Dual blogged on Irish News Review
Alongside England Wales are the second team vying to knock Ireland out of pole position in this year’s tournament after a less than comprehensive win over France on Saturday. Even less comprehensive was the turgid affair between Italy and Scotland that preceded it and title ambitions remain anything but immediate concerns for these two sides.
The concern remains for Warren Gatland’s Welsh side that they have simply run out of ideas. It’s not all that long ago that players like George North and Alex Cuthbert were instilling fear into their impending defenders. Sam Warburton was heralded as the second coming of the 7 and Wales were to be seen as a threat and nothing else. Skip ahead to now and both wins in the Six Nations have come from high levels of good fortune. Even last year, after a comprehensive defeat to Ireland and again to England after they had barely tamed France, Wales still managed to make life look difficult against a 14 man Scotland (though the 51-3 scoreline begs to differ).
I’m not here to hate on Wales – they have been the entertainment providers of the decade when other sites were busy flip flopping in form – but something isn’t sitting right in the camp. That said, if anyone were to have an eye stuck firmly on the World Cup it would definitely be Gatty. France on the other hand are slap bang in the middle of a crisis. They brought out their best so far for Ireland but looked out to sea more often than composed against Wales on Saturday. Phillipe Saint Andre has well and truly lost the respect of his squad, if he ever had it, and World Cup 2015 looks set to another mutiny a la Marc Lievremont last time out. Couple that with Morgan Parra being a rare shining light for France and now he is set to miss nearly three months to injury, as well as Wesley Fofana who may miss the remainder of the Six Nations. Sacre bleu.
Wales have an all important win under their belt regardless of style and they now stand as the last major hurdle for Ireland, Scotland likely to only be a potential banana skin on the final weekend. Can the Welsh derail the Irish juggernaut? Of course they can, they have done so spectacularly in the past, but a serious escalation in intensity will be required of them to do so. The rivalry between these two nearly outweighs that of Ireland and England these days with Wales dismantling Ireland twice in the Six Nations since 2010 and of course that World Cup quarter final. Whether or not they can pull that performance together in time remains to be seen.
France 13 – 20 Wales
Scotland, oh dear me Scotland. The smashed glass on the home coach’s booth in Murrayfield could have been anyone’s crime but nobody would judge if it was Vern Cotter’s. In the opening two games Scotland were guilty of just not being clinical enough in one or two clutch situations but the faith of their fans and indeed neutrals stayed with them. After this humbling finish against Italy however you really would have to worry for the Highlanders. Not that Italy didn’t do everything in their power to secure a precious first away win since 2007 and only their second ever on the road in the Six Nations, but the hosts had ample opportunity to be out of sight until that point.
Most eyes are fixed on a crucial error from Peter Horne when he missed touch ahead of the final Italian attack but he had played 80 minutes as out of position as a back can be, filling in at out half, and the game had been lost before that through the Scot’s inability to close out proceedings. Vern Cotter has put his hand up and accepted the blame lies with him and how he may not be communicating his intentions properly to the squad but that is little more than damage control from a coach trying to keep morale up ahead of two likely test losses. What makes it most tragic is that Scotland are probably playing with the most flair of any team in the tournament this year but there is just no killer instinct about them to finish off the opportunities.
On the other hand Italy fronted up in a way they haven’t managed since 2013. Whilst we are sitting here doing the maths for overall championship winner and debating Grand Slams it is easy to forget how something as simple as an away win can be a significant victory for the Azzurri. Sergio Parisse’s face at the final whistle tells the whole story and both France and Wales would do well to heed the Italians in the final two rounds. Back in 2013, when Italy won two fixtures for the first time since 2007 and the first of those of course was over France, Italy had more of a fire lit under them than we had ever seen in the championship. Aside from a blip of sorts against Scotland, they ran Wales and England close and of course thwarted Ireland for the first time since joining the Six Nations. Beware the Italians when they get a win under their belts. Players like Castrogiovanni, Parisse and Leonardo Ghiraldini may not have too many Six Nations left in them, due to wear and tear more so than age for the most part, and a big finish here ahead of a World Cup they likely won’t progress all that far in would serve to make 2015 a year well spent. As per usual they have shown in drip fed fashion what they can do (particularly here against Scotland) and if they could just string it all together into a cohesive performance anything is possible.
Scotland 19 – 22 Italy
Image courtesy of bleachreport.com