The Relegation Battle

As we hurtle towards the end of what has been a thrilling season for fans, least of all the fact that Leicester still are sitting pretty atop the Premier League table.

If we look at the other end though, it is still all to play for in the fight for survival, currently there are only 12 points separating 14th placed Watford and 19th placed Newcastle United, however Watford and Swansea are looking safe.

That leaves Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Sunderland, Newcastle and Aston Villa all still trying to avoid relegation.

If we take Aston Villa out of the equation, they lie bottom of the league 12 points from safety, they are odds on favourites to go down.

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Aston Villa haven’t had much to celebrate this season.

However Newcastle are on 25 points and Sunderland 26, they are just two points away from the currently safe Norwich, however both the teams have a game in hand over the Canaries who have 28 points. It looks as though Crystal Palace who are on 33 with a game in hand over Swansea look safe and with Swansea on 36 they should be able to get to the magic 40 in their 7 remaining games.

All eyes go to the east now as Sunderland, Newcastle and Norwich fight to keep their Premier League status, all three sides have strong squads.

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Norwich City celebrate a much needed goal.

Norwich City

Current Position: 17th

Points: 28

Games Played: 31

Goals Scored: 32

Goals Conceded: 54

Remaining Games: Newcastle United (H), Crystal Palace (A), Sunderland (H), Arsenal (A), Manchester United (H), Watford (H), Everton (A)

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Sunderland

Current Position: 18th

Points: 26

Games Played: 30

Goals Scored: 36

Goals Conceded: 55

Remaining Games: West Bromwich Albion (H), Leicester City (H), Norwich City (A), Arsenal (H), Stoke City (A), Chelsea (H), Everton (H), Watford (A)

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Newcastle are having a tough year.

Current Position: 19th

Points: 25

Games Played: 30

Goals Scored: 29

Goals Conceded: 55

Remaining Games: Norwich City (A), Southampton (A), Swansea City (H), Manchester City (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H), Aston Villa (A), Tottenham Hotspur (A)

There are some big games ahead some defining games, the matches that stand out are:

Norwich City v Newcastle United, 2nd April

Norwich City v Sunderland, 16th April

Aston Villa v Newcastle United, 7th May

And of course Survival Sunday the 15th May.

The season has been a long one for all three sides and the final few weeks aren’t going to be much easier, the pressure is on and it’s clear only one side will stay up.

The likelihood we will have some sort of clear picture by the final day of the season and with two teams facing two of the top four each and each team playing at least one game against another one of the bottom four it is all to play for heading into the final weeks.

What’s Wrong at the Recreation Ground?

Bath Rugby, they’ve gone from the best attacking side in the league and runners-up to ninth place and an outside bet for the top six.

George Ford looks lost at times and the hot stepping backs that were carving open everything in front of them has faltered almost all season.

I short there are three things going wrong at the Recreation Ground this season, a lack of confidence is clear to see.

George Ford is one player that seems bereft of any ability to back himself, his goal kicking has been wayward and despite the one off brilliant performance, glimpses of his former self are few and far between.

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George Ford in action during the Six Nations.

The World Cup seems to have demoralised the bright English playmaker. Having said that there were a few moments in the white of England where Ford looked like he may well be back to his fast thinking, self confident self.

The whole team now though looks as though it has not got the confidence to win the big games, matches against the likes of Toulon, Newcastle and Gloucester have demonstrated this.

They have also shown just how close Bath are to getting it right though, they cannot seem to put in that killer pass or make that telling line break which made them so deadly last season.

It don’t think it’s a case of being found out, the way Bath played last season is not something that can be found out and the attacking ‘diamond’ formation is being used by a few other teams across Europe.

This confidence is an element which would allow Bath the freedom to try the audacious play the plays that have made them the attacking force to watch last season.

Secondly the penalty count this season is colossal for Bath. The fact is a team can’t win games if it is giving away constant penalties especially when you consider the kickers in the league, Farrell, Laidlaw, Gopperth, Cipriani the list goes on, all are ready to punish you for your indiscipline.

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Amanaki Mafi has stood out since joining Bath.

This issue if it is one game you may be able to argue is a drop in focus, but it seems Bath have been beaten by many teams having been in front Leicester, Northampton, Gloucester have all come back in the second half to beat us.

In these particular games the opposition should have been dead and buried going into the final quarter but the penalty count has allowed them a way back in.

Take Bath’s most recent game against Gloucester at Kingsholm, Bath won but only by five points despite outscoring the hosts three tries to nil, having to work considerably harder for their points.

Bath have one of the best defensive records in Europe this season however the fact the have conceded so many penalties renders this almost useless.

The third reason Bath have had such a disappointing season is the lack of a so called ‘Plan B.’

If the flowing, running game that has served Bath so well isn’t going to plan what do Bath do? That has been the question running through the players minds for the large parts of the season when the rain starts coming down and the wind is strong what are Bath to do?

Mike Ford and his coaching team need to find these answers, they are not so important now due to us entering the warmer months but if Bath are to return to the top half next season this is key.

