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Six Nations – Grand Slam Candidates Keep Cards Close To Chest

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In a year where four wins may suffice to claim the Six Nations Championship, the three winning sides from last weekend kept their cards very close to their chests. A not too convincing performance from the defending champions in Cardiff saw them limp over the line against Italy. The Italians were up for it from the start but didn’t get the luck that an underdog requires to put it up to the favourites. Wales took advantage of early Italian mistakes and nervousness. Mistakes that the Italians would really regret at the final whistle. Warren Gatland will be delighted that his side managed to take care of the Azzuri without really clicking into third or fourth gear. The second half of that match was all about Italy, two break away tries saw them get to within five points of the hosts at one stage and the whiff of an upset was there momentarily. Wales finally quashed the Italian ambition with yet another Leigh Halfpenny penalty. A two score game for the last few minutes gave the Welsh a cushion as defeat became an impossibility. Not getting out of second gear may have kept future opposition in the dark somewhat as to the what Wales can really offer but this may yet prove to be a double edged sword that they may well regret.

If this year’s championship proves to be as close as it promises then score difference may well be the deciding factor after the final round of games. Only beating Italy by eight points at home could come back to haunt the Welsh yet. The Italians will feel that they had a real chance here. An impressive game from centre Michele Campagnaro which saw him cross the Welsh line twice in the second half is but one of the positives they can take away from this performance. They have the look of a team that will upset one of the Championship hopefuls between now and the finish. Wales know that their first big test is against Ireland this weekend and the one way to make sure that score difference doesn’t come into it, is to win all your games.

England travelled to Paris with more confidence than hope. As I said last week in the build up to this game, the start was going to be all so important and what a start the French got. Yoann Huget benefitted from a very welcomed bounce of the ball into his hands with only seconds gone on the clock, from what must be said, what looked like a terrible kick initially. The Toulouse winger managed a second try that had as much good fortune attached to it as his first and the French were bouncing. The English were dumbfounded and the home support were on their feet, the perfect start for a team that had so much to prove to get the crowd even lukewarm towards them. As sometimes happens with early leads, the French allowed the English back into the game and allowed it to become a contest again. Not only did it become a contest but the English managed to turn it around completely and victory looked on the cards. Unfortunately for the English, that confidence returned, this time from the management as they replaced their best player on the field, Danny Care. After nightmare starts from their new guns, they eventually settled into the game and it was turning into a day to remember rather than forget. Both France and England were guilty of doing their utmost to allow the opposition opportunities and this proved fatal for the English in the end. Injuries forced England into rearrangement and rearrangement creates doubt, the French took full advantage of any doubt, the substitute Gael Fickou ghosted over the line for the score to level matters. He had enough space and time to tap down behind the sticks, English faces were in shock as the conversion passed high over their heads. England may be out of winning a Grand Slam but they like everyone else will know that they can still win the championship from here. France just need another couple of wins under their belts. Their chances simply lie in which team shows up on any given day.

Ireland just like Wales, struggled at times and found it difficult to break down an ordinary Scottish defence. The biggest difference between the Irish and Welsh performances was that when Ireland finally got on top, they stayed there and didn’t allow the Scottish any sense of a comeback. The 22 point winning margin will also be a welcome asset to have as the championship progresses and with the Italians due to arrive at the Aviva on March 8th, Ireland will fancy their chances of racking up another score there. Ireland’s defence was immense last Sunday and none other than the elder statesman Brian O’Driscoll was without any contest, the best defender.

Just like Wales, Ireland didn’t need to and I would certainly hope didn’t show their full hand. The Scots were game for a long period of the first half and could have had the opening try. The Irish defensive line though, stood strong and held off any attempts at gaining anymore ground. There were many fine performances in an Irish pack that eventually dominated their opposition and maybe there is cause to change the name of our second anthem to, ‘Ireland’s Maul’. When the men in green get this part of their game right, they are unstoppable. It is a sight to behold to watch them as they advance, the opposition helpless to do anything to stop them, perfect body positions and well rehearsed, Ireland’s maul can be a powerful weapon. After a top three finish in this competition last year, Scotland will not want to return to propping up the table duties. They may well just like the Italians cause some damage to the hopes of others as this campaign rolls on. Ireland know they will have more to do against Wales and neither side will be shaking in their boots after watching each other last weekend. Three teams left that can claim the Grand Slam, this weekend will see whether Wales or Ireland can still cling onto that hope.

Image courtesy of The Guardian

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  1. February 6th, 2014

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