Six Nations Round 2: A pivotal weekend

Six Nations Round 2: A pivotal weekend

Evening all. Don’t you love it when you discover a really good new jam? Having reached the conclusion that I wasn’t quite middle class enough, I decided to buy some outrageously expensive home-made fig jam the other day whilst browsing a farm shop. Unbelievable. The pandemic has been getting me down a bit recently, but this jam has offered a beacon of hope and optimism. So thank you jam-maker, whoever you are.

This weekend sees the return of the Six Nations for the second round of matches. It was a dramatic opening round. Scotland claimed their first win on English soil since 1983 with a hard-fought victory at Twickenham – ruining my weekend in the process – while Ireland’s chances of beating Wales pretty much went out the window when flanker Peter O’Mahony received a red card in the 14th minute. Elsewhere, France predictably ran riot in Rome, scoring 50 points against the hapless – and hopeless – Italians.

Let’s have a look at what the tournament has in store for us in Round 2.

England – Italy

While Scotland were brilliant at Twickenham last weekend, they were also given a helping hand by their opponents. England were dreadful. Some of the Saracens players, most notably Billy Vunipola, Jamie George and Owen Farrell, looked well off the pace having not played competitively since early December following Saracens’ relegation to the RFU Championship. They were slow to the breakdown, laboured in defense and displayed poor decision-making.

Not surprisingly Eddie Jones has rung the changes, five in all. After an impressive cameo off the bench, Luke Cowan-Dickie replaces George in an all-new front row while Courtney Lawes, George Ford and Mako Vunipola also come in. Despite being an England fan, this is the least-interesting of the weekend’s fixtures for me. England will win the match, and even if they do so by 60 points, it doesn’t really tell us anything, such are the weaknesses of the opposition. Italy will come, try hard and put their bodies on the line, but they only ever really make up the numbers. Sadly their presence in the tournament does nothing but bring down the overall level of quality and intrigue.

Scotland – Wales

This is a fascinating tie. The Scots will be riding high on confidence after their fantastic victory over England last week. Captain Stuart Hogg led the team from the front (despite, confusingly, playing at full-back), making more metres in attack than anyone else at Twickenham. Despite missing a few shots at goal, Finn Russell was at his mercurial best at 10, kicking excellently in open-play and dictating the pace of the game. If Gregor Townsend’s men can back up that performance with another victory at Murrayfield, they will have a real chance of claiming their maiden Six Nations crown.

Standing in their way will be Wales. After O’Mahony’s early sending off, Wayne Pivac’s side were always likely to beat Ireland in their opening match – it would have been a disaster if they hadn’t. But the workman-like manner of their slender 21-16 victory won’t have done much to quieten the doubters. Following a disappointing tournament last year, in which they finished fifth and won just one match, Wales will arrive in Scotland as the clear underdog for the first time in at least a decade. Their team, for all its talent, will need to be at its best to maintain its winning start.

Ireland v France

The big winners from the opening round of matches were France. Not because of their seven-try win over Italy – that was neither surprising nor educational – but because England’s defeat clears their path to the title. With the likes of Antoine Dupont, Teddy Thomas, Gael Fickou and skipper Charles Ollivon, France have a supremely gifted team and must now be heavy favourites to claim their first championship since 2010. If they can beat Ireland on Sunday – all things being equal, they should – they will be in pole position.

The Irish will not make it easy for them, however. Andy Farrell’s team looked good in the early stages in Cardiff before the red card unhinged their efforts. They have a proud record in Dublin and will be eager to bounce back from their disappointment. Veteran fly-half Jonny Sexton’s absence through a head injury hands big responsibility on the inexperienced shoulders of Ulster standoff Billy Burns, and his performance could be the key.

So there you have it. By Monday we should have a much clearer idea of who will be the tournament’s leading contenders this year. For what its worth. I’ve now changed my mind from my pre-tournament predications (yes, I’m allowed to do that, it’s my site) and am plumping for the French to win the Grand Slam. We shall see.

Have a good weekend all. The newsletter will be coming tomorrow morning as usual and I’ll be back here with more here Monday. ‘Till then.

—How do you expect the Six Nations fixtures to play out this weekend? Let me know in the comments section below!—