Mind Games - Weight of Expectation Posted about 9 years ago

Photo: Total Sportek

Apparently Stuart Lancaster has been pacing around the lakeside walks of Virginia Water in the last number of days to get some clarity of thought in the lead up to the Championship decider. He can be forgiven for wanting to jump in after watching his side blow so many try-scoring opportunities last weekend. It was painful and kept Scotland in a game that should had been way beyond them, despite some wonderful outside back play by Hogg, Seymour and Fife.

Having said that, it may be that is another caich who should be doing the soul-searching. Joe Schmidts appointment to god-like status has been put on hold after Irelands brainless performance in Cardiff. Pundits rightly pointed to heroic tackling by the Welsh, especially Warburton and Charteris. In the air, Halfpenny and co were quite exceptional unlike England the week before. Taking another look however at the Irish attacking strategy, there was a story to tell. Simple pop passes close in are meat and drink to an International defence so what on earth possessed the Irish to indulge in such a tactic when a Grand Slam was at hand – with all due respect to the Scots in the last match.

I don’t think the result either elevates Wales overmuch or necessarily diminishes Ireland, but with so much front foot ball the impression increases that if Sexton and Murray have an off day then its a struggle for the Irish backs.

Optimists are suggesting that Wales will play a high octane game in Rome against an injury ravaged Italian team who have their win and may well settle for that. In which case a 40 point win could create more than a frisson at Twickenham and Murrayfield.The Welsh are certainly capable, especially if Scott Williams gets into the game. He has an exceptional talent as shown by his slashing outside break leading to the key try, showing the way to the toiling men in Green.

Do we give up on Scotland? Not at all, I think there is a big performance in them, so I feel this is a real test for Ireland and the wake up call of last week could become more serious if their limited attack play continues.

What of England this weekend – rather than pan England for poor execution I prefer to admire the great skills of Englands three musketeers from Bath, who were quite exceptional last weekend. If Nowell can hold the ball in two hands for once, and Burrell takes what could be a last chance to show his all-round ability then I have high hopes. England created more in 40 minutes than France have all season. I find it laughable that we are talking about countering French bulk – how the wheel has turned! Lumpy unfit forwards do not cut it in today’s rugby, and the continued sterility in the French backs mean that defensive lines for England will be well – identified and easy to work out.

England will know exactly what they need to do when they run on to the pitch, and their psychological state of mind could be the deciding factor. A Welsh cricket score or a Sexton inspired rebound by Ireland could leave England needing to win by 20 points. French pride, English nerves? Half breaks leading up blind alleys and poor decisions in whats called the red zone? Or a glorious combination of pace, power and skill to show the French what they themselves used to be capable of…for the sake of a great day out at Twickenham, the neutral observer wishes for an end to end classic. Perhaps I am subconsciously goading Les Bleus into something special, but I do know what the English squad is thinking. WIN – and win the Championship. It’s what’s expected, and it’s in the mind.

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Hallers played for Oxford University, Bath & Harlequins and represented England in 23 test matches, including the Rugby World Cup final against Australia in 1991. Simon, a former RFU Council member, is an investment banker in the City of London and also Executive Director of Esher RFC.

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