Nearly, but not quite
Yesterday I strapped myself in for a five hour orgy of Six Nations rugby (as you do). This year’s tournament cannot but be viewed against the background of the Rugby World Cup that begins in September.
First up we had a pulsating Wales victory over Ireland from the Millennium Stadium, a tremendously entertaining contest for any onlooking neutral. Conclusion – neither Wales nor Ireland are going to win the RWC and, of the two, I pick Wales to have greater potential. Their trouble is that they’re in a group with both England and Australia from which only two go through. It could get tasty – all these are going to be one-off games.
As an Englishman, I was delighted that Scotland made a fist of it at Twickenham. Under Vern Cotter they seem to be making progress and for sentimental reasons it is a welcome change to see some signs of life in the old dog.
England, however, are another matter. Had New Zealand or South Africa been given the ‘red zone’ opportunities that England created yesterday they’d have won by 25 to 30 points.
Although Ben Youngs gained some commentator plaudits, I am not a fan – he takes too long to get his pass away and faded in the second half.
The England scrum benefited greatly from the return of Courtney Lawes but surprisingly did not overpower the Scots pack as it should. Tighthead Dan Cole was lucky to stay on the pitch for his ‘brain fade’ in jumping on Laidlaw at a crucial moment as Scotland laid siege to the England tryline. Both Chris Robshaw and James Haskell again had mediocre matches and – in another world – would be under pressure for their places from their challengers in the squad.
Amongst the backs, we continue to have problems in midfield that will not necessarily be solved before the RWC by the long-hoped-for return from injury of Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi. For me, neither Billy Twelvetrees – who did not get on yesterday – nor Luther Burrell are the answer. Burrell was poor against Scotland, butchering an obvious 3-on-2 early on and generally getting in the way – the sad thing is, both he and Twelvetrees look like million dollar men but flatter to deceive.
Last night frustration was the prevailing mood in my household. England began like 25 point winners and ended by being dragged into a playground scrap by the lively Scots. Whatever you do, do not put your house on England to win the RWC at home – this time around, at least.