The Northern Hemisphere is showing every sign of a World Cup hangover. Yes, there have been some good tries in the first two rounds of the Six Nations, yes, there have been periods of excellent attacking rugby, but overall the standard has been indifferent.
As good as England were in the second half against Italy, the first period was dreadful. Too much dull rugby is being served up. But let’s look at the positives first – some outstanding tries.
Jonathan Joseph grabbed a hat-trick in Rome and the arguments rage over which was the best.
2004 – Joseph is the 1st player to record an away hat-trick in the Six Nations for England since 2004 (Robinson, v Italy). Treble.
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 14, 2016
Probably his second which was set up by scrum half Danny Care who had the presence of mind to spot Joseph’s run and the gap in the Italian defence, executing a pinpoint grubber kick into the path of the onrushing centre.
Or maybe you preferred Owen Farrell’s score. Care feeds replacement hooker Jamie George who pops a pass out of contact to Farrell to go under the posts, a huge smile on his face.
However, honours for the best try of the series so far go to Wales’ George North’s match-winner against Scotland.
North collects the ball, dodges initial tackles, makes a glorious break and accelerates away, scything through the Scottish ranks. A return to form for North, who has struggled badly since last season being knocked out twice against England and playing on.
Perhaps the most improved player of the tournament to date is Scotland’s Duncan Taylor. The strong running centre has been excellent both in defence and attack.
Arguably his heroics in Cardiff kept Scotland in the game. So what have we learned about the respective nations – all re-building in one way or the other?
The two traditionally weakest teams, Italy and Scotland, remain the weakest teams.
Italy played a great game in the opener against France and should have won but, hit by early injuries, lack of squad depth hurt them against England and they collapsed in the second 40 minutes after giving away a gift interception.
Scotland had high hopes after their World Cup efforts when they so nearly turned over Australia in the quarter finals. But the Wallabies had an off day in that encounter and it probably masked Scotland’s true situation.
They have so far been pretty ordinary with many of their usually stronger performers failing to fire. A disappointment so far.
France still in the running for Six Nations 2016 glory
France have won two, against Italy and Ireland, without ever wholly looking the part. There have been a lot of changes and it will take time to find their feet. Nevertheless, hopeless under Philippe Saint-Andre, new coach Guy Noves has got them more aggressive and committed.
Next up are Wales in Cardiff and the French will have to raise it to have any chance.
Ireland too are finding the going hard with greats, Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll, having retired. Fly half Johnny Sexton seems a marked man and needs greater protection from referees. Injuries continue to hamper the side.
Wales flatter to deceive, with great ability and flair, yet leaving their fans to despair at all the aimless kicking and the bish-bash-bosh up blind alleys. As to England, you can’t argue with two wins, both away.
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 13, 2016
With the shackles off, the three quarters look in fine fettle, but England have much to do to get anywhere near their potential
They made heavy work of the Scots, and their line-out was all over the place against Italy.
But some of the old warhorses like James Haskell are playing well to complement new young talent such as Maro Itoje and Jack Clifford.
And they were clinical against Italy – five tries with just 39 per cent possession. Bigger challenges though are upcoming when we shall find out of what England are made.
Perhaps, after the World Cup exertions, the Six Nations was bound to be a bit of a mish-mash, a tournament for the defeated lesser lights.
It was always likely to start slowly … and slowly it has indeed started.
England versus Wales for the title? Let’s hope it comes alight from here.
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