How is each nation faring so far?
Under normal circumstances, all six teams would now be beyond the halfway point of the Six Nations. A Covid-19 outbreak in the French camp has put paid to that, leaving the competition looking a little lopsided as we enter its defining stages.
While Scotland and France await a rescheduled date for their postponed fixture, England, Wales, Ireland and Italy have just two fixtures left to alter the outcome of their respective campaigns. With that in mind, we reached out to a few of our people for the breakdown on what’s in store for their nation.
Ben Wilkinson – Business Director
The Welsh outlook at the start of the 6 Nations was one of hope, not expectation. But our Christmas hampers – delivered in a timely manner to the international panel of referees – seems to have swayed a little favour and there is fire in the old dragon once again.
The story of the opening two rounds centred on the red cards dished out to both Ireland and Scotland. These were a big help, but Wales also started showing patterns of the new style under Wayne Pivac and Stephen Jones. Half backs Kieran Hardy and Callum Sheedy have impressed and young flyer Louis Rees-Zammit has brought raw talent to capture the nation’s imagination.
To step into Gatland’s shoes was always going to be a big ask for Pivac, and the England match was his biggest test yet. In the last 20 minutes, they showed both skill and mental strength to close out a huge test of character. England had the ascendancy at 24-24, but Wales took the game by the scruff of the neck and closed out a fabulous win on the eve of St David’s Day.
Looking ahead to the next game in Italy we feel confident, but we’ve also had some terrible performances in Rome, so it’s important the focus continues. That leads us into the last game of the tournament, originally schedule to be Wales v France in Paris, and a Grand Slam decider. The French look in the driving seat for that encounter after some sparkling rugby in their first two rounds, so we will need to keep improving, but I’m excited for the rugby still to come.
Perhaps it’s now time for some early Easter Eggs for the referees panel and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see daffodils and dragons all around us come Saturday 20th March.
Fanny Margoux – Communications Director
France has not yet reached the middle of the tournament, after the postponement of its fixture against Scotland initially scheduled for February 28. In fact, the team is currently fighting on two fronts: the sport side – against the best European teams, and the health side – in the midst of a coronavirus scandal that surrounds the players and staff.
On the field, two opening wins surprised French fans, given the recent upheaval that has impacted French rugby. The state of mind has shifted: individuality has been replaced by a real collective force. The win over Ireland even puts France in contention for the Grand Slam. But, as is oft the case, the tournament was not the biggest battle facing the French team.
12 players and 4 staff members tested positive for Covid-19 in February, pushing the French Rugby Federation and the Ministry of Sports to launch an internal investigation. The bio-secure bubble built around the team was pierced, but by whom? Who was it that disregarded the health rules that apply at the highest level of international sport?
Despite head coach Fabien Galthié having admitted to leaving the bubble, the investigation decided that protocol had been followed. Now we await a rescheduled date for the postponed fixture, but Scottish pressure to have the game abandoned and France awarded a loss is already being heard on the other side of the Channel!
George Maclachlan – Senior Account Executive
As an avid Scotland fan for 25 years, I can assure you that what happened at Twickenham on 6th February was nothing short of the best Scottish performance since Andy Murray in 2013.
The tactical masterclass from Gregor Townsend and his 15, with respect to kicking for territory and ferocity at the breakdown, was joyous to watch. Rolling into week two against a depleted Wales, my expectations for a Grand Slam were perhaps more fully developed than I should have allowed them to be.
Back home, our gauge of Scotland’s performance routinely depends on how many games in the tournament have passed before we hear those dreaded words, “it’s the hope that kills you.” It’s a phrase that hovers around the team, ready to be deployed as soon as we see another ‘close but no cigar’ performance. Unfortunately, this year, we lasted until just round two.
However, Scotland are playing free flowing rugby again, Gregor (rumoured to be the Lions attacking coach) is at the helm, and with the Rolls Royce of a player that is Finn Russell, we really can do anything! Bring on France…
Tracey McNabb – PA to the CEO
Like Wales, Ireland consider themselves to be in a development period with Head Coach Andy Farrell still looking to find the right combination to regain the form that Ireland previously enjoyed in 2018. Winning against France in their current form was always going to be a tall order. And so it proved. Whilst Ireland played to their strengths and played well, keeping the French within their own half for most of the match, they failed to find the cutting edge to breach what has become the increasingly solid French defence under new defence coach Shaun Edwards.
Whilst the referees have been quick to hand out red cards under the new guidelines, there could be no question that Peter O’Mahony was fully deserved for his illegal clearout on Tomas Francis in the match against Wales. This was a match that Ireland could never realistically win when down to fourteen men for 66 minutes of the game.
Ireland were always expected to beat Italy, who have now lost their last 28 matches in the Six Nations tournament, but what fans were looking for was a performance. Which they got. The team finally clicked and found the fluency that everyone hoped they would.
Ireland may start as underdogs against Scotland at Murrayfield but if they keep improving as they have been, and are able to make better use of their fastest backs, they have every chance of claiming a much needed victory after a disappointing tournament to date.
Lizzie Isherwood – Communications Director
Italy is a country obsessed with football, racing cars and motorbikes, so when the Six Nations comes round, I generally only hear about it from my British friends – it seems to pass most Italians by.
I am a rugby fan, though, and since I moved out here, Italy has been my second team of choice. As the tension builds ahead of kick-off, I always harbour a hope that the men in blue will pull it out of the bag, but while they often start well, we’ve seen them fall away all too quickly.
The scores racked up so far against Italy speak volumes; the Azzurri are giving away too much space and are allowing too many opportunities to open up, and once the points start to rack up, the game gets messier and messier. It suddenly falls apart and Italy is often exposed as a team that just isn’t at the same level of its rivals.
Looking ahead to the final two rounds, I don’t expect to see a change of fortune. Wales will present an almighty challenge and Scotland will test them too.
I can’t imagine how demotivating it must be for the players, but there simply isn’t the scrutiny that there would be for other sports. Winless in six years in the Six Nations is quite a feat, but does it spark a national outcry? No – it barely gets a mention on the news.
Alison Forth – Group Communications Director
England’s performance to date in the Six Nations can be summed up by one word: indiscipline. Having started as outright favourites against Wales, they proceeded to give away 14 penalties. This ultimately lost them the game despite the two outrageous refereeing decisions that gifted Wales two tries in the first half.
With fans asking questions of Owen Farrell and Eddie Jones, the English team has hit a snag, which can only be broken by a convincing performance against France on Saturday.
They started the tournament as favourites but were blown away by a supreme Scottish performance. Firmly beaten up front and cut to shreds by the Scottish back three. England’s only win has come against Italy – a formality judged only by the margin of victory.
With the tournament now lost, it will be interesting to see if Jones will decide to pick some of his more exciting young talent like Ollie Lawrence – who was dropped after the Scottish game despite not getting a single ball.
Next they face France, who remain ‘on form’ tournament favourites. Speculation suggests that Galthié will bring Ntamack back into a confident team, and England have not been under this much pressure to win a game since the world cup final in 2019.
No one knows exactly what Eddie Jones was saying behind his mask as the second Wales try was awarded by Pascal Gauzere, but we can safely assume it wasn’t rated ‘U’. Will Eddie be able to restore calm ahead of the next half? Let’s hope so.