Six Nations Round 4: 5 things we learned

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1. What a difference a year makes
A year on from the chastening 30-3 defeat in Cardiff, England look a team transformed. For all the talk of having exacted revenge over Wales for that game, it is not what England players, coaches and, indeed, fans should be most pleased about. It is the way in which this England team are playing. Yes, there were errors, but when you are playing a more open game that is always going to happen. Gone is the one-dimensional attack of England; now there are dangerous runners all over the pitch and you sense that there has been a shift in the way the players think when they get the ball.

All credit to Stuart Lancaster et al for engendering an atmosphere within the squad that allows the players license to play with confidence. The only negative has been indiscipline, which could end up costing them the Championship as it has seen their points difference take a beating.

2. What now for Wales?
If England are heading in the right direction, the same cannot be said for Wales. The things they usually excel at – defensive security, powerful runners smashing over the gainline, superior fitness – have all let them down this Six Nations. Sure, they have plenty of Lions who have played far too much rugby and look fatigued, but their problems run deeper than that. Gatland’s stubbornness is at times an asset, but he surely has to admit that they now need to develop an alternative gameplan to the one based purely on power.

There also needs to be a changing of the guard. Against Scotland, with nothing on the line, players like Adam Jones, Gethin Jenkins and Mike Phillips should be dropped from the squad to allow younger players a chance. They are all past their prime and starting to show their age – if you don’t give other guys a go now, then when?

3. France still in with a shout
Quite how, nobody is too sure, but the French are still in with a chance of winning this Six Nations. With a points difference of just +3 (which really goes to show how bad they have been), they would need either Italy to beat England or to rack up a cricket score against Ireland themselves – neither of which look particularly likely to come to pass, but stranger things have happened, and Ireland do have a woeful record in Paris… Put it this way, if Italy do pull off the unlikely and beat England, France will will come out firing, knowing points difference no longer matters and they just need a win.

4. Ireland on fire, but can they prove it Paris?
They have been the team of the championship so far, no doubt about it. Against Scotland, Wales and Italy they have sublime, accurate and exhilarating rugby which has rightly seen their points difference gallop away from the others and put them on the brink of a first title since 2009. At the weekend they reversed an old tendency to fall away towards the end of games and kicked things up a gear in the second half to blow the Italians away.

And yet, doubts still linger. They lost away to England, and have a terrible record against France in Paris. It shouldn’t play on their minds, but it will. And how French would it be, after all their bad press, for things finally to click and for them to beat Ireland? Certainly if, as expected, England beat Italy by a comfortable margin, there will be some added nerves jangling around the Ireland squad.

5. Scotland must find winning knack
Scotland did not deserve to lose to France. They played better rugby, scoring more tries, dominating the territory and possession stats as well as having an upper hand over both the scrum and the lineout. France, however, managed to snatch a win thanks to an interception try from Yoann Huget. Lucky? Perhaps, but the top teams always find a way of winning this sort of game. That Scotland could not shows their lack of nous of how to grind out a victory. Ironically, the only way to do this is to start winning. Assuming they fall to Wales this weekend, it will be another mediocre campaign for the Scots.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

35 thoughts on “Six Nations Round 4: 5 things we learned

  1. I don’t see England winning by a comfortable margin.

    Italy will be buoyed by performances this season, welcome back their talismanic figures and want to beat the one team they haven’t yet managed to in a six nations competition.

    England will win, not by a big score and unless the unthinkable happens BOD walks away from the six nations with a winners medal.

    1. Agree – small victory. Not sure what it is with our Latin neighbours but they are completely different at home and away. Hence why Ireland are going to have to play a blinder to win in Paris IMO. I think that they can do it though, so an England win will be irrelevant for the title but the play and depth of squad is very exciting!

  2. I too think England will win but by not enough to overtake Ireland. Emboldened by that Ireland will beat France and take the title.

    Ironically if by some miracle England do get the 50 plus points difference needed then I think Ireland would lose so as not to make points difference an issue.

  3. With most writing the French off, I’m back them to sneak the win. They’re overdue a good performance.

    At home, with something to play for? Its gotta be Frances day.

  4. Ok, I’m with Benjit on this one – I think that this is exactly what will happen. Though I do see Brighty’s logic on the illogic!

    Further I predict a win by 10-15 points for both England and Ireland.

