BY Will Chilcott
After a riotous opening weekend of the Guinness Six Nations, game week 2 promises to be another belter. Here’s everything you need to know to sound like veritable David Flatman at the bar this weekend.
Time For A Plan B?
Are Eddie’s England the rugby equivalents of cricketing flat-track bullies? It’s a question many at home and in the media are asking following a pretty dismal display in Paris last time out. For when England have both their Vunipolas fit and a fired-up Tuilagi thundering through tackles, they look meaner than any Australian cricket team of the late 90s.
However, when Mako is missing or brother Billy is out with broken bones, Jones’s charges struggle to get any momentum into their attacking game, and the side’s senior statesmen seem incapable of tweaking team tactics: the sight of Messrs. Farrell and Joseph trundling crash balls into a wall of French defenders in the Paris downpour was as miserable and revealing an image as I can remember under Jones’s tenure.
Plan A – blitzing teams early – has served Jones well with many of England’s finest wins under the Aussie featuring a try within the opening five minutes.
But the men in white have been guilty of crumbling when things don’t get their way on the scoreboard with alarming frequency. England have won just once in the last two years having gone down 0-7 on the scoreboard – the madcap World Cup warmup against Ireland being the anomaly.
England desperately need both a Plan B and an on-pitch leadership group to work things out when personnel problems and savvy opponents render their power game obsolete.
Youngs Out, Willi In, Farrell Keeps Captaincy
With key men missing once again for the Scotland clash this weekend at Murrayfield, Jones and his players must prove they have the nous to make the necessary tactical changes if and when things start to unravel.
It’s hard to believe that Farrell’s captaincy finds itself increasingly under the microscope barely 3 months after he led his country to a first World Cup final in 12 years, but such is the fall-out from the manner of the previous two defeats to street-smarter opposition.
Saracen’s teammate Chris Aston spoke insightfully this week about the wise heads – Barrett and Wrigglesworth – around him at club level and the burden that eases. That doesn’t exist in this current England set up and, against France, exposed the drawbacks to Farrell’s single minded ‘leadership by example’ policy on a day when his hands turned to lumps of ham, glazed with butter.
Jones has dropped experienced lieutenants Youngs, Marler and Lawes for the trip to Edinburgh but bafflingly Curry has kept the 8 shirt while there is no starting place for Ben Earl as they chase a first Calcutta Cup win since 2017.
The retention of the Ford-Farrell axis suggests England will look to dominate the territory battle through a shrewd kicking game in the rain. If the weather is as miserable as expected, it may prove a match-winning move in what will be a massive test of character for Jones and his side.
Scottish Feet Riddled With Bullets
Scotland were the better team in Dublin last weekend and will be asking themselves how they didn’t win that game. Once again, the honest answer is that they have only themselves to blame, as Townsend’s men squandered a host of glorious try-scoring opportunities at the Aviva, including what will surely go down as one of the all-time great cock-ups by captain Hogg.
If the Scots are to prevail this weekend, they can ill-afford a repeat of such profligacy and they must find a way of turning possession into points.
Townsend will look back fondly to the last time England were in town and can take great heart from his side’s performance last year at Twickenham when they pulled off a stunning second half comeback to draw 38-all.
When it all clicks they’re a fine attacking force, when it doesn't they’re insufferable. With just 2 wins over tier 1 opposition in the last 12 months, the pressure their on head coach is steadily building.
Mind Games Matter
Calcutta Cup matches at Murrayfield tend to come with a fairly hefty serving of spice: only two years ago we witnessed the infamous pre-match tunnel bust-up involving Ryan Wilson and Owen Farrell that was then topped off with the bizarre sight of Eddie Jones being heckled back to London by a couple of half-cut clowns.
The abrasive Aussie has once again stoked the Saltire fire this year by calling his northern neighbours ‘niggly’ and ‘goady’, a brave move after his mind games at Murrayfield two years ago and across the Channel five days ago left his face literally dripping with oeuf.
England look jaded, disjointed and distracted to me, whilst Scotland appear to have shrugged off Finn Russell’s absence and I thought they played some delightful rugby against Ireland a week ago. With ferocious home support guaranteed and a bit of luck going their way, I can see this turning into a Scots victory.
Pace And Power Key For Pivac
Grand slam holders Wales go to Dublin this weekend having laid down an impressive 42 point marker against Italy in their opener in Cardiff. Admittedly the opposition weren’t up to much, but the brutal dynamism of Pivac’s charges was something to behold at times as they cruised over the try line at will.
Hattrick hero Josh Adams is fast becoming one of the hottest wings in world rugby whilst Nick Tomkins shone in the centers off the bench; throw George North into the mix and suddenly you have the makings of a seriously destructive backline with real strength in depth.
The men in red’s opponents this coming Saturday will surely put up more resistance than a pitiful Italy, but I still think this Welsh side possesses too much pace and power for an Ireland team that looked tired and disheveled against a plucky Scotland last time out.
Ireland To *Checks Notes* Keep Things Tight And Kick
With Ringrose and Doris on the sick list for this clash, Ireland’s attack looks considerably blunter than it did last week. I don’t think the Welsh midfield will be quaking in their boots at the thought of lining up against Henshaw and Aki, who are hardly the subtlest of center partnerships.
The men in green will want to keep this to an old-fashioned arm wrestle/kicking duel in the Dublin wet, for their tight-five and half-back combinations are more experienced and assured than their Welsh counterparts, barring the great AWJ. Wales on the other hand will be hoping for clear skies as they aim to build on last week’s try-fest, and I think they will have too much variety and verve in the locker for Andy Farrell’s boys.
Week 2 Pint Predictions
France v Italy - France by 30
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