So, the 6 Nations rugby rolls around again and it’s time for fans from England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales to look forward with hope if not expectation.
France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales all out-performed England at the Rugby World Cup just a few short months ago. They must now be looking forward to their fixtures against England with some relish. Even Italy may be thinking “maybe, just maybe, this will be our year”. It would be foolhardy of me to start making predictions regarding an England victory in any of the matches. The fact that this year England has only two out of five home fixtures can only make the task harder. Eddie Jones has his work cut out for him in his debut year as England coach. (when did we stop calling them managers?)
However, there is that little matter of Dylan’s disciplinary record, which makes even his staunchest supporters cover their eyes. Since 2007 he has spent 54 weeks on suspension for a range of offences. There can be no doubt that opponents target Dylan in order to try to provoke a reaction, but that doesn’t mean he has to react. Every time there is a the slightest on field tussle I close my eyes for fear of seeing Dylan once more at the epicentre.
Referees, too, know his record. I‘m not saying that they are biased against Dylan, but it is impossible to forget that you know something and, as a human with human failings, it is also impossible to know what sort of messages your unconscious mind is sending to your conscious mind. As Captain will Dylan be an asset or a liability?
When it comes to half backs everyone has their favourites and Owen Farrell isn’t one of mine. He’s a great kicker, but ball in hand I don’t think he’s got the right decision making skills. In fourteen 6 Nations appearances he’s only scored one try, which speaks volumes for me. George Ford’s averages are better, with 2 tries from 7 appearances, but it’s not great. Farrell’s potential partners at No 9 don’t fill me with confidence, either. Ben Youngs moves sideways so much at the break downs that he could be mistaken for a crab, giving opposition flankers ample time to get him in their sights. Danny Care has a good England record but isn’t really firing on all cylinders this season. However, I don’t envy Eddie Jones's task at having to make the selections because it is difficult to find a decent No 9 anywhere in England at the moment.
In Courtney Laws England has a Lock who performs like a flanker and it must be daunting for any opposition Centre to see Courtney thundering towards them. Launchbury makes a good partner for him. In the back row Haskell, Robshaw and Vunipola can be expected to put in workmanlike performances, but it must be hoped that they don’t have to deal with any World Class scrum halves or stand-offs.
That’s easy to say, of course, but much harder to do, but there are three universal truths. No one can play rugby without the ball, so stop kicking away solid possession, especially when not under pressure. The next is that you can’t afford to allow the opposition time to organise their defence so, from the rucks especially, quick ball is essential, with the backs already moving forward at pace. It sounds easy, but if Youngs and Care don’t deliver quick ball then the attacks will go from phase to phase without making ground until someone knock-on or concedes a penalty. Finally, and this is often a flaw in the England set up, if Plan A isn’t working you need a Plan B and maybe even plans C, D and E.
You may think I’m stating the obvious. You may even be right about that. But if so then it seems that no one in the England camp was able to see the obvious: the fault lines that were visible from the touch line and showed up in all the TV replays. There was no Plan B. I’m not convinced there was even a Plan A but we’ll give Lancaster the benefit of the doubt on that. Release of the ball was far too slow, which led to the concession of too many penalties. And finally, every one of the backs was guilty of kicking away good possession, upon which the opposition pounced and scored.
These are three lessons the Saints could afford to learn. When a winger is on the half way line and puts up a high one when the team are moving forward, it is not pleasant to see when the ball comes sailing back over their heads once again and they end up back on their own 22 metre line. Hardly any Saints kicks ever result in gained ground or possession. So why do they do it?
My forecast? Wales or Ireland for the Championship and/or Triple Crown, England for the Calcutta Cup and to finish above France, but I won’t be betting on it.
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