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Mike Ford has had a tough season.

Bath have the personnel to grind out a win in the rain just looking at the pack Amanaki Mafi, Leroy Houston, Dave Attwood, Nick Auterac and Matt Garvey are all powerful carriers. Then you have the likes of Matt Banahan and Rokoduguni to power their way over the opposition rather then round them.

Bath have time on their side, a lot of their players are young and have committed to the club and with Taulupe Faletau, Luke Charteris and Elliott Stooke coming in. Add to that rumours of Fotouali’i and Jack Walker joining the club Bath should be able to turn this round come September.

Potential Bath 23 next season:

15 Anthony Watson 14 Semesa Rokoduguni 13 Jonathan Joseph 12 Kyle Eastmond 11 Matt Banahan 10 George Ford 9 Kahn Fotouali’i

1 Nick Auterac 2 Jack Walker 3 Henry Thomas 4 Dave Attwood 5 Luke Charteris 6 David Denton 7 Francois Louw (Captain) 8 Taulupe Faletau

16 Ross Batty 17 Nathan Catt 18 Davey Wilson 19 Matt Garvey 20 Leroy Houston 21 Chris Cook 22 Tom Homer 23 Horacio Agulla

Five Players for Summer Tour

England, Grand Slam champions have achieved what they set out to do, now they have done that all eyes are on their June tour to Australia.

England face three tests down under in the summer against the team that knocked them out of the World Cup and if they are to win what will be a testing series a few things will need to be ironed out from the Six Nations performance.

I think these five players could make a difference to the England squad.

  1. Sam Underhill (Ospreys, 19 years old, Uncapped)

The 19 year old is currently plying his trade across the Severn having left Gloucester to play in Wales for three years. He has quickly established himself as one of the back row superstars of the league.

The young flanker is quick, powerful and athletic and could offer some balance to the England back row joining Robshaw and Billy Vunipola.

Underhill is your typical scavenger back row not unlike David Pocock from Australia, a figure England missed desperately in the World Cup as Australia and Wales beat them at every breakdown.

He is sure to be one of England’s new stars as Eddie Jones builds to 2019.

Verdict: As good as in the squad as Eddie Jones looks to use the exceptional circumstances clause. Cap Potential: 40-50+

2. Kyle Eastmond (Bath Rugby, 26 years old, 6 caps)

The league convert is electric for the West Country club, his turn of pace and electrifying step make him undeniably difficult to defend against.

The centre can beat people one on one but can also act as a second playmaker, having returned from injury recently he looks back to his exciting best for Bath.

Eastmond offers something a little different to Tuilagi or Slade the other two contenders for the 12 shirt that is if Daly is to remain at 13.

He was never given enough of a chance under the old regime it would be nice to see Eastmond cut loose.

Verdict: Depends on who else Eddie Jones takes and if he thinks Eastmond can offer something different. Cap Potential: 15-20

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Nathan Hughes qualifies on residency grounds in June.

3. Nathan Hughes (Wasps, 24 years old, Uncapped)

The Fijian number eight qualifies in June through residency which frankly is a ridiculous rule but one that England should make the most of.

The number eight is not just strong but for a big man can shift, he has pace to burn as well as an abrasive edge so can he beat defenders any which way he chooses.

In defence a star turn able to make the big hits and a force in the ruck.

His height also makes him a hugely valuable asset in the lineout, he is sure to provide some competition for the outstanding Billy Vunipola.

Verdict: If he misses out a great injustice will have been done. Cap Potential: 40+

4. Dominic Barrow (Leicester Tigers, 23 years old, Uncapped)

The Leicester lock has been brilliant for Leicester this season replacing Parling as he now plys his trade on the south coast with Exeter.

A strong lock that is hugely valuable in defence and a rangey attacker full of power and ballast.

Barrow is making a real name for himself at Welford Road and is surely the type of abrasive forward Eddie Jones is looking for.

Verdict: Unlikely to feature which is a shame but I expect him to make the squad at some point. Cap Potential: 15-20

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Harry Thacker has impressed for Leicester.

5. Harry Thacker (Leicester Tigers, 22 years old, Uncapped)

Another Tiger really impressing this term, his athletic ability is enough to match that of Jamie George and Luke Cowan-Dickie.

He also offers a strong base at the set piece and a really useful weapon coming round the corner.

His form is undeniable the only problem is hooker is such a competitive spot at the moment with Hartley, George, Cowan-Dickie and Taylor also vying for a spot on that plane.

Thacker will have to hope for an injury that could earn him a call-up.

Verdict: The options are just too strong for Thacker to play this summer but by next year he will be a real contender should this form continue. Cap Potential: 30-40+

England’s Summer Fixtures

vs. Wales, Twickenham Stadium, Sunday 29th May

vs. Australia, Suncorp Stadium, Saturday 11th June

vs. Australia, AAMI Park, Saturday 18th June

vs. Australia, Allianz Stadium, Saturday 25th June

England Encounter Europe’s Finest in Lead-Up to Euros

England have very little time to get themselves ready for the Euros in France, Roy Hodgson’s final squad before the championships has been named as the nation readies itself to play world champions Germany and the Netherlands.

