12 Mar 2012

Rugby 6 nations, one game to go

With just one game left to be played (next weekend) we can hasard a guess as to the winners of this year's European 6 nations tournament. Although mathematically France, Ireland and England could all also just about win the tournament, it has to be Wales, who are the only team to have won all their 4 games so far, and, with their fifth game to be at home against a French team that have looked a bit tired and lost so far, they must be clear favourites to win all their games, thus producing their third grand slam since the beginning of the six nation contest in 2000.

Wales will have the added advantage of playing at home in their Millennium stadium of Cardiff (above). And, to give them additional energy against France, they will also be fuelled by the memory of their close loss (playing at 14 for almost all of the game and 13 for some of it) in the World Cup semi-finals against France: a game that they probably deserved to win. They are a very strong team and they have good collective experience and an excellent leader in their young captain, Warburton (below).

It would be a brave man who would predict Wales losing to France, but history has proved that the French are capable, at times, of overturning mountains, as some of their past performances against the All Blacks have shown. They certainly have found a very good young and incisive centre/winger in Wesley Fofana, who has scored a try in each of his 4 games so far. What they now need is to stabilise their scrum/fly half pair as they keep messing about with this key partnership.

Fofana breaks through the Irish defense to score

English players congratulate Tom Croft for his key try in their close win over France

The English team are quite young and many of the players are new to top-level international rugby. That doesn't seem to have held them back however (in fact probably the opposite as these guys are keen to make their mark) and, after a difficult start against Scotland, and despite a close-fought battle lost to Wales, they looked pretty good against France this weekend, scoring three tries against one and winning 24-22, just holding on to victory in the closing stages on France's home ground. The new fly-half, Owen Farrell, has played very surely, calmly varying his game, defending and kicking just as well as he has led the attack. At just 20 years old, he has great potential and could be a future star of the game if he keeps up this level of play.

The English defense looked better than the French on Sunday

Italy have lost most of their games by lesser margins that usual, but just do not have the depth of players to be able to substitute when needed. Scotland have playen with fire and spirit and have probably made more passes than any other team on the tournament. But they have trouble in scoring at key moments. They will probably win their last game, against Italy. Ireland lost a very close game to Wales in the opening match, but they drew with France in Paris. They now have to face England in London and this could also be a very close game, with a lot of needle involved as usual. The Irish pack looks very impressive, including some new players, and could provide a serious challenge for England.

What I have most enjoyed about the games I have watched so fay is seeing the emergence of younger players who hold the future. I have mentioned a few already. Another good example is Allister Hogg, the 18 year-old Scottish full-back, who has also made his mark in this tournament, just like the lock forward Richie Gray did last year (and has confirmed in 2012).

Allister Hogg for Scotland

Richie Gray, very nimble with the ball for a lock forward

We shall see next weekend, but it has been an interesting tournament so far with some suprises.


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