The 2013 version of the Six Nations threw up an incredibly exciting first weekend, with Italy’s shock win over France the clear highlight. An opening day loss for the tournament favourites has thrown the Championship wide open. Meanwhile, Ireland and England recorded impressive victories to get that all-important momentum rolling. Next Sunday may end the hopes of one of the two. What follows are just a few thoughts on how things have unfolded so far for the teams apart from Ireland. Feel free to comment below with any of your own!
Personally, I expected a strong statement of intent from the French on Saturday, but the loss makes sense when you look back at their build-up to the tournament. Bernard Jackman highlighted several of the problems during his excellent slot on Monday’s Off the Ball, particularly how wrong Phillipe Saint-André had gone with his approach. The French coach basically pre-excused his players for the loss, continually emphasizing that they were fatigued, as well as how little time he had had with the squad since their impressive November series. Regardless of whether his assertions have a basis (something I’ll look at in more depth next week), it was the wrong thing to be saying in the media.
To be fair, the French performance was tired-looking. They still tried to get off the defensive line at speed, but they never won the physical collisions. That was illustrated by the manner in which Italy managed to get their razor-sharp offload game going. The most stark example was when Orquera (78kg) got his hands through a double tackle from Picamoles (113kg) and Ouedraogo (102kg) for the Castrogiovanni try. That’s not to take anything away from Jacques Brunel’s team, who were exciting and brave in attack. They will travel to Murrayfield expecting a win.
Saint-André has made two changes to his starting XV, Suta in for the injured Pape and Bastareaud replacing Fritz. The Toulon man adds serious bosh-factor but has defensive positioning and awareness problems. Still, it should be a bone-jarring battle in the centre between France and Wales on Saturday. Directly across from Bastareaud will be a man with big problems of his own, JJV Davies.
I felt that the individual performances of Davies and the Sam Warburton neatly summed up the Welsh performance last weekend, particularly in the first half. Davies had possibly the worst game of his career, utterly lacking in confidence. Whatever about the poor passing (he’s never been the most skillful centre), the fact that he was losing physical collisions to the likes of Craig Gilroy spoke volumes. After a run of 8 losses in a Welsh jersey, the confidence just wasn’t there.
Similarly, Sam Warburton’s confidence has fallen off a cliff since the Grand Slam win. A run of bad games has turned into a crisis and he needs to focus on his mental game. At least twice in the first half vs. Ireland, Warburton was in prime positions for steals at the breakdown, but just didn’t have the confidence to put his hands on the ball. A year ago he would have had the ball snapped up and away in that split second where he’s now staring at the ball. Regardless of whether or not Warburton is actually injured, Wales have done the right thing by starting the sensationally in-form Justin Tipuric at openside this weekend.
England roll into Dublin for Sunday’s game on the back of a four-try win against Scotland. As expected, they looked physically powerful and in control at all times. Farrell’s place-kicking is becoming such a reliable weapon for them that simply overpowering the opposition and taking points is the tempting option. However, the introduction of Billy Twelvetrees adds something different. Without getting ahead of myself, he looks a genuinely complete centre and is just great to watch. He’s a big lad and can carry well, but his vision and distribution add so much more than the Barritt/Tuilagi combo offers.
We’ve another fascinating weekend ahead of us and it’s impossible to say where this Championship is going to end up. Leave a comment below with your views on the other teams in the Six Nations and what you expect this weekend…
Following on from our Player of the Tournament piece, here’s the shortlist for the best newcomer in this season’s Six Nations. The list features two Scots, two English and one player each from France and Wales. Italy’s newcomers failed to make any impact. Ireland had a distinct lack of new faces and plenty of the criticism of Declan Kidney in the aftermath to the capitulation to England will be based on this.
Take a look through the piece, which outlines why each of the six players made it, and make your vote in the poll at the bottom! Leave a comment explaining why you choose that particular player. If you think anyone has been unfairly omitted, let me know in the comments section too.
Denton on a typical surge against Ireland. (c) Ken Bohane.
The powerful No.8 made his debut for Scotland in the World Cup warm-up match against Ireland in August of last year, but missed out on selection for the final squad. His form for Edinburgh since made it impossible for Andy Robinson not to choose him at the base of the scrum for this year’s Six Nations. Born in Zimbabwe and schooled in South Africa, Denton qualifies for Scotland through his mother. He has had an outstanding debut tournament for his adopted country.
Denton’s ball-carrying ability is already world-class. His strength and pace make him a hard man to stop. He relishes the physical battle of contact, and his work-rate is second to none. In fact, Denton made the most carries of any player in the Six Nations with 65. The Edinburgh back-rower has also displayed a nice offloading game, something Scotland need to exploit to better effect. Denton doesn’t shirk defensive responsibilities either, and made some quality steals on the deck. A genuine 2013 Lions contender.
Fofana in action against Italy. (c) Richard Dunwoody.
The Clermont speedster features in our Player of the Championship poll, and has already picked up a couple of votes. His impact for France saw him finish 2nd in the try-scoring table, with 4 in 5 games. Fofana’s pace and evasiveness make him a nightmare for opposition defences, highlighted by the fact that he beat more defenders than any other player in the Six Nations. He is also a superb finisher. Despite not being very big for an international centre (5’10” and 88kg), Fofana’s power also makes him a strong defender.
