So often games get hyped up by the media as the clash of the century and they turn out to be about as exciting as watching Dulux do its job. Not the Wales v England game though. My goodness it had everything. As tight, confrontational and intense 80 minutes as you will ever get in a rugby match in an absolute bear pit of a stadium.
Do I think Wales lost it rather than England won it? In tight games there are moments that can turn a match and there were a few big talking points in this one. However, what makes me think England won it was the mental side of their game. England have become a tough, tough side to beat and kept their composure even though they were on the wrong side of the scoreboard in the final minutes. The All Blacks rarely ever lose because they always believe they will win. That is where England are getting to now and it really pays dividends in close games. In the 2003 World Cup final there was absolutely no panic when we went into extra time as the team was so confident of its ability to see the game out and win it.
There has been a lot of criticism of Jonathan Davies’ clearance kick which did not go off the field and landed instead into the arms of George Ford. Ford, a smart and talented fly-half, had alongside him the indomitable Owen Farrell who fizzed a peach of a pass to Elliott Daly to get the winning score. So yes perhaps Jonathan Davies’ kick should have found touch but England also still had to finish off that try and they executed it brilliantly with composure and skill.
Players that stood out for me included the Wales 8 Ross Moriaty who I thought was phenomenal. His tackling, work rate and sheer physicality kept Wales on the front foot for the whole time he was on the field. When he was subbed after only about 50 minutes I felt Wales became just a little bit disjointed and England with their subs actually looked stronger. For me Ross was one of two players in that game who I would have in my Lions squad as nailed on starters. The other being Owen Farrell who was outstanding yet again,
For England Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes were monstrously good. Lawes in particular has really developed and does so much more now than flying up and scything down fly-halfs. His tackling and carrying were first class and with Joe they made up for the lack of the ball carrying Billy Vunipola.
How good also was Elliott Daly! Not just his fabulous try but the way he raced back after the Dan Biggar intercept was outstanding. He then did not panic and calmly fell on the ball to prevent Biggar from hacking it and neutered the danger with a kick into touch. His mix of dazzling pace with footballing skills and rugby nous makes him such a dangerous player.
Not talked about much was our scrum which as you would expect I enjoyed watching. Dan Cole did a very good job indeed as well as Marler and by shifting boy wonder Maro Itoje back to lock for the scrums we looked more solid than last week. So in all the England set piece was good which gave us structure and confidence and with big Mako Vunipola due to return soon we can be even stronger.
Where Wales undoubtedly had the upper hand was the back row which was sheer class combining physicality, work rate and intelligence. Sam Warburton seems back to his best and was tireless in hunting down white shirts. I understand why the Wales coaching team bought on Faletau – who would not want their best players on the pitch. Big but however as he has not played since Christmas and brining off their best player Moriarty I felt back fired.
The France v Scotland humdinger was a cracking game. France look like they are returning to the France of old which is always good to see. They won the game with their dominance up front but also looked to attack more and had a delightful off loading game. Scotland continue to impress however and although out muscled still could have won the game.
Poor old Italy felt the complete wrath of the Irish backlash out in Rome and as good as Ireland were the Italians were equally woeful. I am not sure how much longer they can keep their place in the Six Nations. We either look at bringing up Georgia or revert back to 5 Nations for now. Italy may well start to improve under new coach Connor O’Shea but I can see that improvement take a couple of years to show itself.
So there you have it – yet another wonderful Six Nations weekend which Italy apart is turning out to be one of the most ferocious and highly competitive yet. Everyone has lost apart from England and won’t Scotland and Ireland be eyeing up hungrily the opportunity to inflict that first defeat. I have a sneaky feeling though that the sweet chariot is going to roll on for a bit longer.