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The first weekend of the 2017 6 Nations is over, and it threw up a few surprises. On Saturday, Scotland beat Ireland in Edinburgh, and England came close to being beaten by France at Twickenham. Yesterday (Sunday), Wales won comfortably in Rome, but not before Italy gave Wales a bit of a scare in the first half.

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Wales beat Italy in Rome by 33-7 to get their 2017 6 Nations campaign off to a positive start.

Scotland v Ireland

The biggest upset of the first weekend was Scotland’s surprise win over Ireland. Ireland had gone into this 6 Nations being tipped by many pundits as the favourites to win the tournament. They were not favourites with the bookmakers, but that is because few of them can see beyond England. But, with many (most?) rugby experts, Ireland were felt to be the team most likely to win the title this year.

Scotland, however, had different ideas. In a blistering first half they went 14-0 up with two wonderful tries. They then scored a third try, and were 21-5 up before Ireland slotted a penalty to bring the half-time score to 21-8. The second half saw Ireland surge back to go into the lead 22-21. Scotland teams of the last few years would have folded at this point, but this Scotland team showed glimpses in the autumn of having reached a level not seen by any Scotland team since the 1990s. They scored two more penalties and deservedly won a stunning match 27-22.

England v France

It has, of course, become a total cliché that you never know which France will turn up, and this match against England was a perfect example of why that cliché is so true. France came out with all guns blazing, and were by far the better team for most of this match. It was 9-9 at half-time, but England were lucky that France didn’t didn’t go into half-time with a comfortable lead. France then went up 16-12 in the second half, and I believe a more experienced and better composed French team would have closed out the match. But, inexperience combined with some astute substitutions by England saw them score a converted try to snatch the game 19-16. Their unbeaten run under Eddie Jones continues.

Italy v Wales

Wales usually start each run of games poorly, so having Italy as the first match was a bit of relief as they are still the easiest side in the 6 Nations to beat. However, Wales have lost in Italy, twice I think since Italy joined the annual tournament. And, during the first half Wales could not convert their possession and territory into points. I was a little baffled that, so early in the match, we turned down kickable penalties to go for touch with the aim of scoring a try. I think this was a mistake so early in the match, and Italy went into half time with a 7-3 lead, even though Wales had dominated.

The second half was much better for Wales. At 50 minutes Rob Howley replaced both props, and suddenly Wales were in the ascendancy. One of the Italian props was sin-binned for dropping to his knee in a scrum, and Wales ran in two tries during the time that Italy were down to 14 men. With some 5 minutes to go George North ran from his own 22 to score Wales’ third try, and the possibility was on to score a fourth try and win a bonus point. Liam Williams came very close in the dying seconds, but failed to ground the ball so the match ended 33-7. It was a comfortable win, but I would not say that Wales were that impressive. We should have cut loose in the second half as Italy became more and more disorganised.

Next weekend

I will preview next weekend’s matches properly on Friday, but it sees Ireland go to Italy, Scotland go to France, and England come to Wales. For me, the question is whether England’s relatively poor performance against France is a good or a bad thing for Wales. Some times sides come back stronger after a defeat, and I am sure had England lost against France they would be coming down to Cardiff all fired up to make amends for their defeat. As it is, they scraped a win without deserving it and putting in their worst performance under Eddie Jones. Does this mean that they will come down to Cardiff with their confidence dented, or with a feeling that they can win in Cardiff without playing that well?

As for Wales, we won comfortably in Rome but it was a stuttering performance. We looked very good in the last 20 minutes, and were the better team in the first quarter and the third quarter of the match, but during the second quarter Italy were better than us. We failed to convert lots of chances in the first half, but during the second half we did a lot better in this regard. As even Jeremy Guscott, the ex-England centre, said on TV last night, if the best players in Wales’ side play the kind of game which they are capable of playing we should beat England. Unfortunately, they have not shown that kind of consistency of play for over 3 years now. It will be a fascinating encounter.

 

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Tomorrow (Saturday 4th of February) sees the start of the annual 6 Nations rugby competition. Despite the attempts of the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship to increase its appeal, there are few who would disagree that the 6 Nations is the greatest and most intensely contested tournament in World rugby. The 2017 6 Nations sees England start as both defending champions and favourites, and this despite Ireland’s autumn test series which saw them beat New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Wales, quite deservedly, start as third favourites behind England and Ireland, which is where I would place them too.

