Half-time report: How do the teams weigh in?
We are almost half way through the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship 2019 and in the absence of a Super Bowl-esque half-time show, we have taken it upon ourselves to provide some light entertainment.
Let’s make one thing clear, we’re big fans of a little healthy competition. So, what better way to mark the mid-point of the Championship, than to hear from six employees representing:
Here's what they have to say about their home nation’s recent performances and future predictions with the 2019 World Cup just around the corner. Who’s your money on?
Ireland – Conor Higgins, Account Executive
The consensus among Irish fans is that the loss to England in Round 1 was a wake-up call that will serve us well later on this year when we travel to Japan. It was disappointing seeing this Irish side bullied by an English team, especially at home in Dublin. With the majority of supporters looking at the bigger picture of Japan, this loss slows down the hype train and relieves some of the weight of expectation from our shoulders. The worry is that England have shown the rest of the world how to beat us - relentless pressure, a quick defensive line and winning the aerial battles. As such, Schmidt will need to start pulling more than just a plan B from his sleeve.
The win over Scotland in Round 2 was no less than expected. It was encouraging to see Ireland dispatch this Scottish team – one which retains quality in Hogg, Jones, Seymour and others - with relative ease, even when our side was nowhere near their best. Conor Murray and Joey Carbery (deputising for Jonathan Sexton who went off early) put in some assured performances. Murray, in particular, is yet to reach top gear after his neck injury, so I expect to see him continue to increase his performance level over the remaining games. Carbery needs some extended game-time starting at 10 for Ireland, so Sexton remaining out for a few weeks would not be the end of the world.
Overall, I think Ireland might fly under the radar in the World Cup now thanks to the result in Dublin, which suits us. England look favourites for the Six Nations, although Wales in Cardiff could prove tricky. Ireland will be more than satisfied with winning their next three to claim 4/5 wins, moving onto Japan with some lessons learned and some more players blooded in Tier 1 tests. A key part of this World Cup cycle for Ireland was ensuring that we have more than able replacements to stand in. We did not have that at RWC 2015, but it looks like we do now.
Wales – Aled Rees, MD Strategy & Consulting
After Christmas, in the depths of winter and in the grips of a self-inflicted ‘dry January’, the greatest annual sports competition of all seems to offer a route up to the sun-drenched plateaus of spring!
Nothing quite compares to the feast of Northern Hemisphere Rugby that the Six Nations provides. The most important thing is that we (and all the other teams) beat England, everything else is a bonus!
As a fan, the key to a successful spring is plotting a route through the minefield of obstacles that might get in the way of these hallowed appointments. Then there is the even more tricky negotiation of a possible ‘pink ticket’ trip to Cardiff or an even more ambitious plan to visit the great cathedrals to Rugby in Rome, Paris, Edinburgh, or Dublin. There is rarely much enthusiasm for a trip to the ‘cabbage patch’!
This year as we approach the half way stage things are not quite going to plan. At half-time in Paris and at 16-0 down, fear and despair had set in. Fortunately, Wales rose like the phoenix for one of the greatest comebacks in Six Nations history. The day was spoilt, however, when England defied expectations to overcome the tournament favourites, Ireland, in their own back yard with a performance to scare even the most patriotic of Welshmen.
This weekend my sister and I took my father to Rome and were greeted with a warm Italian welcome, outstanding food and architectural wonders. Even if the Rugby wasn’t great, it was impossible to fault the experience. Meanwhile the news from Twickenham rather spoilt our tour of the Colosseum.
Next up is Cardiff, and I have chosen to go with three Englishmen, which could be heaven or could be hell depending on the outcome. Whatever happens, I suspect that this match will have a decisive impact on the championship. An England win and the ‘chariot’ will almost certainly carry them on to Grand Slam glory. A Welsh win and order will have been restored to the universe, and we can start to dream of our own Grand Slam even if our Celtic cousins lie in ambush.
The Six Nations always gives meaning to an old Celtic proverb that: ‘it is the destiny of the Celt to deny the despotism of fact’. And remember that you never beat Wales, you only ever score more points than them!
Cymru am Byth!
Scotland – Sam Hughes, Account Manager
Scotland. Nearly. Again.
Coming off the back of a solid win against Italy and playing at Murrayfield where we hadn’t lost in the Six Nations since 2016, we had the chance to put one over Ireland, fresh from their defeat the week before.
Instead it was another example of Scotland being Scotland and losing a game that was there for the taking. In the first half, we were able to match Ireland and were perhaps unfortunate to go in behind. In the second half, we seemed to run out of steam and made far too many mistakes. Forced offloads and passes hitting the ground were too frequent and helped Ireland limit any pressure we were building.
Hogg going off after 15 minutes placed a heavy burden on Russell to produce and unfortunately too many of our players went missing in the second half.