The one aspect of the game that the 24-year-old needs to work on is his distribution. Fofana almost never looks for the pass or offload. His confidence in his own ability is commendable, but if he is to continue playing at 12, Fofana must add variety to his game. It’s hard to believe, but the Paris-born back only made 9 passes in the 5 games, and not a single offload. If he can improve these facets of his game, Fofana has the ability to become one of the best centres in the world.
Cuthbert watches on as Beauxis takes a penalty for France in the Grand Slam game. (c) Matt Appleby.
A lot of the hype about Wales’ backline centres around the freakboy that is George North. On the opposite wing though, Cuthbert has been probably more impressive in this Six Nations. After a quiet opening game against Ireland, when he came off injured at half-time, the Blues winger exploded into life with a brilliant try-scoring performance against Scotland. The giant (6’6″ and 104kg) wide man added further tries against Italy and France, both fantastic scores.
Born and raised in England, the 21-year-old was unusually not an underage international with Wales (he qualifies through his mother). A move to college in Cardiff where he played sevens resulted in a call-up to the Welsh Sevens for the 09/10 and 10/11 IRB World Series. The Blues were impressed enough to bring him onboard in Cardiff, and Cuthbert has rapidly risen to where he is now. His background highlights the need for the IRFU to invest in sevens. Cuthbert is still relatively raw, as shown in the English game when he only touched the ball once. However, his size, pace and finishing ability means he will be worrying Irish defences for years to come.
The Scarlets No.8’s decision to opt for an international career with his native England, rather than Wales, whom he qualifies for on residency grounds, has turned out to be a good one. After impressing off the bench in the first two games against Scotland and Italy, the 23-year-old finally started against Wales. His performance in that game was good, and he has grown in the two games since then. Explosive ball-carrying in Morgan’s main strength, but he also possesses good skills, with his offload for Foden’s try against France a prime example.
Wales, France and Ireland have all struggled to halt Morgan and he has been one of the best No.8s in this year’s Six Nations. He has confirmed a move to Gloucester next season, which will make it easier to link up with the English international camp. There will be a fascinating battle for the Lions’ No.8 jersey over the next year, with Morgan, David Denton, Toby Faletau all strong prospects. Hopefully our own Jamie Heaslip can find some form too.
Hogg wearing the 13 jersey for the Warriors against Leinster this season. His future may lie there for Scotland too. (c) Patrick McGuire.
While Scotland endured a shockingly poor championship, 19-year-old Hogg had a highly promising tournament. Having only made two appearances for the Glasgow Warriors before this season, no one could have predicted his impact. The fullback didn’t even feature in Scotland’s squad for the opening defeat to England, but a brilliant performance, including this magnificent solo try, in Scotland A’s 35-0 thrashing of the English Saxons showed Andy Robinson what he was missing.
Coming off the bench against Wales, Hogg made a big impression with his deft footwork and willingness to attack. He hasn’t looked back since, and turned in his best display as Scotland came close to beating France, scoring his first international try. The quality of Hogg’s attacking play may eventually result in a move to outside centre, where Scotland lack creativity. Wherever he ends up playing, the young Scot is set for a long international career.
Farrell is another who features in The Touchline’s Player of the Championship poll, although he’s not received a single vote at the time of writing. His performance in the St. Patrick’s Day win over Ireland may see that change, as the 20-year-old put in a fantastic display of tactical kicking. After playing the first two games at outside centre, where he was defensively solid if a little unspectacular, Farrell’s move to outhalf has seen both himself and England flourish. The Saracens youngster has displayed massive amounts of mental strength and plenty of ability.
Farrell’s defensive strength is a huge plus at outhalf, and he has made some big hits over the course of the Championship. His kicking out of hand had been a slight worry, particularly against France, but the win over Ireland yesterday showed that he is accomplished in this area. His place-kicking has been largely excellent too. The one area that Farrell has yet to prove himself is as an attacking force. The English game plan is pretty limited at the moment, so it will be interesting to see how he copes if England look to develop there. It’s been a brilliant debut international campaign for Farrell.
Ireland’s Donnacha Ryan is worth a shout here, despite being 28. This season was the first in which he had an impact on the Six Nations, and the Scotland game was the first time he started a Six Nations game. Declan Kidney’s loyalty to Donncha O’Callaghan was hard to understand and Ryan now deserves a first-choice role.
For France, Yoann Maestri came into the side for their second game against Scotland and retained his place for the remainder of the tournament.The 120kg second-row added plenty of beef to the French pack and excelled defensively. The Toulouse man will look to get on the ball more in the future.
England’s Brad Barritt and Chris Robshaw were both as solid as rock, although very limited in attack. They are perfectly suited to England’s style of play.
Sexton is fit to take his place at outhalf. (c) Nigel Snell.