England are not only defending champions, but also they won the 2106 6 Nations with a Grand Slam. Very few sides have won back-to-back Grand Slams, so England will be hoping that they can achieve this rare feat. They are also unbeaten since Eddie Jones took over after their disastrous showing in the 2015 World Cup; so each of the other 5 nations will be looking to get that first win under his leadership. England’s opening match is a home one against France. France used to be perennial contenders for the 6 Nations crown, but have fallen badly behind Wales, England and Ireland in the last few years. Few expect them to cause an upset at Twickenham tomorrow.

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The 2017 6 Nations starts tomorrow (Saturday 4th of February). Wales’ first match is an away match to Italy on Sunday, followed the following Saturday (11th) by a home match against England.

Wales start their 6 Nations campaign on Sunday with an away match against Italy. No away match is easy in the 6 Nations anymore, and Wales have lost a few times in Italy. But, of all the away matches to start with, one against Italy is probably the most favourable. We have gone to Italy before and racked up points, and if we manage to do that on Sunday it will be a great start for us. Sadly, we usually start any campaign poorly, so I suspect that we will scrape a win against Italy, but it will not be a convincing one.

Our second match is against England in Cardiff on Saturday 11th of February. It would be a fairytale if we could be the first country to beat England under Eddie Jones’ leadership, and if this match were third of fourth or fifth in the campaign I would fancy our chances. But, I am not sure that we will be firing on all cylinders by the second match, and although I hope that we will win I fear a home defeat could well be on the cards.

Wales are, of course, going into this 6 Nations under the leadership of interim manager Rob Howley, as Warren Gatland is on leave to prepare for the summer’s Lions’ tour to New Zealand. We also won three of our four autumn tests under Howley, something that we had not done since 2004. But, we did not win any one of those three matches in a convincing fashion, and England and Ireland currently look streets ahead of us. But, at this level the margins are very very fine.

The Welsh squad certainly have the talent to be as good or better than England. In my opinion we have better players than England, but we are not functioning at the same level as they are as a team. The question is, can Howley iron out those little problems which were so apparent in the autumn series and see us get back to the level of play we showed under him in the 2013 6 Nations? Remember, that is the season when England came to Cardiff chasing a Grand Slam in the last game of the 6 Nations, and we annihilated them 30-3.

In some 8 days’ time, the game against England will be over and we will know if we are back to anything like that kind of form again.

Here is Wales’ schedule for the 2017 6 Nations. All times are GMT, not the local time (in Rome or Paris, which are one hour ahead of GMT).

  • Sunday 5th February – Italy v Wales (KO 14:00 GMT)
  • Saturday 11th February – Wales v England (KO 16:50 GMT)
  • Saturday 25th February – Scotland v Wales (KO 14:25 GMT)
  • Friday 10th March – Wales v Ireland (KO 20:00 GMT)
  • Saturday 17th March – France v Wales (KO 14:45 GMT)

COME ON WALES!!!! DERE ‘MLAEN CYMRU!!!!

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Wales beat South Africa 27-13 to finish their 2016 autumn test series with 3 wins from 4. This is Wales’ most successful autumn test series since 2002 if one goes by results alone. But, none of the wins has been particularly convincing, and I think most Welsh rugby fans are left with a feeling that we need to improve a lot to stand a chance of winning the upcoming 2017 6 Nations. 

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Later today, at 17:30 GMT, Wales will take on South Africa in their fourth and final autumn test. Ironically, if we win today this 2016 autumn series will h ave been our most successful yet. And yet, few people have been impressed so far with Wales’ performances. We were thrashed by Australia in the opening test, in one of the worst displays I have seen by Welsh side in many years. Although we then beat Argentina and Japan, both were poor performances by Wales in my opinion. We only just won each of them. So, how well Wales play today will determine whether this 4-test campaign can be deemed a success or not.

South Africa are coming of two back-to-back defeats, to England a fortnight ago and to Italy last weekend. They have never lost to Italy before, and most experts are labelling this South African team as one of the worst ever. This, together with Wales’ stuttering performances, means the pressure is really on Rob Howley’s team to win, and to win well.

Although it is a loss to not have Sam Warburton leading the team, it is an area where we have a more than able replacement in Justin Tipuric. I am pleased to see that Holley is starting with Scott Williams at inside centre and not Jamie Roberts. I have never been a fan of Jamie Roberts, and if Wales are going to develop their attacking play beyond the “send a big man up the middle” approach I think we have to look beyond Jamie Roberts to someone like Scott Williams, who is more creative.

