By Ollie Hall
The tournament that invariably controls my mood for the whole year is back!
The Six Nations last weekend did not disappoint, as it never does, giving us a phenomenal near comeback and a record win. Now, let’s look at what’s next in the Six Nations by posing one question for each team to answer ahead of this weekend’s games.
Scotland vs France
Yes, I get it, you’ve lost the best player in the world but now you have to win without him. France got off to a poor start this tournament without their star Petit General, losing to Ireland at home. Of course, the red card and the fact there seemed to be five Joe McCarthys on the pitch didn’t help but France looked timid against Ireland, frozen by the headlights previously blocked by Dupont’s otherworldly play. Their superior-sized pack was bettered by Ireland’s and their defence was ripped apart by Ireland’s intricate attacking shapes so that by the end of the match they were desperate for some Dupont magic. But that will not come this Six Nations and as such France needs to now play in a way that accents the other world-class talent in their squad, of which there is an abundance. How can Fabien Galthié get players like Aldritt, Jalibert and Penaud get involved more to fill that Dupont-sized hole as they face Scotland next?
Can they beat the French? It may seem obvious but this question has particular importance this year. As pundits would lead you to believe this is the best Scottish squad for ages (the 2017 squad that almost beat New Zealand would like a word) and so they are in their best position to win the Six Nations. Beat France and they have a real shot this year. What’s more is Scotland have beaten this French team previously, a win in the World Cup warm-ups, and after their defeat to Ireland last weekend, France look vulnerable to a rare successive defeat. Scotland will have to put that second-half performance against Wales past them as with home advantage and a Dupontless France this is a chance they need to capitalise on.
Wales vs England
What was said in that dressing room at half-time? Maybe they received a Fergie-esque hairdryer treatment or perhaps Getafix had brewed up some of that super strength potion for them. Whatever it was, Wales were a completely different side in the second half; their aimless kicking and errors replaced by a Welsh tenacity and a superhuman Aaron Wainwright that the Scottish almost couldn’t deal with. Therefore, the question is can Wales replicate that performance for the whole game? Up next are England who, alongside Italy, are this youthful Welsh side’s only realistic chance to get a win this tournament and a repeat of that second half will be needed.
England come off the back of a 24-27 win against Italy. One in which the score hints at a closer game than it was, Italy almost held scoreless in the second half until a last-minute try when the game was already lost. There was a standout performance from Freeman, but the attacking problems still remain and as a result, the question to be asked is whether Freddie Steward should play the next test? For the record I like Steward. He offers England this aerial assurance I felt England lacked in the days of Elliot Daly at fullback and a strong carrier in the backs. But that may not be enough to warrant his continued place in the side. Most modern teams play with almost a second playmaker at fullback, able to step into the line and offer as another decision-maker. Think Barrett for New Zealand or Ramos for France. Steward is unable to be this option, and this may be limiting what is an already pretty ineffective England attack. Could this be the week we see George Furbank, probably the in-form English fifteen, come into the side?
Italy vs Ireland
Can they show improvement from previous campaigns? A win for Italy against this Ireland team is highly unlikely but the challenge for Italy will be keeping the score close. Against England, they came out of the blocks quickly with two brilliant back moves to score two tries in the first half but in the second failed to find a way around Felix Jones’ new England defence. New head coach Gonzalo Quesada will look to eliminate this stagnation in attack to prevent a large loss this weekend. Perhaps a returning Ange Capuozzo can wreak similar havoc to the way he did in Wales two years ago.
Yeah, all this winning is good, but can you win a World Cup quarterfinal for once?
In all seriousness, there are so few questions to ask about this Ireland side. They come off the back of a record win in France and face Italy this weekend, easily a win (hopefully that’s jinxed it). The question coming into this tournament may have been around Jack Crowley and his ability to replace Sexton but after his performance against France, we have our answer. No questions for you then Ireland, just go easy on Italy, will you?
Image: Emmet Connolly via Flickr