Italy v Ireland
This was a match where Ireland were trying to salvage a poor season, and Italy were trying to build on their promising start of beating France. Ireland had 3 players sent to the sin-bin, including their talisman Brian O’Driscoll. Ultimately Italy won, giving them their best 6 Nations ever, and giving Ireland one of their worst. If this is Brian O’Driscoll’s last 6 Nations then seeing him leave the Stadio Olimpico in defeat on Saturday is a sad way for him to end his glittering career. He has been the best player in the Northern Hemisphere over the last 12 or so years, and the best centre in World rugby.
Wales v England
England came to Cardiff hoping to win the Grand Slam, having won all their previous games in the 2013 6 Nations. They left Cardiff completely annihilated by a rampant Welsh team. Wales were absolutely immense in this match. I have been watching Wales play since the mid 1970s, during what was maybe our best “golden era”. I have rarely seen Wales dominate another top 6 rugby nation in such a fashion as Wales dominated England on Saturday.
Wales outplayed England in every facet of play. Our front 5 completely crushed the English front 5. We destroyed their scrum. Our back row forwards were all over the pitch and our backs created breaks and snuffed out any attempts the English backs made to break the line. It was a stunningly commanding performance by Wales.
Rob Howley, the interim Welsh coach, said after the game that winning Saturday’s match in that fashion, and retaining the 6 Nations crown, was bigger than winning the Grand Slam last year. I can see where he is coming from. Given the way we played against Ireland in the opening 45 of first game, the way Wales have turned their fortunes around after 8 defeats in a row is remarkable. Equally impressive is that Wales have not let in a single try since that opening 45 minutes against Ireland, so we have gone 4 matches plus all but the first 5 minutes of the second half against Ireland without conceding a try.
After suffering a real dip in form following on from last year’s Grand Slam, I really hope Wales can kick on from this stunning performance and finally start beating Southern Hemisphere teams. We will have to wait until the Autumn to find out, as in June the Welsh players should form the bulk of the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.
France v Scotland
France left it until the last 20 minutes of this match to actually play some rugby. They have been dire this 6 Nations, and finish bottom of the table. After a good Autumn series, it is difficult to understand what is going on in French rugby.
The final standings
Wales retain the 6 Nations Championships which they won in 2012. But for a terrible display against Ireland in the first half in Cardiff on the opening weekend, they could have won back-to-back Grand Slams, something not even the great side of the 1970s achieved. What one can say is that Welsh rugby is in another “golden era”, we are dominating Northern Hemisphere rugby like we did in the 1970s. We now need to go up that extra level and start beating the Southern Hemisphere giants.