Welsh fans, of which there are a few that read this blog, will (I imagine) watch this weekend’s final round of Six Nations matches with a strange, unrecognisable feeling. It’s been a few years since Wales were not in contention for the Six Nations title (2010 to be precise) and so the build-up to the game against the lowly Scots would have been muted to say the least. That’s not to say that Warren Gatland’s men don’t deserve to be in this underwhelming position because, of course, the table doesn’t lie. Whether or not (as has been suggested) Wales are now at a crossroads in their time under Gatland is a discussion for another blog post on another day. One thing is for sure though – Sam Warburton’s side have simply not be good enough in this year’s away games. They’ve been inaccurate, error-strewn and clumsy. As such, they’re not one of the three sides that have a chance of clinching the title this weekend.
Of the trio that are in contention, France have been the worse by far. In Red Rugby’s first post of this Six Nations Championship, we mocked the idea that this French side could continue the astonishing run of Gallic triumphs in the year after a British and Irish Lions tour…such was the poor standard of play in Philippe Saint-Andre’s tenure. But here they are! It’s the final weekend and France could still win it! It’s a long shot but they still could! Well frankly I hope they don’t. They simply don’t deserve it. They were fortunate against the English and Scottish, comfortable enough against the Italians and humiliated against the Welsh. They are not ‘champion material’.
Ireland and England have been the stand-out teams of this year’s campaign and you couldn’t complain if either side won it. England were only 30 seconds and a Gael Fickou try away from transforming this weekend’s game against Italy into a Grand Slam clincher. As it is, they head to Rome hoping that the result in Paris goes their way. In our build up to Round Three, we (perhaps foolishly) stated that, should England beat Ireland, they would be in pole position to take the title on points difference. The problem for English fans is that the Irish have been flawless at home this year and following a demolition job against the Azzuri, Joe Schmidt’s lot find themselves with a 49 point head start (should the title go down to points). Realistically then, Stuart Lancaster and his charges must be praying for a French win at the Stade de France. But will that happen?
Red Rugby thinks not. Ireland have been imperious so far this tournament and came close to grabbing the win in their only other away outing (at Twickenham). With one more game to go, the trophy within their sights and Brian O’Driscoll’s perfect swansong so tantalisingly close, the Irish will surely do what England failed to do on the opening weekend…beat the French. Here’s hoping that the perfect St. Patrick’s weekend described in our Round Two post will come true. Line the black stuff up now!
So for the last time this year, here’s those (frequently unreliable) Six Nations predictions:
Saturday 15 Mar – Italy v England (12.30pm) – England to win by 15 points
Saturday 15 Mar – Wales v Scotland (2.45pm) – Wales to win by 15 points
Saturday 15 Mar – France v Ireland (5.00pm) – Ireland to win by 5 points
We’re backing Wales to bounce-back from the disappointment at HQ to comfortably beat a Scottish side still in development. A foolish bet? Well, we’ll see come Saturday evening. But the last time Gatland put the frighteners among his squad they responded with the best performance of the year…the mid-championship game against France.
Before that, England will keep up their end of the bargain by comfortably beating the Italians, but by nowhere near the fifty or sixty points they will need to make the last game of the championship that little more interesting.
And so it will come down to Paris. If France win, the English will take the crown. If they lose, then Brian O’Driscoll will lift the trophy into the Saint Denis air to bring the curtain down on one of the most glorious rugby careers of the professional game. We hope he’s been practicing that moment.
Good luck Ireland. Good luck England. France – don’t you even dare.