If we did not know it already it was confirmed this last weekend that the Six Nations tournament is truly epic. The toughness of away fixtures, the passion, the rivalry and the upsets! Wouldn’t sport be boring if the results always went the way you thought they would? What we have now instead of England being in box seat for a Grand Slam it has switched to Wales. Wales, however have a couple of nasty fixtures lined up that could flip that on its head with a trip up to Murrayfield and a final home fixture against an Ireland side still in the hunt for the Championship title.
The Principality stadium was always going to be a challenge for England but one, most felt, England were up to. Wales though were quite magnificent on the day and their coach Warren Gatland got his tactics spot on. As I know only too well Gatts is a very smart coach indeed and it looks like on the day he had the better game plan.
Up to a point it was a game that was perfectly balanced in the sense you knew it could tip in either side’s favour with a bounce of a ball, a penalty and one missed tackle. For England we are all left wondering if they lost their composure and let the red-hot atmosphere wriggle its way into their heads. The normally ice cool Farrell seemed flustered and made very uncharacteristic errors - you could argue in the same way the world player of the year Johnny Sexton did against England.
My take on this is that one loss in the Six Nations is not too damaging and it was by no means a beating England took in Cardiff. In fact, for large parts England were excellent with some terrific performances from both backs and forwards. Eddie’s men to date have been the only team that has looked good in all three games and I see no reason why they cannot go on to win their remaining fixtures. As for Wales they stuck to their task and gradually wore down England with a brick wall defence and a very smart set of tactics. Wales are a very good team indeed with British & Irish Lions throughout and now with plenty of depth too. I suspect they are in for a very good World Cup run and have every chance of reaching the semi final.
Before the start of the Six Nations tournament I felt it was possible that Ireland, England and Wales could all lose one game bringing us to a magnificent chase as we saw a few years ago to snatch as many points as possible. That could still happen but Wales quite rightly have put themselves in the perfect position to go into the World Cup as Grand Slam winners.
It is slightly puzzling to watch Ireland now. The high-flying team who nabbed the number 2 spot in the world rankings look like they have landed to earth with a nasty bump. Against Italy you felt this was when we would get to see the real Ireland. The precise skills, the physicality the intelligent rugby. Out in Rome however it did not go to plan and they look like a team with all the confidence knocked out of them. To be fair they were missing some key names off the team sheet and some of those guys would have made a big difference in this match. You have to also question the half back fitness with Connor Murray looking out of sorts still with that neck injury and Johnny possible nursing one too many knocks taken from being hunted down by opposing back rowers.
Italy were also missing key players, but their mindset looked different with their body language showing confidence and energy. Their audacious attacking skills allowed them to put Ireland under immense pressure. Rome has never been somewhere other Six Nations teams could travel to thinking simply running out on the pitch was enough to batter Italy by 30 points. It is always tough away - even in Rome and Connor O Shea you can see has started to improve this Italian side. The most impressive improvements are in their handling skills which have traditionally been a weak spot. They still desperately need a high percentage goal kicker and to beef up their pack, but they were certainly good enough on Sunday to make Ireland struggle throughout.
All the teams get another layoff until the final two games which will contain intrigue a plenty and the excitement of having no clue where the trophy is heading until that final weekend.