It’s been a strange start to this year’s Six Nations. Maybe it’s the World Cup hangover, or the adverse weather conditions? Whatever the root of it, it very much feels like it’s been a tournament that’s still in first gear; yet to get off the ground; somewhat weary and flat.
Hopefully this weekend’s fixtures will change that. The weather is calmer, to an extent, and will certainly allow a more attractive, running rugby to be played. A style of rugby that we’ve all grown accustomed to over the years as skillsets have increased, and more emphasis has been placed in the running game. On top of that, this weekend sees the four best teams of the Six Nations pair up against each other, so should also invite the high standard, high intensity matches that this tournament has so far lacked.
This is what we have in store for this weekend’s fixtures.
Farrell on Farrell: I know this gets talked about a lot… they know this gets talked about a lot. But, like it or not, there’s something fascinating about a father and son coming up against each other in a sporting context. It adds drama, heart and sentiment. England will prove a different test for Ireland, after coming up against gutsy, wasteful Scotland before facing a pretty meagre Wales. England themselves have not played to their best yet, so they too will be up for it in their first home game of the Six Nations.
Return of Tuilagi: Another reason this England camp will be buoyed is the return of Manu Tuilagi. England play best when he’s in the side, and he was sorely missed last week in their unconvincing victory over Scotland. The return of Tuilagi combined with the return to Twickenham will make England very hard to beat. Win this, and they will be right back in contention for the Six Nations. However, Ireland know if they can come out with a win then only France stand between them and lifting this year’s trophy.
War of words between Wales and France: Nothing like a good verbal battle off the pitch to pre-empt a physical one on it. That has been the case this week, with tensions flaring before Wales host France at the Principality this Saturday. Wales prop Wyn Jones accused the French of cheating in the scrum, whilst France coach Raphaël Ibañez responded by questioning the rigour of Wales’ concussion tests which cleared fly-half Dan Biggar to play. Like England, Wales will know they must win to keep their hopes alive, whilst France know a win would take them to within touching distance of a first Six Nations since 2010.
Old heads v. young guns: For me, France have been the stand-out team of the Six Nations so far. Their performance against England was scintillating, and with a reasonably young team and new captain. Meanwhile, Wayne Pivac has just named the most capped team in Six Nations history to try and ensure his team get over the line in Cardiff. Wales’ 859 caps welcome France’s 234, inviting a contrast of styles that will be a great watch.
All in all, it’s set to be a classic.
By Will Sewell.