It has been a long two weeks but the 6 Nations is back and by late afternoon Sunday the picture in the 6 Nations Championship race will be a lot clearer. Injury ravaged Scotland make the trip to Paris for a crucial game against a France side licking its wounds with Jacques Brunel facing mounting pressure, the loser likely to finish above only serial wooden spoon winners Italy. On Sunday Ireland travel to Rome to take on the Italians, another chance for the Irish to build confidence after the deflating defeat to a ferocious England which concluded the opening weekend, does Conor O’Shea have anything up his sleeve to disrupt his native land? Intriguing as always with plenty of sub plots.
Despite this there is no masking the fact that the most eagerly anticipated clash of the weekend is the battle between the last two Grand Slam contenders, which will take place on Saturday as Cardiff and the Principality Stadium make their first appearance of the 2019 championship. There is usually an extra buzz when England are in town, nowhere more so than in the Welsh capital in a match of huge consequence.
BACK ON THEIR PERCH
Spirits are high in the English camp, the swagger appears to be back. It is still early days but a win on Saturday would make a second grand slam under the guidance of Eddie Jones seem like a done deal, Scotland and Italy at Twickenham offering what must be considered the ideal run in. Speaking of Eddie, he has that twinkle in his eye again, making those gnawing comments which are impossible to ignore by the opposition and also those which generate that ‘us against the world’ attitude that English rugby seems to thrive on.
Every championship offers a pivotal match or moment that the fans remember it by, the win against the Irish may have been just that for England, it may though occur this weekend at the Principality stadium. If England maintain the standard they have set so far they will be mighty hard to stop. That they are back on their perch as favourites again, which they were not against Ireland, will have an effect on the mentality and the approach. Eddie and his players will expect the thunderous atmosphere and the Welsh to come out all guns blazing, the reaction will be very insightful, the storm will need weathered but is there a better man for such a job right now than Owen Farrell? Win the match and win the Grand Slam, those involved won’t be naive enough to utter it publicly but that those in white will think. What can Wales do to stop them?
FINDING A WAY
What to make of Wales so far? Two wins from two but it’s the performances which have made them difficult to really judge conclusively. The result in Paris should not be underestimated, a raucous Stade de France on opening night, no matter the state of the French game, can never be labelled an easy opener, France were in generous mood therefore no great credit was given to the Welsh. The victory against Italy was unspectacular but it gave the opportunity to rest some key players and get others some game time.
It is hard to escape the notion that Warren Gatland might just have something up his sleeve for this match almost like he has been planning it this way all along. Pre tournament focus was mostly on Ireland, with England seen as their only viable challenge by many, just how Warren would have liked it. There is a sense that Wales have forgotten how to lose, it’s a year on Sunday since they last endured its sour taste, momentum is tough to halt and despite not seeming totally fluent or playing the most eye-catching rugby the Welsh are finding a way. Only whisper it but win this weekend and we might just start to believe that the Kiwi could sign off from the Six Nations with Wales, as he began his tenure in 2008, with a Grand Slam. That glorious campaign involved a memorable victory over the old enemy in Cardiff, a 2019 repeat may prove even more difficult, but they have two huge weapons in the shape of Warren Gatland and a rugby thirsty Cardiff crowd who would love nothing more than to derail the English grand slam bid while giving their own a massive boost.
Saturday cannot come soon enough.
Written by S Hamilton
Image Credit: Getty Images Europe