Whatever the outcome of today’s match, we then have a wait of just over two months before the 2017 6 Nations. I will blog more about the 6 Nations in the week before it starts, but Wales’ fixture list is

  • Sunday 5 February – Italy v Wales
  • Saturday 11 February – Wales v England
  • Saturday 25 February – Scotland v Wales
  • Saturday 11 March – Wales v Ireland
  • Saturday 18 March – France v Wales

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It was another rather unimpressive display from Wales; we beat Japan thanks to a last minute drop goal by replacement fly half Sam Davies. Japan are a much improved side, and the days of thrashing them are over I think, but really Wales should have won this game by more. It was another stuttering performance, and we failed to take many of our chances.

It did seem that Jamie Roberts, who was dropped for the game against Argentina, was out to prove a point, as he had a very good game. But, I am not a fan of Jamie Roberts. What he does, he does very well, as good as anyone in world rugby. But, for me, he is far too one-dimensional. There is little variety to his game; he is a world class tackler and a world class battering ram, but beyond that I don’t see what else he does. I would much prefer that Wales go with the more varied and skilful play of Scott Williams, I think this can add variety to our attacking game in a way which having Jamie Roberts at inside centre cannot.

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Wales beat Japan 33-30, thanks to a last minute drop goal by replacement fly half

It will be interesting to see which combinations Rob Howley picks for our match against South Africa next Saturday. Luckily for Wales, this South African team seem to be amongst the worst in their history. On Saturday they lost for the first time to Italy, going down 20-18. This puts England’s thumping of them into some kind of perspective, but Wales cannot afford to lose next week to such a poor South African team. Not only do we need to win, but we need to win with a convincing performance, something we are yet to show this autumn despite two wins out of three.

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Wales beat Argentina on Saturday (12 November) 24-20, but it was an error strewn and unimpressive performance in my opinion. Yes, it was a significant improvement on the woeful display against Australia the previous week, but with all the territory and possession Wales had in this game we should have won comfortably. Too may moves broke down due to poor passing or poor decision making. We still have a long way to go to get back to any kind of form, which we need to do before we face South Africa in two weeks.

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Wales beat Argentina 24-20 on Saturday (12 November), but it was a scrappy win and Wales are still way short of their best.

Wales scored two tries, with one being converted, and three penalties from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny. But, Argentina also scored two tries and were in the game right up until the end. Each time it looked like Wales had the game in their control, Argentina would come back with a score. Their playing in the Rugby Championship has certainly lifted their level of play, they are now far more consistent than they used to be thanks to the discipline of taking part in this annual tournament.

In the other autumn tests, England hammered South Africa 37-21, Scotland lost by a solitary 1 point 23-22 to Australia, Ireland beat Canada 52-21, France beat Samoa 52-8, and New Zealand beat Italy 68-10. England are now on a 11-match winning streak, with all 10 of their matches under Eddie Jones having been won.

Next up for Wales are Japan, with a 14:30 kick-off next Saturday (19 November) at the Millennium Stadium. On paper, it should be the easiest match of the four autumn tests, but we mustn’t forget the shock that Japan inflicted upon South Africa in last year’s World Cup. I  hope that Rob Howley and his coaching team do not make too many changes to the team for Japan. We need to be a settled 15, working as a unit and at our best to take on South Africa the following Saturday.

 

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Later this afternoon Wales will take on Argentina in the second match of their 2016 autumn test series. As I blogged about last Monday, we got thoroughly thrashed 32-8 by Australia in our opening match. I sincerely hope that we can put on a better display against Argentina; really nothing except a win will satisfy the Welsh fans.

There are six changes in all from the team that started against Australia, with perhaps the most noticeable change being Jamie Roberts, who has been dropped to the bench with Jonathan Davies back from the tight hamstring he sustained just before kick-off last week to partner his Scarlets team mate Scott Williams. Sam Warburton is back in the  Welsh side, but Gethin Jenkins retains the captaincy. Alun Wyn Jones returns after missing last week’s  match due to the death of his grandfather.

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Wales will play Argentina at 17:30 in the second of their 4-match autumn test series. Last Saturday we lost 32-8 to Australia, so today is a must-win match.

Meanwhile, elsewhere the other autumn tests kick-off with a vengeance. At 14:30 England take on South Africa in Twickenham, to see if they can retain their 100% record under Eddie Jones. At the same time, Scotland take on Australia in Murrayfield, and Ireland take on Canada in Dublin with a 19:15 kick-off. New Zealand have, at least on paper, an easy match against Italy, with a 14:00 (GMT) kick-off, and finally France take on Samoa with a kick-off at 16:45 (GMT).

What a feast of rugby!

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