Many people had France as clear Six Nations favourites, although not me, and now they have lost to Italy in the shock result of the weekend. It was thoroughly deserved by Italy and no one will want to travel to play them.
It is amazing that with the French clubs in such good form France can pull out that performance and Saint-Andre must take much of the blame. Potent midfields are key and France pick their most dangerous player, Fofana, on the wing!
And if it’s true that Wilkinson has been passing on playing tips to his Toulon buddy, Michalak, then he has done us all a favour, because he was dire, as were his two centre partners. The problem at number 10 is exacerbated by the fact that most French club fly halves aren’t even qualified to play for their home country! So, France won’t win any games at all unless they get their attack sorted out, not even against a dysfunctional Wales.
I could scarcely believe the Dragons opening 30 minutes against Ireland, and despite their stirring comeback, you can’t give an International side a 20 point start and reel it in. Wales are lacking leadership and pride somehow, which is amazing considering their recent 6 Nations successes.
I can only think that the mass exodus of top players to France to hunt the Euro has removed the traditional patriotic fervor they normally stoke up, because the quality of player is still there. Their upcoming match in the Stade de France will be a season maker or breaker – perhaps a high scoring draw saves both coaches!
Ireland meantime appear to have found a joie de vivre normally associated with the French, and Zebo’s outrageous piece of footballing skill reflects a sense of relaxed confidence in the team. This weekend will tell us a lot about a group of players who undoubtedly feel that they have underperformed on the International stage, in contrast to their efforts in the Heineken Cup whether for Ulster, Leinster or Munster.
There’s also a little matter of revenge after last year’s dismantling by England at Twickenham. So if Ireland can get past a vibrant England then they will be rightfully 6 Nations title favourites.
The men in White have their first real test in Dublin following their great win against the All Blacks. This is no disrespect to Scotland, who played well above themselves as individuals against England. In fact, there are signs that they have found an attacking spark, led by their excellent full back, Stuart Hogg.
But it takes time to knit together a back line that has been sterile over the last few years, and their forwards will need to adjust to the fact that they have some running backs to support! I think that this team may spring a surprise before the tournament is finished.
What of England? I think they were most impressive for their calmness and composure. Billy Twelvetrees enjoyed a quality debut and seemed to bring out the best in Farrell, who rather like Jonny Wilkinson is becoming a points machine. That is so valuable for any team which wants to win things.
The team hardly got out of third gear which made the comprehensive victory even more creditworthy. Although he didn’t get much of a mention, I thought Ben Youngs was razor sharp and Ben Morgan had his best game in an England shirt.
The core of the team around the key positions appears strong and has depth in reserve which is critical. I know that the England Management would be very unhappy with me saying this, but if we can scrape past Ireland in Dublin in a game of massive proportions, the Grand Slam is a realistic target.
Welsh hostility in Cardiff for the final match may not be enough to deny this group of Englishmen who are hungry to taste success after a decade of underperformance.
Is the Grand Slam on for England? Comments below…