Despite a stutter with about 20 minutes to go, England succeeded in beating France and winning the Grand Slam. Wales thrashed Italy, and Ireland beat a resurgent Scotland in the final weekend of the 2016 6 Nations.
Wales v Italy
Wales needed to make amends for their terrible first half performance against England in Twickenham last week, and in many respects they did. They beat Italy 67-14, running in nine tries and scoring their highest ever points tally in a 6 Nations match. Whereas it took Wales 60 minutes to wake up last week, against Italy they were dominant from the start and showed the kind of attacking flair which fans are so desperate to see in other matches.
Why Wales cannot move the ball wide with such skill and speed against better opposition is something I don’t fully understand. Each time they went wide they looked dangerous, and yet against better opposition Wales play a narrow game and the wingers rarely see the ball. With a daunting three-test tour of New Zealand coming up in June, and a “friendly” against England at Twickenham at the end of May, surely this next few months is the time to try and add some variety to the Warren-ball game plan which has become all too predictable. I fully expect Wales will be taught a rugby-playing lesson by the All Blacks in June, which will once again show the massive gulf between us and the best in the World. So, why not try something different and see if we can move the ball wide as much as possible; we have nothing to lose as we are going to lose anyway!
Ireland v Scotland
Scotland continue their revival by giving Ireland a run for their money in Dublin. Although Ireland won 35-25, Scotland were more than decent opposition and had their chances to have made this match even closer. Until Scotland had a player sin-binned deep into the second half, they genuinely looked like they could win this pulsating match. I am so pleased to see this long-awaited revival of Scottish fortunes, it has been too long since they were a decent team and hopefully they are on their way back to where they were 20-odd years ago.
France v England
You never know where you are with France, and this match proved that cliché as much as any I’ve seen. After looking abject throughout most of this 6 Nations, France put in a performance which rattled England. In fact, if they had not had so many of their line outs stolen, France could have won this match. Going in to the last quarter England were 25-21 up and France looked the better team. But, thanks to some superb line out work by England’s two second rows, les Bleus lost too much vital possession and field position, and England held on to win their first Grand Slam since 2003.
Although I was hoping for an upset in Paris, as of course I wanted to see England fail at the final hurdle as they have done 5 times in the last 20 years, I do have to say that they thoroughly deserved to win this year’s 6 Nations. True, Wales could have beaten them if the game had continued another 5 minutes, but had we done so it would not have been a fair reflection of England’s dominance in the match. Yesterday’s match in Paris was, in fact, a much closer affair, despite what the scoreline says. At no point did England look particularly dominant, and a more confident France could well have given the upset so many of us non-English wanted to see.
The summer tours
As has now become customary, the Northern Hemisphere countries will now trek south in June to take on the Southern Hemisphere countries. Wales go to New Zealand, England to Australia and Ireland to South Africa. Scotland go to Japan, which is not the easy tour that it used to be.
I fully expect Wales to lose 3-0 in their test series; which is not being pessimistic, just realistic. England could well give Australia a tough series; they have certainly been the team who have improved most since their terrible display in the World Cup. Ireland have been strange; two decent performances, a reasonable performance against Wales, but two terrible performances against England and France. It will be interesting to see how they get on in South Africa.
Most teams seem to now look upon the period after a World Cup as a time to rebuild, and I sincerely hope that Wales’ rebuilding includes adopting a more adventurous game plan, we certainly need it. We have gone backwards in the last 3 years; it is time for a rethink amongst the Welsh management.