This weekend sees the mid point of this year 6 Nations Tournament with England, France and Wales undefeated with France having played only 1 match.
The early match on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin-better remembered to older fans as Lansdowne Road, which must have been the only Stadium in the world where the DART railway system had a station under the stand-will host the Azzurri. Italy have promised so much this year, playing attractive and aggressive rugby, will start by testing the Irish forwards in the scrums and lineout but the Irish back row and their creative half backs may swing this match.Should the Italian back row play as well on Saturday as they did against England, however they may well produce a result but only if the Italian half backs play, and if Kris Burton takes the penalty chances which they missed last week. Against an experienced Irish side, Italian fans might end up drowning their sorrows in one of the many drinking establishments in the Temple Bar area of Dublin. Actually regardless of the result, that will happen anyway!With England playing Wales in the second match on Saturday at “Twickers”, the form book suggests a comfortable Welsh win in a fixture which traditionally is an open and high scoring event. England have, through injury to try scorer Charlie Hodgson, moved Owen Farrell to stand off and brought in Tuilangi to centre. These moves not only add to England’s attacking flair, but also strengthen their defence. Couple these changes to some smart play from first choice scrum half Ben Morgan, give a strangely attack minded look to what has been a very workman like and defensive England team.Wales on the other hand field a very settled and experience team who can produce flair and panache in bucket loads and at the same time a robust and focussed defensive performance, best shown in the first half of the Scotland match when they tackled the stuffing out of Scotland before turning on the style in the second half. The Welsh will repeat that on Saturday with Jonathan Davies and Jamie Roberts delivering when most needed. A night for the Taffies in Piccadilly!The third match of the weekend is the Scotland-France match at Murrayfield.The “Auld Alliance” through which Scotland sold whisky, bought French wine through the port of Leith, made royal marriages and shared history, will disappear as Scotland in front of a full, passionate and slightly partisan crowd will want to achieve the result their statistics in the matches to date would suggest they deserve.However, it is only points on the board which win matches and Scotland have been very poor at that so far. The changed half backs and full back will bring a cutting edge to this team, and if they can keep the ball away from our centres by “miss” moves, we might show the world that we can score tries and win matches!France, World Cup runners up, are the form team, an outfit capable of taking on the best in the world, and scoring tries for fun. When in the mood their forwards, through Nicholas Masi and his hugely experienced pack, will create havoc in the scrums and lineouts, but as a complete team they excite all rugby supporters when they start to run the ball from wide out field positions. Morgan Parra and his backs are likely to light up Edinburgh on Sunday, unless Scotland close them down effectively and convert the few opportunities they are likely to create, into tries and points. It could be a long day on Sunday for the loyal Scottish supporters, but then again we are always at our best, when likeItaly, we are the underdogs. Irrespective of the result, the bars inRose Street will be busy with the “Flower of Scotland” mingling with “La Marseillaise”!
R.F. Cunningham Bob Cunningham, former Scottish Rugby Internationalist.