When we play well, we are one of the most exciting teams to watch in the championship, but to win more games we need to play smarter – taking a tap and go on Ireland’s 5 metre line is too loose a move to win a game. Not for the first time our lack of game management and ability to be clinical showed.
Being a Scottish rugby fan, you get used to highs and lows when it comes to the Six Nations and these past two weeks are a perfect example of that. We could have been looking at 2 wins from 2. Instead we now have France and England away either side of Wales at Murrayfield. It could be a long tournament.
France – Gérald Poncié, Partnership Development Director
I was born in the early 70’s.
My earliest memory of the Five Nations, in the 80’s, was of rugby as a heroic game. Jean-Pierre Rives, nicknamed “Casque D’or”, was leading a fantastic and fierce team to many victories in epic games. Indeed, he finished most with a shirt covered in blood. Roger Couderc was the voice of Five nations on French TV. He managed to transmit his love of Rugby to millions with his passion, his energy and his South West of France spirit.
In South-West France the oval ball is sacred - people live for Rugby. Passionately, intensely, we head to “Ze Capitale” for a weekend to celebrate, enjoy with friends and support “their” French team. This makes the crowd and atmosphere around the Six Nations so special.
France dominated the end of the 90’s and the last Five Nations tournament with - what shall be named - the “French Flair”. They took two Grand Slams with authority. With Italy integrated, the newly named Six Nations started in the 21st century and France continued to be a force in the championships with three victories and two more Grand Slams.
But for the last ten years our team has been suffering like never before - and this year is no exception. French coach, Jacques Brunel, has an interesting challenge ahead. He has only tasted victory three times as head coach. He has an unsettled team, that looks light on talent, lighter on unity and with no distinct game plan. He clearly doesn’t know his best XV and competitive matches are in short supply before the World Cup.
Home fixtures against Scotland, followed by trips to Dublin and Rome await. The aim should be two wins, but he also needs to create an identity for this current crop of players. Based on the first two matches, this will be no easy task.
For the French people, however, the magic of the Six Nations remains.
The Guinness Six Nations Championship could not have started much better from an English perspective. Attacking, purposeful, efficient if not quite effervescent. The England rose looks like it is bearing its thorns again.
England – Katie Wallis, Account Manager
An incomparable pack, a solid kick chase and a midfield that has balance, all crowned off by a Court Jester turned Crown Prince in Jonny May.
Eddie Jones has mustered his troops; the defence looks compact and ferocious. But for all the highlight reel hits, it’s the organisation that has made the difference. England have been relatively porous in recent times – only the Welsh have failed to cross the whitewash against them in the past 12 months. Jones seems to have rectified that.
Away from the pitch, Eddie Jones has been back to his acerbic best, diverting attention from his own charges and irritating opposing camps. His comments are designed to annoy, preoccupy and divert. It is an important part of his coaching arsenal. It is even more effective when team performances back up management prose.
So, two weeks in: two matches, two wins, two bonus points and 10 tries scored. England win away in Dublin and beat France at home, in the same season, for the first time since 2003. An omen? Perhaps, but we are only two fifths of the way through the most demanding of Championships. English eyes must fix firmly on Cardiff in February and not Tokyo in November.
The Welsh too have reason to feel positive with two away wins without really getting going. Gatland commented before victory in Paris that Wales could win the Championship if they won in Paris. They duly did. The road to a Guinness Six Nations title and possible Grand Slam goes through Cardiff and it promises to be some game. The mind games have started.
Italy – Paul Gandolfi, Partnership Development Director
Whether you’re French, English, Welsh, Irish or a Scot – you’re an Italy fan. Technically speaking, Italy are the most supported team in the Championships. You don’t believe me.
As the perennial underdog, they have the five nations’ worth of rugby fans desperately hoping they can turn over the sixth nation they’re playing against. Only once a year do you not support Italy, and even then, you kind of want them to at least play well so your win feels that much more deserved.
Why do we love the Azzurri? Because without necessarily being any good at rugby they represent everything we love about the game. The heart, the passion and the belief. Sergio Parisse has lost over 100 games, but is he one of your favourite players? Absolutely. Italy have lost 19 games on the bounce in the Six Nations, but will you be supporting them against Ireland next week? Certamente!
There has been a lot of speculation about Georgia potentially replacing Italy in the tournament but it wasn’t that long ago that the Azzurri cruised to a comfortable 28-17 win over the Georgians, maintaining their gap in the world rankings. This followed two previous victories the same year against Fiji and Japan - the same Japan that gave England a torrid time in the Autumn Internationals.
The rugby purists will argue we should turn back the clocks to pre-2000 when it was the ultra-competitive Five Nations but this would be a mistake. If Italy’s inclusion achieves anything, it grows the appeal of the game into new territories and encourages a greater following amongst new audiences.
If that’s not enough then who doesn’t love a trip to Rome… for all its culture, good food and hot weather. Throw a bit of rugby into the mix and as a sport fan you’ve got your dream holiday. Just don’t look at the scoreboard.