Monday, February 06, 2006

6 Nations Roundup 1

Well, the championship has kicked off with one of the best weekend's rugby in years. I've already noted Italy's surprise performance against Ireland, where they demonstrated that the best backline in the world will struggle if denied the ball by an aggressive opposition pack. What was so nearly the case for Italy was underlined twice by England.

England are still a team in transition, with a persistent question mark hanging over the centres, but it was a massive performance at Twickenham on Saturday. They simply annihilated Wales in the forward line, regularly putting the Welsh scrum under pressure, and dominating the lineout. With regular possession guaranteed, the backs could show off their skills, without the sort of pressure that can paralyse them. Still unconvinced by Tindall and Noon as a pairing, but they have at least preserved their places on this showing. Poor old Wales demonstrated that they simply do not have the depth of talent required to withstand an injury crisis. They tried to play expansive rugby, but without proper pressure up front it looked like desperation. If they can't get a fit squad together this is going to be a long hard championship.

Scotland, on the other hand, were magnificent. They played within their limitations, played positively and focused on the major French weakness behind the scrum to great effect. It's hard to believe that Michelak was considered the best fly-half in the world two years ago - his handling errors were extraordinary and, even allowing for his injury, he looked slow and off the pace. France came into this match as favourites for a Slam - they certainly didn't look it afterwards.

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