Six Nations : Ireland Seek To Banish Welsh Blues


The Six Nations Championship continues this weekend and Grand Slam hopes are on the line for the three winning teams from last week. If France and England was the pick of the clashes last week, well then undoubtedly, the meeting of Ireland and Wales holds top spot this week. In a year that looks to be very open, even last weekend’s losing sides will feel that the Championship is still up for grabs. England in particular will be looking to get their chariot back on track and will be looking for a big performance against the Scots. The first game of the weekend will see the meeting of Slam hopefuls Ireland and Wales.

Ireland V Wales (Saturday 2.30pm)

Both teams did enough last weekend to get over Scotland and Italy. Ireland will be slightly happier with their performance than the Welsh though. Ireland at home to Scotland took a long time to break down the Scottish defence but they still managed a twenty-two point win. They didn’t look like world beaters and will have to improve against the reigning champions to keep their Slam hopes alive. Joe Schmidt must have been delighted with the result, a big margin win without the media jumping all over the possibility of a Grand Slam, the crowd left the Aviva last weekend more content than over excited.

Wales looked good at times against Italy, in the first half in particular but the second half proved to be a bit more daunting. They allowed the Italians to get back to within five points of them in a game that should have been dead and buried at half time. They mightn’t have shown their full hand but they did show a few weaknesses, Rhys Priestland will be an obvious target for Ireland this weekend. Ireland have looked impressive in defence lately and they will need to be on Saturday as they come up against some huge units in the Welsh attack. Although Brian O’Driscoll is trying his best to play down the ‘Gatland’ factor, there can be no doubt that it will be there. Defensively, he was by far Ireland’s best player last weekend, he may have nothing left to prove but he will dearly want to come out on the right side of this one. If Jonathan Sexton can kick accurately and gain good field position, Ireland’s maul will be utilised to the full. The Welsh will be very wary of this as it is almost impossible to defend against. Expect big hits early on in this one as both teams will try to lay down markers.

Verdict: Ireland 5+

Player Watch: Jamie Roberts will have a huge role to play if Wales are to come out on top here, breaking the gain line against Ireland is not easy, he can be a big ball carrier. Rob Kearney will be Ireland’s first line of attack and last line of defence. His bravery will again be tested on Saturday as Welsh kicking will allow the huge units of Alex Cuthbert and George North to come thundering towards him. Solid full back play will be so important.

Scotland V England (Saturday 5pm)

If England are to contest for this year’s championship, this is obviously a must win for them. With that comes added unwanted pressure, especially to a team that is trying to blood in new guys. France may have welcomed the new kids to the big league but they didn’t show the raw passion that the Scots will show. Political history does play it’s part in sport and the tension will be high come 5 o’clock on Saturday. The Scots will be obvious underdogs but if they are allowed to get any sort of foothold in this game, they may well be dangerous. Like all Six Nations games, a good start is what’s needed from both sides, England to quieten the home crowd and Scotland to rise them. It’s difficult to look past the more talented England side to come out on top but it will be no big surprise to see Scotland run them close or even turn them over. England’s confidence will have taken a bit of a kicking after last week’s late, late defeat to France. They showed at times, power, aggression and finishing from the top drawer. They lacked however the killer instincts that all winning teams must possess, they had France beaten only to snatch a loss from the jaws of victory. Taking off Danny Care, their best player on the day was one that they lived to regret, if they are to win in Murrayfield, they had better not take the Scottish side for granted.

Verdict: England 5+

Player Watch: Both captains, Kelly Brown and Chris Robshaw will have their work cut out this weekend. Both packs will be instrumental in the eventual result and if either can dominate, they can set up a platform for their backs. Passion won’t be a problem for either of them.

France V Italy (Sunday 4pm)

France have had their problems with Italy over the past few seasons. Last year the Italians started the rot in what would be a dismal campaign for the French. A five point winning margin in Rome over one of the tournament favourites gave the Italians a week of chest puffing and why not? They thoroughly deserved it. The Azzuri went on to finish fourth, their highest finish to date and the French slumped into the doldrums to collect the wooden spoon, a bit of a role reversal. Two years previous to that, the Italians at home again, managed a win by slightest of margins, a win is a win though. What the Italians have yet to do though, is beat the French in their own back yard.

Last weekend saw France come through a ‘who wants to lose it the most’, game against England. Lucky for them, the English wanted to throw it away the most and so the French walked away with a win, however unconvincing. They had the game by the throat and sat back allowing England to turn it back into a contest. The English returned the favour late on and a draw may have been a kinder result to both sides. Italy will rue early mistakes against Wales. Losing by only eight points when they were guilty of at least that margin in self destruct blunders. They managed to get within five of the Welsh and with a more solid start it could have been a dramatic early defeat for the champions. They will however take a lot of positives from that game with them to Paris this weekend. The French can be guilty of underrating sides and even though they know the threat that Italy can pose, they seem to find it difficult to commit fully against them from the off. Confidence will be high from both sides but if the French play like they can, which is always an if, then they too just like Wales should have enough to see this one out. Any sleepiness or lack of commitment will be sorely punished by the Italians, who will feel that they can match Les Bleus. An Italian win in Paris would still be a shock but not as much as it would have been in seasons gone by.

Verdict: France

Player Watch: The same two players that I picked from these two sides for the opening weekend. Wesley Fofana can be a match winner on his own and Sergio Parisse was inspirational in Cardiff last week, yet again.

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