1. The Anglo Welsh Sideshow
Eddie Jones is widely accepted as one of the sporting world’s great wind-up merchants, delivering caustic barbs and fanciful media misdirection with the same deadpan demeanour.
Following England’s shoddy showing against France, the spiky Aussie has kicked off the annual media jousting ahead of Wales by branding England’s record in Cardiff as ‘horrendous’ and playing some good old fashioned silly buggers over the Millennium Stadium roof
"I can't work out why our record in Wales is so poor. I'm sure they have had good teams down the years, but they are a country of three million people," Jones parped with a glint in his eye.
“There seems to be some sort of thing there because no one can tell me why the English are petrified of playing Wales in Wales.”
It was textbook stuff, mugging off ‘little Wales’, showering disingenuously thin praise on their recent title-winning teams and attempting to mark his own boys as the underdogs, all in the space of 150 or so words.
The marvellous nonsense is that England’s ‘horrendous' record at the Millennium Stadium is nothing of the sort. It’s not even vaguely a thing.
Since 1999, when Wales moved to their new home, England have won five of the 10 games between the two sides. That away win ratio of 50% is superior to 40% in Dublin and 38% in Paris over the same period.
Wales, shorn of Warren Gatland’s acerbic tongue, have played the media game in a much more low-key fashion thus far. Skip, Alun Wyn Jones, refused to be drawn on Jones’ jibes, Shaun Edwards has made a point of England’s recent iffy discipline whilst Sam Warburton attempted to turn the heat up on England by placing them on a pedestal alongside New Zealand at the moment. Sadly, no one at Twickenham on Saturday with pair of eyes believes that for one second.
We've seen the Welsh management go hard after Dylan Hartley verbally in years gone by (with fairly disastrous consequences in 2011). Clearly lacking fitness and having stunk the place out against France, will we see some late pressure from Rob Howley and co applied to England's most combustible component?
Go on lads, have a couple of pops, it’s awfully entertaining for the rest of us.
2. Southgate Factor?
One of the more curious elements of this week was the visit of Gareth Southgate to England’s training camp. It was a meeting the normally understated Guardian went so far as to announce ‘Eddie Jones wheels out new weapon against Wales: Gareth Southgate’.
He, along with Lisa Alexander, the hugely successful Australian netball coach, spent time with the Jones' staff, observing training sessions, sharing ideas and experiences this week.
Whilst Alexander, a World and Commonwealth champion, is an understandable choice of muse, I’m intrigued by what Southgate’s bringing to the party, bearing in mind his meek demeanour and track record of failure.
Lest we forget, his only two jobs prior to snaffling arguably the toughest gig in world football have hardly been roaring successes - relegation with Middlesbrough before finishing bottom of the group at the 2015 European Championships with England U21s, despite a team that boasted Harry Kane, John Stones, Jesse Lingard, Jack Butland and Nathan Redmond.
So what’s the deal? Jones can’t be picking his brains on how to beat the Welsh on their own patch, something Southgate has done just once throughout his entire career as a player and manager, with England U21s.
Is Jones’ merely fulfilling some kind of contractual obligation or is he secretly plotting a rogue move to spunk €20m on Alfonso Alves before turning him into a swashbuckling presence in the loose?
3. Do Scots Have Punch To Back Up Panache?
After years of seeing Scottish hopes, held together by an imposing and competitive pack, dashed by a backline with all the cutting edge of a sponge, the tables have turned somewhat of late.
Victory over Ireland was secured despite a bit of a pounding up front. The Scots were pinged for three scrum penalties in the opening 19 minutes alone as they struggled to handle Ireland’s forward grunt.
Scotland’s current crop of lethal backs, however, were on hand to clinically convert what scant opportunities the tide of Irish possession and territory handed them. This, combined with some quite heroic defence and the nerveless kicking of Greig Laidlaw was enough to secure a famous win.
This week’s trip to Paris will put further strain on that Scottish front five as they face the tournament’s biggest pack, one that bullied England throughout their narrow loss at Twickenham last week.
The pre-tournament loss of outstanding import WP Nel along with Alasdair Dickinson were huge blows. 21-year-old Zander Ferguson, a man who was still in nursery the last time Scotland tasted championship success, stepped up admirably against Ireland. Any further injuries, however, could prove disastrous against a French front three that are collectively over 30kg heavier than their Scottish counterparts and boast ample re-enforcements off the bench.
4. Irish Need To Bounce Back With A Big Win
Ireland’s defeat to Scotland, whilst hugely deflating to their title hopes, turned out to be the best type as they snagged a losing bonus point.
This weekend the men in green need to respond with not just a win, but also with a hefty score. The pre-tournament favourites can certainly still win the championship but will likely need at least two further bonus points, on top of four straight victories, to do so.
Italy this weekend, irrespective of the promising signs under new boss Conor O’Shea, represents the most obvious opportunity. Wales, not for want of trying (they turned down numerous shots at goal), only managed to come away from Rome with three touchdowns, further denting their outside title hopes.
Ireland’s backline is more than capable of running in a raft of scores against anyone in the world. The pressure to deliver has been ramped up significantly by last week’s defeat however and the fact that, at the time of writing, Joe Schmidt looks extremely reluctant to risk chief schemer, Johnny Sexton, for the trip.
5. Dank Memeage
— Name cannot be blank (@Burgerboxx) February 5, 2017
Jonathan Davies managed to nail the first major meme of 2017 last week, who'll step up this week? Stuart Hogg whipping out 'WHERE IS THE LAMB SAUCE' or Rory Best celebrating a touchdown with his own mirthsome take on Trump Draws. Who await with baited breath.