    In detail.
    England to struggle in the scrums, and initially struggle to break Italy down. Half time at near-parity and stretch away a little at the start of the second half before Italy score at the death for a not so bad scoreline.

    Ireland to score early, stretch away, before France score a couple of brilliant tries when they have nothing to lose, BOD to go off injured after playing with his arm hanging off, and heavily limping, after setting up a couple of scores.

    In the other game, Mike Phillips will have an argument with Jim Hamilton.

  5. Mike Phillips and Jim Hamilton to have an argument…must be almost evens at a bookies!!

    England win but again not by much and Ireland,inspired by BOD last game, turn it on to win title in style.

  6. It’s around this time the French usually turn their backs on their coach and play a blinder – But with Dusautoir out who will rally them? Maybe Picamoles – though he leads by example rather than leading a revolt.

    Has anyone else heard that France are employing the Drunken Man style a la martial arts? – would explain those scummy wins!

    Hope we knock seven bells out of each other!

    Hope it’s a Ding Dong

  7. Although I don’t think England will get the 50 points difference I don’t think it will be a close match either. England have been fairly positive in their approach as evidenced by the quick taps and running the ball from our 22 against Wales. I expect more of that a perhaps a few more risks being taken. I think we will score a fee tries on Saturday, whether we risk the odd interception or penalty as a result may hamper us but I see no reason why we would not look to attack Italy.

  8. England to win at a canter (they are a very very good team) and I honestly fear for Italy. Wales to beat the Scots and a try by BOD to seal victory for Ireland in Paris by a point.

  9. On 2) I don’t see Wales need to be pressing the panic button or anything. When they are fully fit, have their defensive line speed, etc and lose badly then would be the time to worry.

    I get the feeling that a lot of Welsh tolerate Warrenball because they like winning a lot more than they dislike Warrenball. But when they lose playing Warrenball it’s another matter.

    I don’t get this “is Gatland the right guy to take us to the next level?” stuff either. In my view they are at “the next level”, the international results have defied all logic (mediocre underfunded regions at war with the WRU and a load of guys in France spending too much time on the pitch with second rate conditioning work). For the long term good of the Welsh game I wonder if they’ve even been too successful, because it’s convinced that tool Lewis that there is no correlation between a strong domestic game and the international team.

    Nor do I buy the ‘found out’ argument, it’s not as if Sherlock Holmes was ever required to figure out what they were doing. What is a factor is other sides (like England) making much better progress on fitness and conditioning so the vast gap that existed at the RWC is no longer there. If he’s to stay in post until 2019 he will need more tricks than just being better athletes as others will copy the techniques and he won’t be able to rely on it as his main advantage.

    1. Matt you’re right that this is not panic stations but Wales are not at the next level so to speak not until they start beating the SH boys. Time will tell if this is a blip or whether the likes of England and Ireland have overtaken Wales.

      1. Poor explanation on my part, yes the next level is chalking up some wins against SH. My point is that I believe Gatland is keeping them significantly above the level you would expect if you were picking from a bunch of semi fit players in France and guys from underfunded and under performing regions. It would be like Lancaster selecting 7 players from Worcester and Newcastle and delivering a grand slam or championship.

  10. Matt

    Wales have been 6th in the rankings for some time. It’s not an accident. They can’t beat the SH.

    They can do it on certain occasions. They made up most of the Lions’ test teams v Oz. They have the players (on paper at least).

    They shouldn’t indulge in kicking duels esp when behind on the scoreboard. They need to win the breakdowns. They need to tidy up their scrums & lineouts. They need to retain possession (17(?) t/overs v E). Oh & they need to pay attention @ penalty time.

    There has to something wrong with the coaching… unless there is the tired old excuse that the players are tired.

    They’re just not that consistant & therfore, until that changes, they’re just not good enough.

    1. Rankings award consistency, Wales aren’t consistent (hence why they are drawn against England and Aus). They don’t do too well on summer tours and autumn internationals as many of the players are arriving in camp semi fit and used to losing. However the times when they are together as a group for the longest period are the times they’ve performed the best (6N and RWC). That, to me, is an indication of good coaching. A ranking of 6th may not be great, but I reckon it’s well above where they would be without Gatland.

