Round 1 of the 6 Nations witnessed a miraculous comeback, a stunning upset, and 19 tries scored. A thrilling way to start Europe’s greatest rugby tournament, but here we look at what Round 2 may have in store.
Scotland V Ireland (Saturday, 14.15, Murrayfield)
Everyone seems to be writing Scotland off, but this is far from a foregone conclusion.
For a few years, the Rugby World has been aware of Scotland’s resurgence as a serious rugby nation. With the unbelievable flair of Finn Russell, and the quality runners such as Stuart Hogg and Huw Jones they have a backline that can cut anyone open. The only lacking factor to become genuine title contenders, is the platform for these backs. The question is whether Scotland can get an ascendancy up front. With the likes of John Barclay and Hamish Watson injured, Scotland won’t have the breakdown as a weapon in the same way as last year, but they do have an Edinburgh Front 5 that has shunted top forward packs around in European club competition. Unfortunately the home side, WP Nel is a major blow as a force in the scrum.
However, it will be no easy task for Scotland to out-power an Ireland pack wounded after getting out-muscled by England. They face their injuries, but are still able to put out a back row of Peter O’Mahony, the mobile Jack Conan, and the behemoth that is Sean O Brien. In my opinion, any accusations of a one dimensional game plan are fickle. Schmidt has shown with Leinster and Ireland that he can win games with a variety of tactics, and if the forwards get their predicted ascendancy, Sexton has the options to cause damage.
The bookies have Ireland by 6, but I’m going for the bold call of a Scotland win. It may open me up for later ridicule, but nobody wants these previews to be boring! Scotland’s forwards have improved over the last couple of years, and in the backline battle, I think Scotland have more variety and creativity to score points.
Italy v Wales (Saturday, 16.45, Stadio Olimpico)
It’s a much changed Wales side from round 1, as Gatland looks at options ahead of the World Cup. The cliché is that a World Cup isn’t won by 15 players, but 30. It will be interesting to see how these prospects fair. In Aaron Wainwright and Thomas Young, they have two back rows who fit the Wales mould; destructive ball carriers who are effective at the breakdown. Owen Watkin has looked promising in his limited opportunities for Wales, and it will be good for him to get more game time.
With Gatland ringing the changes, is there a possibility that Italy are being underestimated? The bookies certainly don’t think so, predicting Wales to win by 18. For 70 minutes against Scotland, Italy’s ball retention was abysmal. The scrum was getting crushed and the lineout wasn’t functioning. The recycling of the ball was slow, and didn’t cause the Scottish defence any problems. When Italy scored 3 tries in the last 10 minutes, they showed what they can do with go-forward possession. Dropping impact sub Jimmy Tuivaiti seems a strange call, as his beast mode runs were consistently making ground during this time. It should be remembered, Scotland were sloppy in that last 10 minutes knowing the game was won, and if it’s tight, the Welsh defence won’t be as simple to unlock. It’s difficult to see anything other than Wales adding to Italy’s 18 match losing streak.
England v France (Sunday, 15.00, Twickenham)
Consistency. It’s what both teams need to prove they have going into ‘Le Crunch’. England will be determined to show the home fans the conquering of the tournament favorites was not a one-off, and that they really are World Cup contenders. France showed just how talented and exciting they are in the first half against Wales, but need to be able to play that way for 80 minutes to be serious players in international rugby.
England fired on all cylinders against Ireland. They had a strong set piece, ultimate physicality, and true variation and precision in their attack. A repeat of this at Twickenham will surely secure victory. But this should not be taken for granted. The psychological conditions were all in place against Ireland; they had been written off and had to watch Ireland lift the Grand Slam at Twickenham just a year ago. Obviously the team is full of determined professionals, but can you subconsciously be as motivated against a France team at home that you’re expected to beat? Chris Ashton is a welcomed addition to the starting XV, as his intelligent support lines offer a totally different threat. But whilst Ben Moon and Dan Cole have steady form at prop, whether they are ‘finishers’ with the same impact as Ellis Genge and Harry Williams respectively remains to be seen.
A big factor for France’s lack of composure in recent years is inconsistency in selection. Brunel had the opportunity to keep faith in a side that showed world class potential in their first half against Wales, but has instead opted to make eight changes. Starting Bamba and Lambey is fantastic for the future, but chopping half the starting 15 is hardly going to help the team feel secure. A potential weapon for France is testing Elliot Daly under the high ball. Daly showed off his attacking skills against Ireland, but rarely had a genuine contest under the high ball. One of the few contests he did have, he dropped the ball. In Lopez and Parra, France can produce a kicking game to challenge Daly. The bookies have England by 13, and whilst I back England go keep grand slam hopes alive, I expect the margin to be slightly smaller.
Written by Connor Dickins