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Six Nations Week 4 Recap: Dates With Destiny

All aboard! We’re at the penultimate stop of the 2022 Six Nations Championship, terminating next week at Super Saturday Parkway. After this past weekend, all eyes are now on two teams in who will end up taking the Six Nations crown with a grand slam still there to be won. In a week that my Fantasy Team took a bit of a pounding, there were yet another three games with plenty to talk about. France very narrowly kept their Grand Slam hopes alive, whilst Ireland will be hoping that England will be able to do them a bit of a favour in the last week. But before we can think about next week and all that it will entail, let’s get into the grading!

Wales

I’m not too sure how to grade this in all honesty. All I can say is that I feel sorry for the poor souls who paid £100 or more to watch it. France were there for the taking but Wales just couldn’t really muster up much in the form of attack when it mattered. The game was there for the taking for sure, but a mix of France’s solid defence and Wales’s lack of creativity in attack meant that it was a bit of a dud. The biggest chance for Wales was Jonathan Davies’s opportunity in the second half but as was the story of the game for Wales in attack, it didn’t come to anything. With all that being said there were some good individual performances. Taulupe Faletau proved once again that he’s different gravy and Will Rowlands had a good showing. I like how there’s two good Locks getting gametime in the form of Rowlands and Adam Beard. It’s no doubt that Alun Wyn Jones won’t play on for much longer and with him in the team for Italy I think that’ll be his swan song. I doubt the team will be selected on the base of nostalgia or sentiment but he’ll definitely play at some point. Probably in the form of the last 15 minutes or so just so that he can break the record. All in all, annoying result but it could’ve been much worse. Luckily there was only around 12 people in the stadium to see it.

Grade: D+. Some good individual performances but this was there for the taking, should’ve done better.

France

France managed to look like the France of old here but still kept that shiny new edge that they have. There’s no doubt in my mind that two or three years ago they would’ve lost this, but Shaun Edwards has made that defence rock solid. This looked like a team that would go on to win the Grand Slam in that they played poorly and didn’t have that little ounce of va va voom that they usually play with but still managed to get a big result. When Anthony Jelonch carried over for what would be France’s only try I thought the floodgates would open a bit, much like how we’ve seen France do all tournament. The rugby was fairly free flowing, if not without the odd mistake and stupid penalty given away, but they still looked like the better team. However it didn’t really happen with France having to defend quite a bit. But with Shaun Edwards at the helm against a Welsh attack that never really got going they’ll take that all day. They still had some eye catching moments too such as the previously mentioned try and Julien Marchand and Gregory Alldirit had some pretty nice carries. It wasn’t the French performance that we expected to see but all in all France won’t care. The Grand Slam dream is still very much alive and the championship is very much theirs to lose. Onto Paris we go!

Grade: B-. Not great but you managed to grind out a good result like champions do.

Italy

In two minds about this one. Whilst it’s now 36 losses in a row and looking like yet another wooden spoon, that was the best we’ve seen of Italy in a long time. They never really gave up, even when it looked difficult, and that says a lot about how this team have grown through the tournament. They do play some nice rugby on occasions, and they did so against Scotland. They looked dangerous at times throughout the first half but it didn’t quite click with either silly penalties or turnovers being their un-doings on more than one occasion. But when Italy come to play, they have started to deliver. There’s reason to be optimistic looking forward for this Italy team (I know that sounds insane for a team that have lost 36 Six Nations games on the bounce and are staring down the barrel of yet another wooden spoon but bare with me). There’s some genuinely decent talent in the squad that are capable of playing good rugby. Just look at their first try, it looked like a move France would make. Paolo Garbisi has shown great promise this tournament and I still think Montanna Ioane is a huge asset to the team. But a special mention has to go to the debutant, Ange Capuozzo. He looked incredible when he came on and got 2 tries to reduce the deficit to only eleven in the end. In the last 20 or so minutes Italy were the better team and probably should’ve scored more tries, they were just beaten by the better quality team on the day.

Grade: C-. Screw it, even though you lost you get star of the week. I’m genuinely so impressed with how much better you were today compared to the last few performances and actually making things happen instead of blowing every half chance you get.

