So the opening weekend of the Six Nations 2014 has come and gone. Red Rugby correctly predicted two of the three results (what a return!) but our scores were well out. No surprise there then. On the field, however, the matches of round one were anything but ordinary: a rusty looking Wales had to draw on their big game experience to see off a dogged and defensively improved Italian side. While you never got the feeling that the Welsh were going to lose, the surprisingly close scoreline will have provided a much needed reality-check for Warren Gatland’s men. France snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as the (provocatively named) Gaël Fickou dived over the whitewash to break English hearts. Stuart Lancaster’s side had showed a huge amount of character and determination to overturn an early deficit but in the end, just as it was in Cardiff last March, the England boys had to suffer another brutal lesson away from home.
And then there was Ireland. The Irish rightly top the table after week one thanks to their impressively efficient second-half display against Scotland. The Scots (who were competitive early on) were ultimately undone by their lack of attacking threat. That’s not a weakness you could level at Ireland though, as was seen by tries from Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and man-of-the-match Jamie Heaslip. In that second 40, they continued the sort of form that saw them get so close to the Kiwis last autumn.
Now, any good Irishman, lover of Ireland or general booze-hound will be able to tell you that St. Patrick’s Day falls on March 17th. This year, ‘St. Paddy’s’ comes just two days after what could be a title-winning weekend for the Irish. They close the tournament away to France and, following the opening weekend’s performances, you wouldn’t be able to rule out a rare win in Paris for Joe Schmidt’s charges. With a strong win already in the bag, attentions are understandably turning to a possible Grand Slam shaded in green. Could they do it? It would certainly be one of those fairytale endings that occasionally occur in sport. Picture the scene: BOD lifts the Six Nations trophy on Saturday 15th to spark wild celebrations which last well into Monday’s annual festivities and eventually stop once the black stuff runs dry.
A tantalising thought it may be but the truth is that Ireland’s toughest games are still to come, no more so than the top-of-the-table clash against Wales this weekend. As mentioned last week, the Irish faithful are desperate for revenge following Warren Gatland’s perceived snub of O’Driscoll last summer on Lions duty. While Red Rugby does not expect this to be at the forefront of the players’ thinking, the Irish side will be desperate to get one over a team that has enjoyed considerable success over the last few years, often at their expense (as seen at the 2011 Rugby World Cup). With confidence high in the Ireland camp, and the Welsh stuttering to an opening win, the time would seem right to record a win. Will they do it? Let’s take a look at the round two predictions:
Saturday 8 Feb – Ireland v Wales (2.30pm) – Wales to win by 3 points
Saturday 8 Feb – Scotland v England (5.00pm) – England to win by 10 points
Sunday 9 Feb – France v Italy (3.00pm) – France to win by 15 points
I’m guessing our Irish readers may be apoplectic at this point. Saturday’s ‘grudge match’ will undoubtedly be close but the Welsh will sneak it. Why? Well, the breakdown is key and the reintroduction of Sam Warburton into the side will boost Welsh chances in this area. But do not underestimate Gethin Jenkins’ influence here too as he is more than capable of a few ‘jackals’. Secondly, and with rain forecast, kicking will be crucial. In this department, Wales are blessed with the consistency of Leigh Halfpenny’s boot whereas Jonathan Sexton has looked shaky on the international stage since THAT missed kick last November. All this said, Wales will have to improve considerably from last weekend’s showing against Italy…but perhaps a wake-up call was just what the doctor ordered?
Elsewhere, expect a talented young England side to be too good for a dogged yet toothless Scottish outfit. France will achieve what Wales didn’t and beat Italy by a healthy margin due to their high tempo of play.
But don’t worry Irish, Scottish and Italian readers – as proved last week, these predictions are as unreliable as as a French form guide. Whatever happens, let’s enjoy the craic of what should be a cracking Dublin encounter.