  11. The author says; ‘when you are playing a more open game that is always going to happen’. Wouldn’t want him as coach then. If the expection is to drop/knock the ball on, then it’s more likely to happen. Need to eradicate this thinking & have more confidence in an all round game, incl a running game.

    He also says; ‘Gone is the one-dimensional attack of England; now there are dangerous runners all over the pitch’.

    Dangerous to whom? Ed the coach has opined that, esp the wingers, run willy, nilly (my words) accross the pitch & that his juniors run straighter. Well I haven’t seen the said juniors, but I agree with him about the E wingers.

    England have upped the tempo & run the ball more. Their ‘D’ is tight. Brown is sharp & in the last game esp, Care was too. The tries tho weer still from a penalty & a grubber. The latter worked, but the midfield still lacks the ability to create space with quick accurate ball. They need to fix this by June.

    France? Need to give the Saint the tin tack.

    Scotland need the new coach yesterday. They shouldn’t be so dismal as they don’t have the worst players for me.

    Wales. Inconsistant. Should have done better with ALL those Lions (cubs?).

    Italy. Saddening as ever. Do they have 1 last hurrah v England?

    Ireland. Solid. Looked good v weaker teams e.g. Scotland (ok, v The ABs too… until @ the death). Ought to have driven to the E posts & kept driving in the last 1/4 until they would have more lightly have forced a penalty to draw… or turned it over. In the latter case hard cheese. Normally I would have run it as they did, but under those circumstances? I think they misread the sit & the E ‘D’. Need/ed a capt’n with a little more nous? Paris may tell tho.

    1. On Saturday evening if all goes to form England are likely to lose a championship on points difference to a team we’ve beaten. So yes we all want to see more opportunities created and the ones that are created converted.

      However if you compare where we are to this time last year (when our backs were awful and getting worse with each performance) it’s significant progress. If you compare where we are now to where we were in the Autumn (where the pack delivered enough good quality ball to win all 3 games and the backs did very little with it) it’s excellent progress. We are playing in a manner we weren’t before and we are getting better at it.

      Plenty of work to do but with each game England are looking more and more like a team you could lose to in 18 months time, the only time it will really count!

  12. “There also needs to be a changing of the guard. Against Scotland, with nothing on the line, players like Adam Jones, Gethin Jenkins and Mike Phillips should be dropped from the squad to allow younger players a chance. They are all past their prime and starting to show their age – if you don’t give other guys a go now, then when?”

    Why are these players being singled out for their ages? Why are they past their prime, because they are in their 30s? I thought the prime for a prop was in their 30s. This is simple minded thinking.

    The problem is not age but form and fitness. Players can be good to great international players well into their mid to late 30s. Look at the New Zealand, South African, and Argentina squads.

    The better reasoning for dropping Jenkins and Phillips is that they haven’t played well in a few years and their form doesn’t dictate their spot in the squad. However, Adam Jones is very important to Wales. Wales form is largely determined on Adam Jones’ form.

  13. My problem with Gatland is that he selects players who lack fitness and form because they fit his “game plan.” Thus, Wales under perform because the squad is filled with unfit and out of form players. I realize Gatland’s hands are tied to a certain extent because it would be foolish to play players who don’t fit his system, so maybe it’s not a good idea to have such a narrow game plan.

    I know that this is largely a New Zealand mindset because the All Blacks do this too (look at the Super Rugby form compared to international form, i.e., Nonu). But, unlike Gatland who keeps selecting those players, the All Blacks are not afraid to drop players who don’t perform (but they also have a larger pool to select from).

    1. Agree that’s an issue, but he’s also had some good results sticking with players who were unfit out of form and them coming good. Roberts, Lydiate, Warburton etc are all examples that have played there way back into form at various points over the last couple of years, so don’t think it’s cut and dry.

  14. This could be the most luxurious stroll to a 6nations championship yet for France. They play their last game in Paris. Picamoles will be back..

  15. Gatland has won the 6N twice (last year he was with the lions). He has come 4th 3 times I believe, with a 3rd-5th place coming up. His overall record is 50% with Wales. People remember the 30-3 drubbing they gave England, but forget what happened to them at the start of that tournament. His record really isn’t as good as people think. Wales are 6th because they don’t beat SH, because Ireland beat them, and because England are the more inconsistent side (losing to Wales but beating SH sides). A 8/9 game losing streak didn’t help their rankings either.

