1. Where now for Wales?
Warren Gatland has been saying in the media recently that Wales do not need a ‘Plan B’, because they are yet to even execute ‘Plan A’ properly. This does not seem to make a great deal of sense. Surely if you can’t get Plan A to work, as was the case against Ireland when aggressive tackling and dogged breakdown work prevented Wales from getting their powerful runners going, then you need some sort of other option?
James Hook, a man capable of mixing it up a bit, was again left on the bench against Ireland – what’s the point in having him there if you’re not going to use him even in a game when you so obviously need to try something a bit different? Fitness may also be an issue for some of Wales’ big names, but whatever the problem is it needs to be sorted before the visit of the in form French.
2. England’s tighthead crisis
Dan Cole has played more rugby than most tightheads this season. The absence of Castro at Leicester means he has been substituted increasingly late in games, so it is somewhat surprising that he has played all but five minutes of England’s opening two games, too. Fatigue has looked like it has been setting in in the second halves thus far, so why has he been left on so long and, in the case of the Stade de France, allowed to play the whole 80 minutes – an increasingly rare feat for a prop?
With Dave Wilson ruled out through injury it points to a lack of faith from Lancaster in Henry Thomas. Why else would he not be brought on for more of the Scotland game, when England were dominant in the scrums and the game was won after 50 minutes? It is worrying, especially when you consider there are next to no other tightheads that would be ready for international action at this stage. Dan Cole needs to be wrapped in cotton wool.
3. France aren’t being very French
France showed real backbone to beat England in the opening round of the Six Nations, something that had been glaringly lacking from any of their performances in the past year. It would then have been the French thing to do to lose disappointingly the following week to the Italians. But no, they produced a professional if not completely convincing performance, featuring a super 10 minute surge in the second half, to comfortably dispatch Italy from Paris with their tails between their legs.
There was lots of chatter before the Championship that France ‘always win the Six Nations the year after a Lions tour’, but the general consensus was that they had been so bad in the past year that couldn’t possibly come to pass this time around. Could it?
4. Ireland finally find some consistency
Ever since their Grand Slam in 2009 Ireland have flattered to deceive. They have put in some brilliant performances, such as the first forty minutes at the Millenium Stadium against Wales last year, but have always failed to back that up – they did not win another game after that one last year. Under Joe Schmidt, that seems to have changed. Australia in the autumn now seems like a blip, after performances against New Zealand, Scotland and Wales have all been exemplary.
Schmidt was obviously hugely successful at Leinster, which is helping him get the best out of their national representatives, but what has been more encouraging has been the form of those from outside the Leinster family, such as Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray and Andrew Trimble, under Schmidt. Whisper it quietly, but Ireland look like genuine title contenders this year.
5. Talk of Scotland leaving the Championship is hugely premature
Scotland have been rubbish so far – that much is obvious. But bad enough to leave the Six Nations? That is garbage. It is only a year since they finished third, rampaging past Italy and beating Ireland. They are clearly a team in transition. It is never likely to be easy for a team managed by an interim coach, knowing that they are going to have a new boss in a few months’ time.
There may well be deep-rooted issues within the game north of the border, such as the difficulty in transforming talented youngsters into first rate internationals, but talk of expelling them from the top table of Northern Hemisphere rugby is hugely premature – and not likely to be beneficial to their redevelopment, either. They are a colourful part of the Six Nations and, provided they can sort out the shambolic excuse for a pitch that is the Murrayfield turf soon, they deserve to stay that way.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images