Scotland

Stop. Playing. This. Stupid. Style. Of. Rugby. This was such an irritating performance, yet again. There were times where Scotland played some nice rugby, there’s no doubt about that. Their good moments were fantastic and when their foot was on the gas it was obvious who the stronger team of the two was. Chris Harris had a very strong showing and was rewarded with two tries for it, whilst Stuart Hogg not only managed to keep things tight in the back but also orchestrated some decent attacks. Darcey Graham looked dangerous on the wing yet again and managed to capitalize on mistakes in the always suspect Italian defence. But they didn’t keep it up. This has basically been the story of Scotland for the whole tournament. They play well in waves but they never keep up any kind of sustained pressure for a whole game, and it gets so frustrating to watch. This team should be competing for the championship but their style of rugby isn’t letting them. Italy were comfortably the better side towards the end of the second half and had they done more with their chances in the first half it would’ve been a lot tighter. In the end, managing to capitalise on a fairly naff Italian defence was enough to get the win. Although they’ll be pleased with the result and ability to bounce back after France, I’m not seeing anything that would worry Ireland too much going into Dublin next weekend. Prove me wrong lads!

Grade: B-. Not the most convincing but a bounce back win nonetheless, just please keep it up for 80 minutes in future instead of looking worryingly average at times against the worst team in the tournament.

England

You know what? Fair play England. I’d be the first to admit that I’m hard on this team, and can probably be a bit too harsh on occasions, but when they deserve praise they get it and this was once of those instances. It looked like that it would be the mother of all uphill battles after Charlie Ewels was given his marching orders after 82 seconds and Ireland scored two quick tries, but that didn’t happen. England showed incredible determination and spirit that not even all of Ireland’s best could un-do. Ellis Genge and Jamie George were absolutely world class not only in the scrum but also in defence. Jack Nowell contributed superbly in the scrum while Maro Itoje and Freddie Steward proved to be absolute menaces when chasing the high ball. Steward especially had Hugo Keenan on toast when chasing those high balls whilst Genge was a nightmare for Tadhg Furlong all afternoon. In the end, England were just tired after being a man down for so long and the tries came for Ireland in the closing stages of the game to kill it off. But don’t let the score take away from the fact that that was something special from England. My only criticism is get better security at Twickenham, I’m fed up of seeing Jarvo.

Grade: B. Incredible spirit and could’ve won that if not for the red card. Well done.

Ireland

Bit of a difficult one to assess this. On one hand, a bonus point victory away from home to take it to a last weekend shootout for the championship won’t go amiss. But on the other they didn’t half make hard work of it. When James Lowe and Hugo Keenan scored I thought it would be an absolute trouncing, but how wrong I was. Ireland were nowhere near as competitive in the scrum as I thought they would be and ended up conceding silly penalties in the ruck. England’s pressure was a nightmare for Ireland and with the Twickenham crowd behind them it looked at times like the game could be slipping from Ireland’s grip. But it was ultimately won in the last 20 minutes for Ireland. After Marcus Smith kicked his 5th penalty of the day, the boys in green stepped it up a notch and managed to capitalise on England’s tiredness whilst being able to make the most of the bench bringing on experienced players like Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw. Two late tries from Jack Conan and Finley Bealham were enough for the bonus point and to put a spring into Ireland’s step going into Scotland next week where they’ll try and do their bit in winning the Six Nations crown. Flattering score-line? Yes. Do they care? No. Will Irish fans be supporting England over France if it means they have a shot at the championship? Begrudgingly. Hotel? Trivago.

Grade: B+. Did what you needed to do but looked a bit iffy at times, still put a decent mark down for next week.

Class Clown of the Week: BBC commentary. They were beyond shocking. The constant getting players names wrong made it almost impossible to listen to. They made ITV look competent for god sake!

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Six Nations Week 2 Recap: “Magnifique”, “ffantastig bois bach”,  “bonus point is a bonus point”

Well that was a pretty decent weekend of rugby. We had a very close encounter in Cardiff, a modern day classic in Paris, and somehow the weirdest convincing-yet-still-kinda-meh bonus point win in Rome. We head into a break with no rugby next weekend, and teams will start to be getting early ideas of what exactly they’ll be aiming for in this year’s tournament. Some have been convincing, others not so much, and again my predictions going into the tournament have aged like a fine milk (apart from France grand slam, that’s still very much on). As I try and do absolutely anything to keep myself awake in the battle of a post-Super Bowl ruined sleeping pattern (which I can’t let happen), and find something to take my mind off the fact that this could’ve been the last weekend of rugby before Europe ends up at war again, let’s get into the grading!