    1. No, people don’t rate Wales performance last year on that 30-3, they rate it on winning the championship. I know you obviously have an issue with Gats as evidenced by your contradictory attempt to both dismiss the overall result last year as nothing to do with him but still refer to a) the loss to Ireland last year and b) the 8/9 game losing streak, neither of which was he in charge for (only partially for the latter).

      Plenty of people dislike Gats. Plenty of people want to see him fail. But the unchangeable fact is that he is the most successful NH coach in the last ten years because we count trophies when judging that. As others have said, he gets the players to peak when trophies are on the line, he fails to do so when we’re into AIs. If all that mattered was win ratios and wins against SH sides we wouldn’t all be so interested in who’s going to take the title this weekend.

      1. We’re both including last year for Gatland, you’re right, the 30-3 was nothing to do with him, nor was winning the championship. Nor was the losing streak.

        He’s won 2 championships in the last 10 years, Lièvremont and Laporte have each won 2 as well. He’s also come 4th three times. Wales seems to be boom or bust in the NH, and just bust against the SH.

        Gatland has certainly improved your squad, his selection policy, bringing in the youth when he first came in, was fantastic. The change in your strength and conditioning took pretty much the whole world by storm. But now everyone is catching up, he doesn’t seem to be able to continue to adapt.

        1. For me it was all to do with him – the streak, the championship, the loss to Ireland etc. I disagree with you that his “sabbatical” rules him out from taking credit for that as part of the coaching team.

          Yep, he improved us a lot. He also, as SL gets a lot of credit for, sorted out the mess of a culture we had. Much like SL he had to deal with senior players who had made a spectacular mess of a World Cup – both on and off the field. Those senior players had driven out Ruddock. A total mess on and off the field and he brought a hardworking and pro ethic to it.

          It’s too early to say Gats cannot adapt. The “broken” approach won the 6Ns this year and last against teams I keep being told are better because they beat the SH – well, Eng did, sometimes… I’d need to see a continued decline before I could conclude that he had now turned from being a winning coach into a losing one and I don’t dismiss our improvement as simply down to fitness.

          1. Breathe Brighty…

            No one knows whether this a blip or decline, time will tell.

            Wales have been the best NH side over this last cycle when fit. I believe the 3rd and 4th finishes were when you had a lot of injuries. As a fan the only thing I would be concerned about was that the 8 run losing streak and this current dip were largely with your first team. I feel that Wales need more competition for places to push on.

            1. Agreed Benjit. I’m halfway at the mo – I can see improvement is needed, we could be in trouble here, but it’s too early to dismiss Gatland and certainly wrong to now start pointing out where he was crap all along really…

  16. I want Gatland to stay as Wales coach forever. And for him to keep saying things like “Boys become men?? PAH!!!”

    1. You need to give Gatland more respect. He can think outside the box like no other coach in world rugby. Which other coach put fake tan so high on his priorities?

      DDD

      1. Ok, after all these years I’ll admit it. I am Gatland. That’s why all this criticism hurts boys. Really hurts. I preferred it when you were taking the p out of Declan “Gold Into Muck” Kidney and Martin “I was a great player you know” Johnson. Or, the ultimate of crap coaches, Andy “Who? Ok, let’s try picking him then..” Robinson.

        1. Hmmmm, interesting. Now you come to mention it, the NH hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory with international coaches over the last 10 years has it. Actually over that time Gatland has probably proved to be the best and most stable coach of the lot. Thank goodness there’s some competition now – even Scotland will have a proven coach at the helm soon. Some things will always stay the same though – French coaches will always be, well, French!

        2. Boys become oomph loomphas! – I’m sorry – couldn’t resist it. My apologies.

          Your friend

          DDD

  17. Sy

    Why is that Wales appear to be the team most mentioned as having a ‘lack fitness and form’?

    Doesn’t every team suffer from this at times? I mean SL, e.g., has mentioned more than once that England are ‘missing 5 or 6 Lions’.

    Of course the loss of key or pivotal players is bound to make a difference to a side’s performance, but as a squad, a team must plan for injuries & groom newer or ‘replacement’ players to fill any void… & incl in meaningful matches like in the 6N/AI(?).

    Agree about age though, it’s a relative thing. If they good enough, they’re good enough.

    Regds Nonu & his form, he’s maybe been the exception rather than the rule.

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