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Six Nations 2014 – It All Comes Down To This

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Italy regressed, Scotland imploded. England realised the sum of their parts, Ireland rose from the ashes of their worst season in countless years. Wales have hit an unsightly but still not worrying speed bump. And France, well god forbid we would tempt fate and state any facts about the state of French international rugby. But here we are, two teams with a realistic chance to win the title, and one with a worse than outside shot at it. Game on.
Wales arguably find themselves in a bittersweet position this weekend, “welcoming” Scotland to Cardiff. They will be thankful that the opposition should guarantee a win, but they will be mindful of the fact that confidence amongst them and their fans is currently at its lowest since nearly ten years ago, and for that reason the win must be complete and concise.

Scotland will also be sniffing wounded egos and stodgy form on Saturday, Dunbar, Hogg and Weir showing over the last few weeks what they can do when even a few pieces fall into place. Statistically and tactically it still runs as a no brainer in Wales’ favour, but one has to think that some early pressure and scores from the Scots could blow this game open and find Wales slipping from a much needed win. All told however only a lunatic would call it any other way
Wales win

Ahead of this game we will have a key fixture for Irish audiences as England travel to Rome hoping to amass enough points to stay in touch with the title. Brunel withholding Parisse for the trip to Dublin, and Castrogiovanni could well still feature at the eleventh hour, shows the coach’s intent that Italy would target England at home for their potential first win of the tournament. Whether this is possible or not, a tournament best performance should be likely from the Wooden Spoon recipients and at worst they should restrict England’s points tally.

Speaking of that slippery side, England look likely to at last finish second in the tournament and nobody can hold that against them. Even I will admit that I didn’t buy the “changed team” spiel Stuart Lancaster has been spewing about this squad, but they have had a turning point this year in their fixture against Ireland and from there it is dangerous what they could push on to. Lazarus himself, Danny Care, has been instrumental in bringing back a skillful attacking brand to the team and of all the teams to be chasing points on the final round, your safest bet would be on these guys.

That said it doesn’t look too likely that Italy will allow their final game be a whitewash and England will realistically have to watch the final fixture with bated breath. They can be happy with their turn out thus far regardless
England win

And then onto the nail biter, squeaky bum time, insert further clichés here. So much has been made of how Paris has been anything but a happy hunting ground for Ireland in the last near half century, but then again Ireland also never used to do that to the All Blacks in the past, they never found themselves with this sort of a points difference on the final day (even in 09, going I’m against Wales for the Slam they could have lost it all to 13 points).

Yes the old “a team transformed” chestnut truly applies here. As it does for France, but in the opposite sense. Les Bleus are horrendous. A la WC 2011 they’re somehow still top of the pile, but they lack cohesion across the park. Walkouts from press conferences, Saint Andre calling his squad cry babies, media home and away writing them off. Wait, no, that’s usually the greatest sign ever for France. No team ever manages to pull a performance out of the bag when they’re down and out than France. Ireland are of course wary of this, but the magnitude of this task cannot be stressed enough. This will not be the Six Nations where Ireland swatted aside a lacklustre France to clinch the title, have no fear this will be a cracker.

Ireland has a team balanced more favourably towards youth, at least in terms of caps, and they’re sick of hearing about O’Driscoll’s hat trick. The bulk of the current squad have not had a chance to leave a legacy yet, and they want to more than anything. But above all else, crack out the hankies guys, because they’ll do it for him. In Brian O’Driscoll’s final game in green, you can rest assured that the fourteen men around him will play out of their skin. All we can ask for on top of that is that the result reflects that.
Ireland win

Image courtesy of Irishrugby.ie

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