10 February 2012

Six Nations 2012 - Round 1

This year's Six Nations competition is under way, and the first weekend has given us something to reflect on in the wake of the recent World Cup.

The France v Italy game reached its expected conclusion with France winning comfortably (although by fewer than the 20 points the bookies had suggested...).  The game began well for Italy, and France did not exactly shine even though they edged ahead.  Italy, a much-improved side in comparison with years gone by, may well have been looking to repeat their defeat of France in last year's competition.  To do that, they needed to show up with more stamina.  I give them credit for their determination but they ran out of steam in the second half, allowing France to pile on the points. 

France are, of course, the most frustratingly inconsistent side on the planet.  Their World Cup progress was awful, including defeat in the group stages.  Somehow they muddled through to the final and gave the All Blacks a shock by turning up to play.  Maybe they were holding back against Italy.  Maybe they were just being France.

The Calcutta Cup match presented Scotland with as good an opportunity as they have ever had of beating England.  England's performances have been disappointing, to say the least, and the side being fielded on the day was somewhat inexperienced.  I think Lancaster (the new England coach) did exactly the right thing; the Johnson formula was clearly not working, and a new approach was needed.  Martin Johnson was, let's not forget, a formidable captain but even outstanding ability in that department is no guarantee of coaching prowess.

I was surprised to see Charlie Hodgson back in the side, his international career having been somewhat patchy.  He did not have a bad game and did score the only try, albeit an opportunistic one.

To me, the game was lost by Scotland rather than won by England.  England showed much-improved discipline and strong defence.  Still lacking, or at least not yet displayed, is the creative flair that opens up the opposition and scores tries.  This is a new England side, and it was not bad for a first outing.  When they have played together a few times, we may see some exciting attacking play.

Wales v Ireland was a corker of a game.  These two teams, and there was little to separate them, put up a fantastic show, much more exciting than many a World Cup match, with the lead changing at various times throughout the game.  It looked like curtains for Wales when they were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes and leaked the expected try.  However, they did well to score their own try before that period was over.  The game was lost on an Irish error that resulted in a sin-binning and a penalty kick directly in front of goal.  Hard luck, Ireland, nice one Wales, and thanks to both teams for such a superb spectacle.  I look forward to your subsequent games with relish.

So, who will win the competition?  On last weekend's showings, it has to be Wales or Ireland.  Wales, of course, could win in style with a Grand Slam. Unless the England side changes up a gear, the only team that could stop them doing that is France on a Good Day but not the plain old France of last weekend ...

As for the Wooden Spoon, well perhaps it should be a Wooden Spaghetti Hook!

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