On Monday of this week, Red Rugby received this text from a friend of the blog:
“For my rugby two pence worth I reckon England’s weak link has been their wings: too lightweight and have been left wanting. For the Wales game I think we should learn from the Welsh (i.e. Mr North) and put our own wrecking ball out on the wing – Tuilagi. Saves breaking up a successful centre partnership thus far too. Thoughts? P.S. You can have that for your blog for free”
Why thank you Mr Random Texter! Not that we asked for your opinion but it’s very much welcomed!
And that’s the thing about England v Wales: at this time of year the comments, banter and opinion come thick and fast ahead of what has been (and should be again this weekend) a close showdown at Twickers. But this blogger has noticed a trend this year in the pearls of wisdom offered free of charge by English fans: they seem to all be of the opinion that England are going to lose and/or something has to be changed to combat the Welsh threat. Now whether this is down to the nightmare (or dream if you’re Welsh) result in Cardiff last year or, alternatively, Wales’ spirited demolition of the French two weeks ago is unclear. But of the comments we’ve heard thus far, English fans are running scared.
But hang on…did these fans witness the (quite literal) mauling that Wales received at the hands of the Irish in Round Two? A hammering by the same Ireland side that England so maturely dispatched at HQ a fortnight ago? Warren Gatland’s side may be back in the title hunt following an impressive result against France at the Millennium but the nature of the loss in Dublin will still rankle with many a Welsh supporter who could argue that the transformation from zeroes to heroes is still only part complete. It’s probably not unfair to say that Welsh fans wouldn’t be surprised if another heavy loss greets Wales’ second foray from home this season.
And so we are left with two sets of fans who expect their side to lose; or rather two sides who wouldn’t put money on their team winning. And so the old adage of ‘its too close to call’ will permeate all the way up to Sunday’s kick-off. So which team has the better reasons to be cheerful? Well, the Welsh squad received a huge boost this week with the return of Alun-Wyn Jones and Jonathan Davies (two players of world-class quality). If Davies goes straight back into the starting line-up, then our texting friend may be correct – Tuilagi on the wing (probably in place of Nowell) may be a bold move. For England, the return of Manu (and the impressive Marlon Yarde) will also be welcomed. The loss of Billy Vunipola, although disappointing given his contribution thus far, will be offset by the rampaging Ben Morgan’s presence. And let’s not forget that England are at home. If the crowd are as vocal as they were for the Ireland game then Wales may find it difficult to notch up another away win against their greatest rivals (as has been the recent trend).
But enough of the to-ing and fro-ing, here are the Red Rugby predictions for Round Four of the Six Nations:
Saturday 8 Mar – Ireland v Italy (2.30pm) – Ireland to win by 21 points
Saturday 8 Mar – Scotland v France (5.00pm) – France to win by 5 points
Sunday 9 Mar – England v Wales (3.00pm) – England to win by 2 points
Ireland have won both of their home games so far by more than twenty points. Expect that to be exactly the same against an Italian side rocked by the late defeat against Scotland. The Scots themselves will be experiencing a feeling quite alien to them (i.e. confidence) ahead of their game against the French, but a win may be a step to far for Scott Johnson’s side at this stage. The French simply have the better players.
And so we come to the result at Twickenham, which Red Rugby expects to follow much the same pattern as that against Ireland. It will once again be close and both sides will lead at some point of the match. But, as mentioned in a post from last year, these two sides are on a similar path of development in the lead up to Rugby World Cup 2015 and both are likely to notch up a few victories against the other on the way. On Sunday, expect England to have their turn.
Of course this blog has been wrong before (quite frequently in fact) and Wales may yet sneak a win. But can they match their achievements of last year and win the tournament following a loss to Ireland. Well, if they are to topple current leaders, they won’t do it on point difference as has been suggested (they’re simply too far away from Joe Schmidt’s men). If they are to be crowned champions once more they will need to beat England and hope that the French do a job on the Irish on the final day. If this happens, Wales will probably have the points in the bag to stand above France in the table. But as ‘ifs’ go, that’s a pretty big set of three right there.
Just like the match on Sunday, it will be close for Warren Gatland’s men…but for this year at least, it will be no cigar.