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Six Nations Sermon - Week 2

After a cracking opening weekend, the Guinness Six Nations returns this Saturday with some tasty looking ties. Expect a colossal Celtic encounter, more staggering Gallic gaffs and a further 80 undefeated minutes for Wales.  

Wounded Ireland Face Scottish Siege

A battered and bruised Ireland head to Murrayfield with their tails between their legs after a chastening home defeat to England. It was a sobering Saturday for the normally delirious disciples of the green jersey, and the stats heading into this week’s clash against their Celtic cousins won’t do much to ease any ongoing Aviva hangovers.

So pour yourselves another Guinness, look up the definition of “bouncebackability” in the dictionary and take comfort in the fact that records are there to be broken, as someone famous once said. For Scotland the Brave have not lost a home Six Nations match since the opening round of 2016; a barely believable time when Roy Hodgson had Harry Kane on corners and the word ‘backstop’ meant either a perfectly legitimate rounders fielding position or an activity you performed in the privacy of your own home.

Secondly, the recent memory of Ireland’s last visit to Edinburgh in 2017, which saw them finish on the wrong side of a 27-22 scoreline, and the crushing Calcutta Cup win of 2018 are sharp reminders of what Townsend’s men are capable of when backed by a raucous home crowd.

A further blow to the travelling team is their hefty body count in the aftermath of the Aviva drubbing with Stander, Toner and Ringrose all set to watch the game from matron’s ward. With an already lengthy off-games list, Ireland’s strength in d­­­epth will be put to the test like never before. 

The rugby world is not so bleak if you’re a kilted kinsmen north of Hadrian’s wall, for whom the above facts and recollections ought to warm hearts and rally the famous ‘FREEEEDOM” battle cries quicker than any snifter of scotch.

A routine victory over the plucky Italians last time out was marred slightly by the concession of a number of second-half tries softer than mashed neeps, but the Scots have plenty more in the tank and that may prove the difference come Saturday. This fixture is always a doozy – it’s produced 1.1 more tries per game than the tournament average over the last five years – so expect nothing less this weekend in what is a must-win game for both teams.

Le Crunch or Le Crumble?

If you like sporting cliché drinking games, France are the gift that keeps on giving.

After smashing the self-destruct button to smithereens against a below-par Wales last Friday, there no longer seems to be any way of knowing which France side are going to turn up after the interval, let alone before a ball is kicked.

After a rap sheet last week that included dropping ball on own try line, hurling three rank hospital passes in succession and not telling the captain he is, in fact, the captain, the question remains - what new ways to inexplicably throw a game exist?

It was a particularly painful defeat for Les Bleus, who had started the game in dashing style. That said, the omens heading into Sunday’s clash with the Roast Beefs at Twickenham are about as inspiring as a Francois Hollande public address.

HQ is ground where they have tasted nothing but bitter defeat for the last 13 years and have shipped a shedload of tries on more than one occasion, including 7 during that barely-believable game back in 2015.

When the French fold, as they did last Friday at a disbelieving Stade de France, it can be pretty spectacular. Equally (get that drink ready cliché bingo players), on their day they are capable of beating anyone, anywhere: just ask Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

If they are to cause an upset in South West London, they must overcome an England side that has rediscovered its swagger after a torrid 2018. Jones and his men put in a seismic shift in Dublin last week and their challenge now is surely to bring that level of intensity and intelligence to every game.

The memory of last year’s dreary loss in the Paris wet will not have faded, adding further fuel to the rekindling English fires under Farrell’s blossoming captaincy. Whether Sunday’s showdown proves to be le crunch or simply le crumble will surely much depend on the mood of London’s Gallic guests.

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Stick It In Behind

One final word on the Frogs before we move on, it’s worth taking a second to look back on just how frequently their back three have bogged it against Wales in recent years. Considering England scored twice off stabs into the red zone in Dublin, they’d be well advised to continue feeding balls into the backfield on Sunday.

Wales Seeking Statement Win In Rome

It was job done in Paris for Gatland and his men as they came back from 16-0 down at half-time to break French hearts and secure a 10th straight test win.

The challenge awaiting them this weekend is not so intimidating, but it will be curious to see how the coaching staff shuffle their pack. With Dan Biggar so impressive off the bench in Paris, will he be returned to the number 10 starting berth or might Gatland stick with fellow antipodean Gareth Anscombe?

Likewise, George North was back to his try-scoring best. Do they give their thoroughbred stallion another confidence boosting run out in Rome or put him out to pasture before the visit of England in two weeks’ time?

Whichever combination takes the field on Saturday it’s almost certainly going to be too strong for an improving Italy. That said anything other than a comfortable Welsh win will surely not be acceptable to the men in red’s bullish taskmasters and lofty ambitions.

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Will Chilcott
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Cover image - PA