One of the most highly-competitive and hotly-contested Rugby competitions in the world is underway and, again, not letting down any fans. The Six Nations is back and with the Rugby World Cup creeping up on all nations, players around the world are making their final claims for a spot in that 30-man squad to tour New Zealand.
England and France lead the way with two from two, while Wales and Ireland sit behind them with one win a piece and Scotland and Italy are yet to claim the points from either of their matches so far.
England has kicked off in emphatic fashion after grinding out a solid victory over Wales and disposing of the Italians with a 46-point victory in front of a packed out Twickenham. Former rugby league star Chris Ashton crossed on four occasions in the record-breaking win, making him the only English player in the history of the Six Nations tournament to cross the white line more than three times.
France are sitting just behind England on the 6 Nations ladder, 37-points behind them on their differential, however this weekend when the two top sides face-off we should see the first gap open up at the top of the table. France have put away Scotland and Ireland so far in the 2011 series, however haven’t looked as dominating as recent seasons have shown. Their late-2010 defeat to the Qantas Wallabies may still be sitting in the stomachs of some players, however with the boot of halfback Morgan Parra steering them around the paddock it is anyone’s match.
Wales and Ireland have both shown glimpses of promise in their opening two matches, however nothing to say they are true contenders for the title this season. The Welsh are still undecided on whether James Hook or Stephen Jones is the man to wear the No.10 jersey and it seems to be affecting those inside and out of the playmakers, whoever is there. Ireland were lucky to get away with a win the opening round, thanks to boot of Ronan O’Gara, but never looked like taking France the full 80 minutes last weekend. Jamie Heaslip back in the side was a huge boost for the men in green last weekend, however the Scots away this week should show if they are serious contenders or just pretenders.
Scotland surprised everyone, including themselves it looked, with their gutsy display against the French in the first week. The Scots put away 21 points and showed promise we haven’t seen from them in years, with the right balance of wide, attacking play and grinding it out in the middle through their tight-five. Australian-born Dan Parks can kick them from almost everywhere, however Scotland need to be getting the penalties or scoring the tries for him to even have a chance at adding the extras – not giving them away. Italy have been tough, hard-working but just don’t have the depth to match the top-dogs in Europe. They nearly had a historical-win against the Irish, however discipline and experience shone through and they lacked the ability to win it at the death. The England match was always going to one way and that’s the way it went, an absolute flogging. It wasn’t so much the lack of Italian talent, it was more so the talent of the English that saw an end to yet another 6 Nations attempt for them.
This weekend will break up the table once again and leave us at the halfway point with a better idea of just who is the real deal in 2011 and who’s here making the numbers. Our tips for the week, here at Rugby HQ, are for the Welsh to narrowly take the game against the Italians; the English to knock-off the French at home and move to the top of the table, while the Scottish have every chance to get their first win against the Irish but we aren’t sure they will.