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Six Nations 2014 – Ireland Give Nothing Away In Week One

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Back in November, Joe Schmidt showed his hand more than he ever has before, revealing that the All Blacks game was targeted more so than the others, possibly even to the detriment of performance in the Australian game.

With that in mind it isn’t beyond comprehension that the team we saw yesterday will not appear again this tournament, in the context of performance that is.

If this speculation on Schmidt is correct, a more fine tuned and attack minded Ireland will be facing Wales on Saturday. Not to say that they put in a bad eighty minutes against the Scots. With he highest winning margin and most one sided game of the opening weekend, Ireland have a perfect platform built. Healy, Tuohy, both Kearneys and Heaslip in particular all showed no signs of typical first game sluggishness, all contributing at least a handful of massive moments to the game. Already it is clear too that Schmidt is bluntly applying his trademark styles to the national team. Scotland on the other hand simply never looked like crossing the whitewash.

More so than any other team in recent years, they had done the necessary homework  to determine how to stop Ireland attacking, notably at the breakdown where Murray was given absolutely no quarter. The problem for Scotland is that there was little counter attack ability to be seen and all told they looked flat. Johnson will need a massive performance for next weekend to save this Six Nations turning into a massive regression and he will know all too well. For Ireland, they know what any game against Wales means, they know what must be done.
Ireland 28 – 6 Scotland

It was thought that the spark was gone from Le Crunch the last few years, and it seems England and France were more than acutely aware. Saturday’s evening fixture provided a Six Nations thriller, with no clear cut periods of team dominance, rather a simple eighty minutes of incredible back and forth rugby.

New French spark Huget capitalised on England napping on two occasions, sixteen to threw down England could have been dead and gone, only for Mike Brown to snap a great try at half time. Then came the shift, England coming back to life with Danny Care in particular proving to be a key orchestrator of their resurrection. For the only time in the game France fid seem to have the foot off the gas and for all the world it looked as though England could seal the comeback, only for 75th minute replacement Fickou to scamper in for the try with the conversion pushing France two ahead, a lead they would not relinquish.

Aside from the game being a return of the Six Nations classic, it was crucial for France. As much as they have turned themselves into a formidable nemesis to Ireland in particular, they haven’t looked any way potent since their Slam in 2010 and simply put this competition needs them. England can bounce back, France would not be able to do so as easily.
France 26 – 24 England

Finally then the opening game of the tournament, also arguably the most lacklustre. Look, these coaches go on ad nauseum about taking it one game at a time and not looking ahead, but the truth of it is that both Ireland and Wales have had winnable, though by no means sure thing, openers that they could get some road testing done. Wales did make hard word for themselves with their inability to press on after their first half dissections, but Italy to their credit do not resemble the minnows that first joined this competition at all.

Wales looked somewhat ragged by comparison to last season, but we all know how they started then too and what followed after. Nobody is ever more aware of these things than Warren Gatland of course and as one of the premier international coaches he won’t be taking too much from the sleepy heads on the pitch on Saturday. Brunel can be proud of many facets of the Italian performance too as the flowing and offloading game he is bringing to them. With everyone looking ahead to the World Cup, look no further than Italy who, once they can at least perform to some parity against France, look to be building a machine for August 2015 that will turn a precarious pool dangerous.
Wales 23 – 15 Italy

Image courtesy of irishrugby.ie

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