What an opening weekend of rugby during the first instalment of the 2013 Six Nations, we had thrills, Zebo’s skills and a huge upset on the cards. Indeed much of the build up to this year’s tournament painted a picture of the most open competition yet, I found that somewhat hard to believe until Rome exploded in celebration at the final whistle signifying a famous win for the Azzuri and an enthralling start to the championship.
Wales v Ireland
This was a compelling opener to the tournament and almost had a cricket feel to the fixture with Ireland scoring all of their points in the 44 opening minutes and then retiring from attack and allowing Wales a 36 minute innings to try and come back. Despite a rallying and barnstorming attacking effort from Wales the Irish held on courtesy of some inspirational (bodies on the line) defending no doubt inspired by last year’s opening weekend defeat to the men in Red in Dublin. Both in attack (1st half and a bit) and defence Ireland had too much overall for Wales who now appear to be increasingly leaderless both on and off the field in terms of inspiration and direction.
Last Week’s Prediction: Wales 17 – Ireland 15 Final Score Wales 22 – Ireland 30
Looks like the prediction of a home win was off the mark although it was based on Wales turning up for at least some of the first half.
England v Scotland
All in all a comfortable win for England and a good, solid start to the competition for Lancaster’s man. Scotland started brightly with some verve and vigour resulting in an early try for Maitland but the Scots were largely unable to match England as key battles in contact, territory and possession went the way of the red rose with England running in comfortable winners come the final whistle.
Last Week’s Prediction: England 32 Scotland 10 Final Score: England 38 Scotland 18
Not a million miles away as the plot failed to thicken at Twickenham and England won quite easily.
Italy v France
This was an incredible spectacle right from the Anthems as hundreds of former Italian internationals stood opposite the current crop of players and shared in a rousing rendition of their national anthem (II Canto Degli Italiani – Translated as: The song of the Italians). The moving scene was summed up within all its emotive glory by the passion and determination on show from one Martin Castrogiovanni as the fans and players past/present brought the stadium to its feet.
Right from the first kick off Italy brought passion, pace and flair to the encounter, unshackling themselves from their traditionally robotic style, adding patience and control with fly half replacement Burton slotting over a prized three point drop goal to put the Azzuri 5 clear with only a few minutes left on the clock. France finally displayed some semblance of urgency (while still managing to look lacklustre) and threw everything at the resolute Italian defence. Even a yellow card for Davide Giazzon with seconds remaining could not stop history descending on the Stadio Olimpico as the final whistle officially blew the 2013 Six Nations wide open.
Rousing Italian Anthem
Last Week’s Prediction: Italy 8 France 30 Final Score: Italy 23 France 18
Few would have predicted history repeating itself as Italy pulled off another famous win in Rome.
Round 2 Preview
With this tournament already as open as I can remember at this stage, round two could be even tighter with all three games tough to call.
Scotland v Italy
The Scots will gain a huge amount of confidence from this game being held at Murryfield as a visit to Rome will prove a daunting prospect for any side in this competition after the opening weekend. The Scots will no doubt improve following their visit to HQ last week and will be buoyed by their home fans who will need no firing up for this encounter. The Italians come to Edinburgh with a rare 100% record to protect and much will be made of how they perform on the road this year. Should they be able to replicate the form shown last week then they will be confident of adding a second win to their tally and march with confidence back to Rome.
Key area: Efficiency – This game should be dictated by the Italians should they be able to take their forward game and marry it up with a loose and effective attacking threat. Scotland will ask far more questions of them than France with the side that is more efficient and clinical with territory and possession likely to come out on top.
Score Prediction – Scotland 12 Italy 20
France v Wales
France are likely to be without their captain (Pascal Pape) for the visit of Wales who look to have some key players returning in Hibbard and Ryan Jones, with the latter vital for much needed leadership. This will probably be the toughest to call of the weekends matches as Wales only turned up for 34 minutes and France demonstrated an absence of any intent in Rome. You could of course argue that Wales are under the greatest pressure (following their winless run) but will not be expected to beat a wounded France in Paris. Indeed a lack of expectation often brings out the best from the men in red. I expect this to be another strange encounter especially with these two teams involved on their current form and most recent matches. That said it’s hard to look past a French win as they will have home advantage but the heart says Wales will pull something special out and notch up that all important W.
Key areas: Control and Possession – Both sides will need to impose themselves far more effectively than last weekend and will need to generate a solid platform in attack. Both will need their 10’s to provide control and consistent front foot ball will be essential for the victors. Should both sides bring these (so far missing) elements to the table this will be an exceptional game.
Score Prediction – France 21 Wales 23
Ireland v England
Based on the results of the opening weekend this game could well be seen as the tournament decider even if there is a lot of rugby to be played yet. Both sides will be desperate for a win and because of the ‘barmy’ outcome of the match in Cardiff and the questionable strength (especially in the contact area) of the Scots is difficult to place the favorites tag on either team. The return of Manu Tuilagi could prove pivotal, especially if Darcy doesn’t return to fitness, given the difference that made defensively for the game in Cardiff. Aside from that both teams have a solid game in most departments and this should be a classic.
Key areas: The Contact Area – Both sides dominated this aspect of their respective games last week and walked away with the all important wins. This will again be a massive contest on Sunday as Ireland will attempt to drain the momentum out of England’s attack and retain their (own) clinical edge going forward.
Score Prediction – Ireland 23 England 20