Declan Kidney has unveiled his Irish team to take on Italy in Saturday’s Six Nations game at the Aviva (kick-off 1.30). The Irish coach has made no changes to the side he had originally selected to take on France. Johnny Sexton has fully recovered from the thigh injury which made him a doubt for the ill-fated Stade de France clash two weekends ago.
Italy have been poor in their first two games against France and England. They don’t look to pose any more threat than usual. This is an Irish team filled with quality players and they should be confident of a convincing win at home.
What’s your take on the Irish team? Would you have liked to see a few changes? If so, where and who? How do you think we will fare against the Italians? Comment below with your views and opinions on the Italy match this weekend.
Ireland team to face Italy
1. Cian Healy (Leinster)
2. Rory Best (Ulster)
3. Mike Ross (Leinster)
4. Donnacha O’Callaghan (Munster)
5. Paul O’Connell (Munster, capt.)
6. Stephen Ferris (Ulster)
7. Sean O’Brien (Leinster)
8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)
9. Conor Murray (Munster)
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)
11. Andrew Trimble (Ulster)
12. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster)
13. Keith Earls (Munster)
14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)
15. Rob Kearney (Leinster)
16. Sean Cronin (Leinster), 17. Tom Court (Ulster), 18. Donnacha Ryan (Munster), 19. Peter O’Mahony (Munster), 20. Eoin Reddan (Leinster),21. Ronan O’Gara (Munster), 22. Fergus McFadden (Leinster).
Ireland and France will face each other on March the 4th. (c) Martin Dobey.
Today began with completely ridiculous suggestions by the FFR that the France vs. Ireland game should be put back until September in order to avoid any clash with Top 14 fixtures . Thankfully, some sort of common sense has prevailed and the Six Nations match has been rescheduled for the 4th of March, with a kick-off time of 3.00pm Irish time.
This is the weekend we had anticipated and the one that makes most sense, although it does give both teams the difficult task of 4 games in a row. Wales are the team who will probably benefit most from this entire fiasco. They will now hope to welcome a tired French side to the Millenium Stadium on Paddy’s Day with a Grand Slam on the line.
The IRFU have greeted the Six Nations Council’s decision with disappointment. Their preference was that the game go ahead on March 3rd, in order to give the Irish team a seven day turnaround in between each of the remaining four fixtures. Also, a Saturday match would have presumably made it easier for travelling fans.
Irish fans returning from France. Many will have to fork out to travel over again in two weekends' time. (c) Liam Coughlan.
The Six Nations Council has also stated that any fans who are unable to travel to France again for the rescheduled fixture will receive a full refund for their tickets. Hopefully, this will be some sort of consolation to the thousands of disgruntled supporters who made the original trek over. Once again, the hope is that the Six Nations Council will never let something like this happen again.
As mentioned before, four games in a row will represent a big challenge for Declan Kidney and his squad. But that is what faces them now and they must prepare for that task. The immediate focus is Italy in just under two weeks’ time. Judging on their opening games, this is a physical Italian side who lack invention and an outhalf. Ireland have enough quality to get a win on the board before travelling back to France. For now, they have to forget about the French.
With just ten minutes until kick-off, word started to filter through that the match was off. After hearing that referee Dave Pearson had given the go-ahead around two hours before the scheduled start, the excitement had gone into overdrive for what was sure to be one of the highlights of this Six Nations. With the Stade de France almost full, the official announcement came that the game was postponed because of the weather conditions.
The boos that greeted the news were only a mild expression of what the fans who had spent hard-earned cash to travel to France must have felt. They would not have been blamed for an angrier expression of their feelings. How did it come to a decision ten minutes before kick-off? Surely in this day and age, the officials in charge could have foreseen this happening and made an earlier call? With the freezing temperatures that have hit Paris all week and were forecast for tonight, it’s fair to say the weather was no surprise.
It’s hard not to feel for the loyal Irish supporters who made the trip, having spent their money and taken days off work. However, it is what it is and the game is off. Anger at the decision won’t achieve anything, but the organisers involved have to learn from this. It should never again get to the point where a game is called off with just minutes to go until kick-off. Given this particualr situation though, it was obviously the right call by Pearson. Players should never be forced to play in dangerous circumstances.
Fans at the Stade de France were left gutted by the late call. (c) Fabien Lavocat
This obviously effects the playing side of things. The game will most likely be rescheduled for one of the tournament’s break weekends, either February 18/19th or March 3/4th. If the game were to be put back to that weekend in March, it would mean four matches in-a-row for Ireland. That would be a big ask in such a high-intensity tournament. On the flip side, it would mean Ireland’s next match being at home to Italy, a good chance for a morale boosting win before taking on the French.
Playing the game next weekend seems unlikely given the logistics involved planning a game with a crowd of 80,000 people. As well as that, Stade de France is scheduled to be used for Stade Francais vs. Toulon Top 14 match on Saturday. It may be that Ireland are forced into four matches on consecutive weekends. From a supporters point of view, that would make things quite interesting, and if Ireland kicked the run off with a win in Italy, momentum could carry them back to France and beyond.
What was your take on what happened in Paris? Comment below with your view of things. When would you like to see the match rescheduled for? Would four weekends in-a-row be too much of an ask?