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GATTS GRAND SLAM HEROES AND FORTRESS TWICKENHAM INVADED

Warren Gatland and his magnificent men in red had a weekend of epic proportions. Grand Slams are rare old beasts for a reason given how dam tough they are but all along Gatland predicted that if Wales beat France away in the opening game they would go on and bag yet another title. Gatts has now got to be up there as one of the most revered and respected coaches in the world. Having worked with him at Wasps I know what the man offers, and it is a lot. He is a smart tactician and brilliant man manager and Wales have truly benefitted from having him at the helm. It has been quite a ride he has taken Wales on and with the World Cup on the horizon it is Gatland, rather than Eddie Jones, who has steadily built, plotted and planned and got his side in the perfect place to make an assault on the Rugby World Cup.

 

As Saturday unfolded at Twickenham the English nation went into deep shock. We couldn’t possibly lose this. Could we? We certainly could. The Scots came thundering back in a second half that was right up there as one of the best sporting comebacks in history.

 

There have been reams of anguished prose churned out and in-depth analysis on radio and podcasts picking apart what went wrong but it was probably just a tiny shift in momentum at the end of the first half that ended up causing the ensuing carnage. That charge down try jump started the Scotland team and then allowed the momentum to propel them into a magnificent come back, Disaster for England as their game totally crumbled and Scotland grew and grew in self-belief to oh so nearly snatch an incredible, historic win.

 

Are England mentally weak is the question so many are asking. That is a strong statement and harsh on a group of players who have shown passion, desire and strength of character. Leadership is still lacking with just not quite enough gnarly older heads who have seen it all before. Farrell is improving as a captain, but it is a heavy burden to be fly half and captain and there is a reason why it is rare to combine the two. Perhaps Maro Itoje or Jamie George should have been looked at and groomed for the role as both have captained at club level and Maro at England U20’s.

 

 It was a little too easy for England in the first half when they played with almost outrageous confidence off loading the ball and slicing open Scotland at will. But the game was also played at searing pace. This meant when England went onto the back foot, they could not find the emotional and physical energy they needed to fight the resurgent Scots. When you throw away a big lead it mentally and physically drains you. For Scotland however that feeling of closing the gap on your opposition must have been revitalising and energy giving.

 

England were superb in that first 30 minutes and over the whole Six Nations had just two poor halves.  I would not be writing the obituaries yet for this England side who have also demonstrated they can score tries and plenty of them. Long criticised for an inability to get over the whitewash it now looks like what is needed is some rebalancing between attack and defence and then just maybe England will go into the World Cup in good shape.

 

 

Mixed feelings I am sure for Ireland with self doubt now swirling around the team. In some ways they may have peaked too early but they also will surely reset, refocus and under the inimitable Joe Schmidt turn back into that ruthless green machine that dominated last year. What was looking originally like an easy pool in the World Cup and a guaranteed quarter final slot will now look a shade harder with Scotland quite rightly believing they have every chance of elbowing Ireland out of that top spot.

 

I really felt for Italy this Championship as they were so close to gaining some victories yet ended with the wooden spoon yet again. It was cruel timing for coach Connor O Shea as the last couple of months have seen players skittled by injuries leaving an already small squad patchy and threadbare in places. Promising signes there were aplenty with the Italian attack looking sharper and more skilful and some new young talent beginning to shine.

 

As for our enigmatic friends the French we are no better informed about where they are in this crucial year. Shambolic on and off the pitch they may be but oh boy do they have talent. As admirable a thing it is to keep appointing French coaches surely by now the FFR see the need to bring in some fresh thinking and experience from other parts of the world.

 

The Six Nations 2019 table only tells half the story and if at times the rugby was not of the highest standard the drama never flagged. It is now back this weekend to Premiership rugby which will have virtually every side jostling for league position. Returning internationals will no doubt be straight back into club colours to help gain crucial points with many then running out in European quarter finals the week after. The Six Nations may be over but the drama is not.

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