This weekend sees the finale of the Championship which started very positively with good, open, attacking rugby but over the last 2 weeks of the Tournament, teams seem to have adopted a very cautious approach. Whether this has been due to the weather, player injuries, or the rapid flow of matches is debatable, but the spectacle has been missing for armchair viewers.
The Murrayfield penalty fest last weekend would put many people of the sport, and if nothing else, it highlighted that the IRB need to sort out scrummaging and ensure referees are not again put in the very difficult position trying to adjudicate the aggressor! Scotland v Wales matches in the past have lead to changes in the kicking to touch rules, and perhaps the events of Saturday might force a change to the scrum and engagement rules. Wales deservedly won a poor match by scoring the only try and yet again Scotland, with hardly any possession or field position, still kept the match alive until the very end.
Ireland produced a cracking start to their match against France but France eventually found a style and rhythm which they have been lacking, to squeeze out a 13-all draw in Dublin. This raises questions about the Irish teams’ ability to perform for a full match, and indeed whether France have eventually found the form which made them a pre Tournament favourite.
By far the best match, and played in the best conditions, and by two teams intend on playing creative rugby was the match on Sunday where Italy gave England , the Grand Slam hopefuls, a lesson on commitment.
If only Italy had taken either of the two try opportunities in the final quarter!
The super Saturday planning in now underway- the TV is set up, the food has been bought, the drink is ready, and 3 consecutive matches await!
The usual Saturday chores will take a back seat- 7 hours of rugby!
First up, we have Italy and Ireland which promises to be a cracking match in which two committed and talented teams, with nothing to lose, will battle it out in Rome. Parisse and his influence, the crowd and passion of the Stadio Olympico, will swing this match towards an Italian victory, in a season which might even have been better.
Ireland will score tries on Saturday but the enthusiasm and discipline of Italy will count.
The second match and the 6 Nations Championship decider is Wales v England at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. The atmosphere will be electric and Wales, in formidable form this year are proving very difficult to beat. While they have not been playing the open, adventurous rugby of last year, Wales will have the passion and skill-set to test the mental and physical preparation of England. The favourites however must be England and they have played the most varied and technically accomplished rugby this season, and can vary their game plan with key decision makers all over the field. The test of Farrell’s kicking and temperament, the influence of the English back row if the going is tight and heavy as predicted will influence the outcome. Wales, if the game breaks up and becomes loose, will take advantage with their ball winning back row then dominating the match as they did last weekend at Murrayfield.
The heart says Wales to win but the calculating head predicts an England victory and 6 Nations Championship.
Finishing off the days events at 8.00 UK time, France host Scotland in a match which on the evidence of the season so far, for both sides, is likely to be dire!
A mid table spot for Scotland will be a positive and for France a disaster.
Both teams need to convince their loyal supporters that they capable teams and can play some creative rugby, so with the pressure off and only pride at stake, I predict a high scoring match with France coming out on top, but with Scotland finishing the season with a try scoring flourish.
The 6 Nations Championship this year has promised much but delivered little, yet will not be decided until the last minutes of the Wales- England match.
Hopefully the other two matches will give us all something to celebrate if those teams can relax and enjoy rugby for what it is- a passionate and exciting sport, defined by tries and running rugby, and a sport not dominated by the referee!
It promises to be exciting!
Do what we are doing and watch along with your friends and a bottle of your favourite dram!
By R.F.Cunningham, former Scottish Rugby Internationalist, is HR Adviser to Glen Grant Distillery in Speyside.