Wales

Not bad Wales, not bad at all. I’ll be honest, I didn’t hold any hope in the slightest after the first 10 minutes. Wales looked lazy and lethargic while Scotland were making scary amounts of ground on every wave of attack. Every phase made ground and with a team as big and physical as Scotland that isn’t a position you want to be in. The alarm bells were starting to ring in what I thought was going to end up being a similar result to the Ireland game in Week One. But as they do, Wales slowly grew into the game and Tomas Francis’s try came at exactly the right time. The second half was better from Wales, they defended well and didn’t let Scotland play the rugby they wanted to. Dan Biggar’s consistency was key and I seriously hope he’ll be okay for Twickenham. The drop goal when you’re a man up with only 10 minutes left seemed like a bit of a brain fart moment but it worked in the end. Taine Basham impressed me again after he was a tiny ray of sunshine in last week’s performance against Ireland, and Jac Morgan had a few moments of quality too in what was a very solid debut for him. Although a special mention has to go to the front row. They held their own against pre and post-substitution Scotland front rows which are both absolutely quality, Francis as previously mentioned got the try, Ryan Elias was a deserved player of the match looking solid in the scrum and ruck, and Dillon Lewis added that little bit more strength in the ruck when he came on and secured a brilliant crucial turnover in the closing stages of the game (da iawn Dill!).

Our friend the Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ was, as you could imagine, up to his usual alcohol-fuelled tricks after the game. The last I heard, he was spotted trying to sell the people of Caroline Street his hand drawn portraits of Barry John and Sir Gareth Edwards and some home made “Wales Six Nations 20212 Champions” t-shirts to fund his ticket for Twickenham. All in all, solid result for the boys in red before a huge game in the big smoke in two weeks time.

Grade: B. Better! Keep it up.

Scotland

As certain as I am that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, Scotland will follow up a convincing opening win with an absolutely horrible performance. It started off pretty well. The Scotland attack was clearly getting to Wales and they were making convincing ground in every phase. I thought the Darcy Graham try was going to open the floodgates a bit but then they took their foot off the gas. They let Wales get back into it which was the polar opposite of what they needed to do. Graham and Duhan van der Merwe were threatening on the wings, Stuart Hogg was controlling the ball well, and Chris Harris, Hamish Watson, and Sione Tuipulotu looked menacing every time they went forward, but it all ended up going a bit meh. Losing Matt Fagerson so early to injury was unfortunate and losing Finn Russell for 10 minutes in the dying embers of the game was never going to make things easier but they just looked bang average for most of the game. It’s almost as if they were trying to soak up the pressure like they did against England but couldn’t get anything going in their favour in terms of counter attacks. It looked like a Scotland performance you’d expect 10 years ago, which is beyond annoying because they’re way better than that. The break has come at the perfect time for Scotland, this is by no means game over and they could definitely still fight for the title, but it will require a hell of a lot of elbow grease and a rugby masterclass against France at Murrayfield.

Grade: D. I know you’re better than this, don’t fall into disappointing old ways.

France

What. A. Game. This was like the rugby equivalent of Ali-Frazier, Hagler-Hearns, or Gatti-Ward (all great boxing matches for those who don’t follow the sport). Two megastars going at each other tooth and nail and leaving everything out there. The first half showed why France are such a dangerous team. The build up to Antoine Dupont’s opener was just liquid rugby and they made the most of their penalties. They managed to force Ireland into silly mistakes and capitalised by turning penalties into points. The sheer power they had going forward was phenomenal and they didn’t stop from the first whistle to the last. Even when Ireland came back into it after a crazy start to the second half they managed to keep their cool and answered back with a try of their own from Cyril Baille. Melvyn Jaminet proved to be key in the victory kicking six penalties and a conversion and was unlucky not to get a try himself. Everything about this French team is brilliant. They’re defensively sound, have possibly the world’s best scrum half-fly half pairing with Dupont and Romain Ntamack, they look scarily dangerous every time they attack, they now know how to keep their cool when things are going against them, and you’ll struggle to find a better back three than of Jaminet, Damian Penaud, and Gabin Villiere. They’re the only team left who can still do the Grand Slam and I’m calling it now, they should 100% be in the conversation for winning next year’s World Cup. Whilst I learned on my recent TEFL course that when teaching you should share rewards equally to make sure that morale stays high within the class, when it comes to graded that theory couldn’t be more wrong. Especially when France are as good as they are.

Grade: A*. Star of the week! Flawless yet again!

