Well, I've survived the first Six-nations weekend. Everything seemed to go as predicted; England won, Ireland won and Scotland won. No surprises there .... but hang on a moment, did I say Scotland won? Scotland won and France lost? Have I finally lost what little mind I had and dreamt that Scotland, who have hardly won a match in the past 5 years have beaten the favorites for the World Cup, - France?
This first weekend of international rugby has been as exciting and controversial as it could possibly be. The best match by far was today's match, Scotland against France, but all the matches had something to offer the fan.
Ireland 26 - 16 Italy
This was as good an opening match as one could hope. For a large part of the first half, Italy, - not Ireland , were in the ascendant and actually led Ireland for most of it. At the break it was 10:10 and I felt that Italy could actually shave it. Unfortunately, the game turned on a controversial decision. Ireland's second try by Tommy Bowe was given, even though it looked as if he hadn't touched down. The resultant conversion gave Ireland the platform to close out the match for a win, but if I was Italy, I would be feeling pretty aggrieved. Ireland's performance lacked conviction and, dare I say, passion. It was an ugly win at best, and if they are to progress further in the competition, they need to up their game. Italy, on the other hand, can take great heart, and the influence of new coach Pierre Berbizier was apparent in the passion, commitment and desire shown by the team. All that's lacking is the killer instinct in the last 22.
England 47-13 Wales
This was a very satisfying performance by England. They have clearly taken the performances during the autumn and stepped up a gear. The first half, predictably, was a bit scrappy and although England seemed very comfortable, Wales managed to keep in touch trailing England by only 5 points at half-time. It was in the second half that England showed their class and quality by scoring a further 32 points to Wales 3. Not only did England put together a performance of discipline, commitment and control, they ruthlessly exposed the weaknesses in the opposition and exploited them, - something they haven't done for quite some time. England are moving rapidly back to where they were just a couple of years ago, and gives me great heart. What delighted me particularly was that a couple of England "geriatrics", Lawrence Dallaglio and Matt Dawson got trys. Wales were clearly struggling with the loss through injury and suspension, of some key players, and were probably out-matched by England in just about every department.
Scotland 20-16 France
This was the match of the weekend. France were the bookies' favourite to take this match and even the Grand Slam, but they hadn't taken account of Scotland's resurgence under new coach Frank Hadden. They looked relaxed, calm, even happy to be out on the pitch, - which hasn't been the case for a few years. When the game got under way, they very quickly took a control of the game that they hardly relinquished until the final whistle. They played as a team, they played with passion and it was superb to see the Scots go from their usual hopeful resignation to one of belief that they could actually win! The try which must have given them the most satisfaction was a driving maul that drove the French pack back 22 metres and as it reached the try-line, Lamont got his hands on the ball to dive over. France's pack was broken! France, in a nutshell, were terrible. They seemed to be devoid of ideas, and a number of them looked as if they were carrying injuries, - particularly their usually inspirational stand-off, Michalak.
My prediction is out of the window, - which pleases me no end. This weekend has been full of drama, excitement, shock and passion, and this is just the start! England are starting to look a world beater again, France are looking a shambles; Wales are looking a bit lost, but that could change once the stars return; Ireland need to think out their game; Italy can take some heart from the manner of the way they played, - a bit of luck going their way would help; and Scotland need to come back down to earth quickly to prepare for a tough match against Wales in Cardiff next week. I just can't wait.