SIX NATIONS CONTINUED | SPORTS FEATURE
While Round Two is done and dusted, the Welsh-Anglo rivalry is as bitterly obvious as ever. Indeed, the high intensity clash at the Principality Stadium lived up to the billing in a game of fine margins. Both teams battled ferociously, but the game was ultimately decided on a misplaced clearing kick and clinical finishing by the English, as the game finished 16-21. Wales looked stern and dangerous following their first round victory against Italy but will still rue missed opportunities. There were a number of standout performances, with none eclipsing Moriarty, despite only playing for under an hour. Such performances will be necessary for their coming clash with a spirited Scotland.
The progress that Scotland has made in the past few years has been epitomised in their games in the Six Nations. The first was a gruellingly impressive victory over Ireland, who they edged 27-22, and the second was a 22-16 loss to France. Scotland are ruthless in defence, showcased against the Irish, and have become more clinical in their attack. The fact that Stuart Hogg thought they threw their game away summarises the length that Scotland have come, but given the plague of injuries they suffered at the hands of the French, they should be commended for their efforts.
The Irish have been involved in one of the closer games of the tournament, as well as the most one sided. Against the Scottish they were overthrown by passion and grit, but any frustrations from the first round were unleashed on the Italians. The 63-10 score line was enthralling and, lying second of the table – just two points shy of England – they are in good stead. However, given their impressive results in the Autumn, including their 40-29 victory against the All Backs, they would have hoped to have been joint, if not top, of the table. With Joe Schmidt remarking that there were chances left sparing at Scotland, they will have to become more clinical if they want to retake the silverware from the English.
It seems to be the same old story for Italy, unfortunately. Even with the experience, passion and size of their pack, they have been left wanting this Six Nations – though more significantly this year. Despite an impressive resistance against Wales in the first round, being reduced to fourteen men doomed them to defeat, while they were frankly outclassed and dismantled by Ireland. A misplaced and lacklustre kick from Italy in the seventieth minute of the game to let Ireland behind once again showed their frustration and, ultimately, acceptance of this year’s wooden spoon.
The French looked immense in their matchup against the Scots. Alongside their brute physicality, which still haunts the Scottish pack, it was their ability to crumble their opponents’ scrum that was pivotal to the game. France fought a competitive game against the favourites England where they were unlucky not to win, and exerted themselves against the Scots; they will look to their remaining fixtures with promise as second place remains open for grabs.
Sixteen successive victories is a pretty number, but Eddie Jones will be counting his lucky stars that his record has not been cut short this Six Nations. A shabby opener against the French and an unconvincing victory against Wales, England have not looked like champions, but they are winning games. England’s flair, tenacity and depth throughout their 23-man squad is unrivalled in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is beginning to show as they, like the dominant All Black team of the Southern Hemisphere, have learned how to grind out results. It may not be an attractive sight as a Welshman, but England are surely destined for the Six Nations trophy.
words CONOR KNIGHT