Ireland

As fantastic as France were, the boys in green took the game to them. Anything that France came at them with, Ireland fought back. After the fantastic Dupont try and a penalty from Jaminet, it looked like it could be a long afternoon. But then straight from the kick-off Mack Hansen capitalised on a French defence caught napping and ran in for his first try for Ireland, 10 minutes gone, 10-7, game on. Ireland’s lack of discipline would be their biggest undoing throughout the rest of the first half as France were able to turn Ireland’s mistakes into points giving them a 19-7 lead at half time. Once the second half started Jaminet managed to kick yet another three points to give France a 15 point lead with Ireland seemingly looking down and out. But the Six Nations script writers decided “nah” and Ireland fired back scoring twice in 5 minutes with tries from Josh van der Flier and Jamison Gibson-Park. If you commissioned this tv show to Netflix they’d turn it down for being too unrealistic. Yet again, game on. But also yet again, discipline. The French were just that bit too good and forced Ireland into silly mistakes. Despite the Irish bringing the gap down to only three at one point, it would be France who took the win. Whilst this will sting, Ireland can take a hell of a lot of pride from this result. They went toe to toe with one of the world’s best teams and it nearly worked. That performance would’ve 100% beaten the rest of the teams in the Six Nations, it’s just that France are that good. They’re still definitely in contention for the title, as if those England and Scotland games needed to be any bigger, and I don’t think that this is the last we’ve seen of Ireland.

Grade: B+. That was honestly fantastic, it just wasn’t enough in the end. Don’t let that get to you though!

Italy

In a score that is a bit too familiar to Britain’s results in the Eurovision Song Contest since the mid-2000’s, Italy ended up with a grand total of nil-points. It seems like I’m saying the same thing every week with Italy but it just wasn’t good enough. They had a few purple patches but did absolutely nothing with it, their inability to capitalise with absolutely any penalties was beyond frustrating, and they made far too many errors themselves. If there are any positives to take then it’s that Monty Ioane looked better than last week, Paolo Garbisi looked decent again, and at times they did genuinely look okay with the ball in hand. But as England proved last week, there’s no point in having all the possession in the world if you’re not going to do anything with it. In the end it meant that Italy’s poor run against England continues and it’s now 34 losses on the bounce for Italy in the Six Nations (god I feel so sorry for them). Looking forward it doesn’t get much better as it’s Ireland in Dublin next for the Azzurri, those poor souls. Still, at least they have the Euro 2020 and Eurovision titles, and Pierre Gasly (although French) lives in Milan, those have to count as wins, right?

Grade: F. Got nil-ed lads, ‘nuff sed.

England

Having nil-ed a team and got a bonus point victory to put them second in the standings you think that I’d be full of praise, but I’d be lying if I thought that was a perfect performance. To start, the positives. Marcus Smith was the magician yet again, scoring the opening try, kicking the points, and generally making things happen. I can’t stress this enough, the team needs to be built around his strengths. Generally going forward as well England were much better, the blend of youth and experience was spot on. For every Smith, Freddie Steward, and Joe Marchant, the balance of experience from Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, and Elliot Daly (when he came on) was just the perfect formula. Jamie George was outstanding, he managed to keep the scrum stable and was key to keeping the lineout solid. I was super happy to see Ollie Chessum make his debut, and the Ben Youngs fan club (which I think by this point I’m one of very few members of) got a new whack of propaganda to use with Youngsy equalling Jason Leonard’s 114 England cap record. But to be cynical, and I am me after all so I have to be a bit, there were a couple of red flags. First of all were the changes. As much as I liked seeing Youngs equal the record, the team did lose some stability and intensity once Harry Randall came off. Also, and not to sound like a broken record, discipline. There were just too many handling errors for my liking, especially in the final third. The score would’ve been much higher were it not for silly mistakes and it was quite frustrating to watch at times. Plus if Italy were any better with using their penalties wisely then they definitely would’ve scored points, but I digress. Even when you’re me it’s hard to be too negative about a bonus point win. Next up is Wales at Twickenham in a game that I genuinely can’t call, a huge game for both team’s title ambitions.

Grade: B+. Much better, but still a bit messy in places. Tighten up some mistakes and it would’ve been first class, but don’t let that dampen morale. Well done.

Class Clown of the Week: Again, me. For thinking I’d be able to write any kind of analysis after having around 4 hours sleep after the Super Bowl last night. Also, can a player do something hilarious after the break please? Be it hilariously bad or just something funny, I don’t want to have to win the Class Clown of the Week Triple Crown.