What a Six Nations campaign this has been! It has been a while since I have been genuinely ‘edge of the seat’ excited about watching Northern Hemisphere rugby, but the events of the last 12-18 months have genuinely sparked my enthusiasm for the game in this neck of the woods once more.
Naturally the degrees of separation between the nations is still there, but it is far less apparent and the quality of the rugby being produced as such is just wonderful to watch. You could argue all day that England are the talking point of the game at present, but you know what? I have been far more intrigued by the increase in intensity that Scotland, Ireland and Wales have bought to the table.
Scotland were unlucky last weekend, if they had turned out to play the England side who had rocked up to the three previous games they had, you would have given them the nod to run a close 80 minutes, but the England side that did turn up on that day were just out of this world. I genuinely believe on that day, had you put the AB’s in front of Eddies boys, they would have run amok against them as well. Jonathon Joseph was in phenomenal form last week; the vision and pace he used to carve open the Scottish defence was sublime and I would imagine that in those moments of genius he has probably allayed any fears that Eddie Jones had about his capacity to play at the highest level. Again though it is not one man that makes a team and quite literally the performance from 1 to 15 was truly excellent, Farrel, Nowell, Brown Itoje, Youngs… You know what I’m not going to list the first XV, it’s too difficult to say anyone had a bad time out there.
Down to the business of this week and the all-important table defining games. Obviously England have got it in the bag and Italy are going home with the wooden spoon, but you have four team separated by one point who are all going to be vying for the highest possible finish, and of course, unfortunately for England, the team closest to them is Ireland. An Irish team coming off the back of St Patricks Day, playing in their own back yard and wanting to make good on a loss to the Welsh a week before? Give me a break! If England are to stand any chance of making a world record for unbeaten games and securing back to back grand slams, then they are going to have to bring their A game and a bit more to fend off what will be a ferocious attack from the Emerald Isle. No matter how many English fans turn out at the Aviva Stadium, I would imagine that the vociferous Irish will pummel any calls of “Sweet Chariot” into the ground and ensure that it sounds as though 52,000 are backing the home side. Would I want to be on that field? Yes! What an opportunity to make a couple of bits of history for this England side, but I bet you that this will be the sternest test they will have face since embarking on their current streak. It is going to be a hell of a show.
There is one thing playing into the hands of the English this weekend, and that is the loss of Conor Murray and Rob Kearney for the Irish, but let’s be honest, Payne and Marmion aren’t exactly the ‘B team’ are they?
Looking at the rest of the fixtures for the weekend, I will be astounded if Scotland put a foot wrong in what should be an easy win for them at Murrayfield. Italy have showed a certain amount of vim and vigour throughout this campaign, but they are still nowhere near the required standard to be entertaining the big boys of the North. I was hopeful for them at the start of the competition as they have been playing better rugby, but they seem to have taken a backward step, and although there has been a lot said about their play and how they have dragged the game down, the truth is, they are playing to the rules and technically outsmarted one of the finest tacticians in the game. Conor O’Shea has got some work on his hands before the Six Nations isn’t just a 5+1 invited competition.
So the damp squib to one side, that leaves us with the other crunch match, France are one point clear of Wales in the tables and this where the whole competition can get turned clean on its head. Scotland lying in 5th place at present have a very real opportunity of leap-frogging Wales, France and Ireland to finish in 2nd Place and wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books? But let’s look at the facts. England Vs Ireland is anyone’s call, but a loss for the Irish seems them tumbling down the tables. I think based on current performance, Wales can probably take the French to task, but will it be a bonus point win? Doubtful. Then all that leaves the Scots to do, is provide Italy with the drubbing of a lifetime, grab all five points and leave the 6N feeling very content indeed!
I tell you, Saturday is no go zone for anything other than rugby. This is going to be an explosive finish to a hard-fought competition and I cannot wait to see the state of the table at 8pm. I’ll be backing the boys from the Aviva, so I am hoping for a positive day, but we will see…
SWING LOW, SWEET CHARIOT, COMIN’ FOR TO CARRY ME HOME!