Ireland v Italy
I didn’t see this game, as I spent the weekend in Liverpool and during this game my wife and I were going around the Slave Museum in Liverpool’s Albert Docks (an experience I will blog about later this week). But, the 46-7 scoreline to Ireland probably says it all about this match. Ireland were 17-7 up at half time, and then ran away with it in the second half. They ran in 7 tries, and barring a big upset in Paris next weekend they should ensure they finish the 2014 6 Nations as Champions.
This match also marked the final home game of Brian O’Driscoll. He became the World’s most capped player, winning his 140th cap on Saturday. He is truly one of the greatest players of the game, and I feel privileged to have lived in a time to see him. Ireland will sorely miss him when he finally retires at the end of this 6 Nations. Although he didn’t score a try on Saturday, he created two of them, and this is testament to how unselfish a player he is.
Scotland v France
I saw most of this game, and Scotland should be kicking themselves that they did not win. They could have and should have won, but conspired to give away too many penalties in the last ten minutes, allowing France to get a penalty and sneak the game 19-17. A more experienced side would have closed the game out, but Scotland are so unused to being in a winning position that their game management is still poor.
I really don’t know what to make of France. For most of this match they were clueless, but every now and again they would show flashes of brilliance, as if to remind us of what they can do when they put their minds to it. Remarkably, with 3 wins out of 4 matches, they are still on course to win the Championships if they can beat Ireland in Paris next weekend and other results go their way. Personally I think it would be a bit of a joke for such a poor France team to win the Championships, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if they turn in a typically mercurially brilliant French performance next weekend and blow Ireland off of the park. We shall see.
England v Wales
This was the big match of the weekend, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Welshman. It is the match which would effectively eliminate one of these two countries from the title race. That country was Wales – England beat us 29-18, and thoroughly deserved their win I am pained to say. It means they win the Triple Crown for the first time since 2003, and also it is head coach Stuart Lancaster’s first win over Wales.
England played well, and were better than Wales in every aspect of play. But, I do feel Wales gave this game away. We had the most bizarre game plan for the first 50 minutes, which consisted of kicking the ball downfield and then not even following the kick up with any runners. This just gave the England back three plenty of space to run, and kept giving the momentum to England. The first England try was also one which Wales should never have conceded, Danny Care taking a quick tap penalty with not a single Welsh player ready to defend the try line – an unforgivable lapse of concentration by the Welsh team.
The half time score was 20-15, and Wales were lucky to be only five points behind England, it could have been a lot more. Our game plan seemed to be to boot the ball downfield and hope England would infringe, and then for Halfpenny to kick the penalty. This was the source of our 15 points! Our one proper attacking move should have led to a try, all George North had to do was pass the ball out to Dan Lydiate on the wing who had a clear overlap and Lydiate would have been over for the try, but North failed to do so. Meanwhile, England got a second try from a clever little kick through by their centre Billy Twelvetrees.
About 10 minutes into the second half Wales changed their game plan and went back to “Warren-ball”, and when they did so I felt they looked like they could still win the match. Although England defended well, Wales had the bulk of possession and territory from 50 minutes through to the end of the match. But, Wales continued to make stupid mistakes, and got turned over too often at the breakdown. Another try scoring opportunity went begging when Jamie Roberts failed to pass the ball out in a clear overlap. That was the story of Wales’ day.
So, in summary, I think it was a game that England deserved to win, but that Wales could have won had they taken their two clear try scoring opportunities. But, our game plan for the first 50 minutes was stupid beyond belief, I wonder whose idea it was but, it essentially gave the game to England.
The final weekend
One certainty is that Wales cannot win their third Title in a row. It is mathematically impossible. However, the title could still be won by Ireland, England or France. Judging by the dire way France are playing at the moment, Ireland should beat them in Paris next Saturday. It will be the last game of the 3 matches, so a fitting finale should they win. However, if France win and England lose to Italy (unlikely), France could win the Title. This would be a travesty, as France have been so poor this 6 Nations. England could win the Championships if France win, as long as England beat Italy. And, if England were to run up a cricket score against Italy and Ireland only narrowly beat France, it would still be possible for England to win the Title on better points difference.
So, three countries still have it all to play for next weekend, but Wales are not one of them. We have a “dead rubber” against Scotland. I hope Gatland will use it to try a few different combinations. Wales need to look ahead to building for next year’s World Cup, and we need to develop a less predictable game. We have very much gone off the boil since twelve months ago. That effort to rebuild and develop new game plans should start next Saturday, and I would actually prefer to see us lose to Scotland but try a bit more experimentation than play the way we’ve been playing for the last 2 years just to secure a victory. But, I may be in the minority in thinking this way 😛