the equivalent of Helenio Herrera coaching the Brazil 1970 team, in style terms.

      • Leinsterlion

         /  March 5, 2014

        We shouldnt have to rely on other teams being shit for us to progress, or things like having Joubert disgracefully ref the other team off the park in that farce of WC final. Excell at your own game, dont worry about the opposition. Also its horrendous for the the growth of the game when you are subjected to awful displays of rugby, passion and intensity cut it for most fans of the teams involved, but skill and attacking verve from teams should be encouraged over the reductive PSA/Kidneyball “style” of play. If the current tactics we are using give us success, would you be happy to sit through two more years of that shite under Schmidt because “it gives us the best chance of success”? I wouldnt.
        We also need ALL the European game to get stronger, SH hegemony is also bad for the game, EU teams getting roundly spanked is directly related to the guff we produce under the guise of “international rugby”, marketed as “intense”, passionate” etc.

  6. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  March 5, 2014

    On a relatively slow news day, if one may be permitted to digress a little (ok a lot!) here, did anybody else think that G Thornley’s powder puff interview with the Great One last Saturday was approaching a new low? I know we should be inured to it by now but heaven help us it was cringe-worthy…
    For those who missed it, following excerpt from the beginning of the piece gives a flavour:

    So I pull up to BOD’s gaff. Park in the usual spot. BOD comes to door himself & lets me in. Just finished changing a nappy no less!! I ponder for a moment on the journey he has travelled. That we have travelled together. I give him a knowing smirk. He can read my mind at this stage. He doesn’t respond. The mind games begin. He is in a good place right now, this once callow bespectacled boy that I have watched become a man. He makes me a coffee – he is undoubtedly the greatest barista of his generation and the greatest this country has ever produced. I sip the coffee. ‘Fantastic coffee BOD’ I say. He stares at me, a menacing look creeping across his wonderful, battle-scarred, warrior face.
    ‘Knock it off Gerry. I don’t need you to tell me how good my coffee is, ok. I’m the one who buys it. I know how good it is. When Amy goes shopping she buys sh*t. I buy the gourmet expensive stuff because when I drink it I want to taste it’.
    There is a pause. He stares at me. I stare at him. A further pause. The tension builds.
    Then I say (in a high pitched American accent) ‘God Damn Brian, this is some serious gourmet sh*t. Me & Vince we would have been happy with some tasteless freeze dry sh*t. But you spring this gourmet sh*t on us’.
    Silence. He breaks into a smile. And then he laughs. I can tell what he’s thinking – ‘You still got it GT. All my career I’ve been trying to get one past you. But you just keep on batting them straight back again. I’m really going to miss this when it is all over’.
    I just smile back. Enjoying the moment. The mutual admiration & respect that we have built up over the years together. Since long before Amy came along. He really is in a very good place right now.
    “Can we begin BOD?”
    “Not until you say ‘please’ Gerry”
    “Sorry Brian?”
    “No, not ‘sorry’ Gerry, ‘please’”
    “Oh, em, Ok, can we begin Brian, please?”
    “Yes”
    “OK”
    “Ok what Gerry”
    “Eh, em, Ok….. Thank-you… Brian?”
    “Begin”

  7. kevin

     /  March 5, 2014

    I wouldn’t be too confident of a championship lads. Italy are nothing special but lest we forget they pissed on us last year when we’d a much better team on paper, and we needed a last second ROG drop goal 2 years before that. Against England we showed how limited we are once our pack is matched, but we should still win. But what really worries me is France. We love nothing better than handing them the game, as WC 03, 06, 10, 11, 12, 13 all demonstrated. Half the time its over at ht and the other half we blow a nice lead. Its a cliche but if we kick to France like weve done to 0.25p and Brown then we could be shredded! On the plus side, Geordan Murphy cant hurt us anymore!

    • osheaf01

       /  March 5, 2014

      On the other hand, if a Deccie Coached Ireland could draw with them twice, a Schmidt coached Ireland should have no problems at all?

      • kevin

         /  March 5, 2014

        Thats one positive way of looking at it! We should be able to beat them on heart, fitness and organisation/coaching alone but our execution (im looking at you Jonny and xton) leaves alot to be desired sometimes, against France in particular for some reason. You’d have to assume there’s a big fear factor of them within the Irish camp ( 9 of our starting 15 will never have beaten them going into the match) but hopefully this can be leveraged like the NZ game. Also, you’d have to imagine this is Ross, Darcy and BODs last chance for glory in green, which is as powerful a motivator as there is..

    • kevin

       /  March 5, 2014

      *0.5p , Leigh Quarter penny doesn’t exist! Also, one of my points was that our team were much better than italy on paper, not better than the team we currently have.

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