Fans have looked and critiqued the selection by Roy Hodgson and with injuries coming to Joe Hart, Raheem Sterling and Ryan Bertrand selected their various combinations all over the country.

What do these friendlies actually mean in a football context? The answer is nothing, they offer nothing, there is nothing to play for, it feels as though UEFA have thrown these friendlies in to make sure the season finishes in May.

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The European Championships will be hosted by France this summer.

Whilst the matches will be testing, England will not win anything even if they do win both matches comprehensively, the best we can hope for as English fans is that Roy Hodgson comes away with a clear idea of who will start for England come the Euros in the summer.

Questions over the availability of players leading up to June is also a pressing matter will Luke Shaw and Jack Wilshere be available? Two players that England would be blessed to have in the squad.

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Danny Rose has been in great form for Tottenham.

The inclusions of Danny Rose and Danny Drinkwater to earn their first caps is a welcome approach selecting players from the form clubs rather than the established order of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal who still provide a large chunk of the squad.

The inclusion of Delle Alli, Eric Dier, John Stones and Harry Kane also shows a trust in the young players of this country a policy that has been key to the Roy Hodgson era.

The draw was also kind to England, that also means these two games can act as an acid test for England are they good enough to compete with the best in Europe should they make it through their easy group of Russia, Wales and Slovakia.

euro-group-bThe interest in England has fallen in recent years due to the lack of flair and attacking play the current crop of stars have in their locker and the fact that all the money is in the Premier League these days, the fact that the new Wembley is also about as atmospheric as a graveyard have contributed to this lack of fans.

These games will provide us with a clearer idea of who will be on that plane to France in June.

England Squad:

On the Plane: Harry Kane, Joe Hart, Ross Barkley, Jamie Vardy, Raheem Sterling

In the Departure Lounge: Jordan Henderson, Ryan Bertrand, Chris Smalling, Delle Alli, John Stones, Fraser Forster, Luke Shaw (if fit), Jack Wilshere (if fit), Kyle Walker

Checking In: Danny Welbeck, Gary Cahill, James Milner, Eric Dier, Danny Drinkwater, Theo Walcott, Jack Butland, Danny Rose, Nathaniel Clyne

Packing: Kieran Gibbs, Adam Lallana

Booking a holiday elsewhere: Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones, Michael Carrick, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Phil Jagielka, Daniel Sturridge, Fabian Delph, Aaron Cresswell, Tom Heaton, Danny Ings

The Dominance of Novak Djokovic

Djokovic is an outstanding specimen of man, his dominance over the past three to four years is unbelievable conceding just a few years ago he was considered an outsider behind Federer, Murray and Nadal.

The Serb of course may never match the Swiss number one Federer in number of titles, but I cannot remember a time when Federer had that air of invincibility about him, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray all had chances to knock him off the pedestal he was placed on by media and fans alike.

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Novak Djokovic after winning Wimbledon last year.

Djokovic seems to have very few real opponents that can match him for speed and power all over the court, Nadal in his prime may have but the Spaniard’s powers are waining even if his recent form can be regarded as a resurgence.

Since 2011, Djokovic has won 10 out of 20 Grand Slam titles available, the only slam he has failed to win in that time is the French Open which he lost to Wawrinka last year, the new kid on the block in terms of the top four.

Wawrinka seems to be about the only player who can rattle the world number one, his Achilles heal as it were.

As we enter the Spring and the run-up to Roland Garros that Indian Wells victory could be the boost he needs to land the elusive French Open, even if Rafa Nadal hits top form very few would bet against Djokovic to win.

Djokovic has already won three titles this year including the Australian Open (the others being Doha and Indian Wells) and he has critics purring, if he can keep this run of form going  and not suffer any injuries there is no doubt the Serb could be on his way to winning all four Grand Slams in the same year.

A  remarkable achievement for any tennis player especially regarding the fact that Djokovic until 2011 had only won one major in 2008 about, this change in fortune coincided nicely with his diet change.

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Djokovic has greatly improved over the last five years.

This diet change has been pointed to as a turning point in his career, his low carbohydrate diet has given Djokovic that extra inch of speed and extra bit of power in his shots.

Djokovic’s unrivalled dominance this year looks set to continue that is until he meets his match but when that will be, it is hard to tell.

Six Nations 2016 Team of the Tournament

So England have won the Grand Slam, an excellent achievement for Eddie Jones’ side winning the championship at the first time of asking. So which players impressed during the course of the tournament.

  1. Rob Evans (Wales)

Really powerful in the scrummage, made life hard for all opposition tightheads he faced. He is one of the reasons the Welsh scrum was so good, Gethin Jenkins is not missed.

2nd Choice: Joe Marler (England)

2. Dylan Hartley (England)

The English captain has led excellently, awesome in the tight making England’s set piece impenetrable. Always happy to take on the ball himself, a real leader.

2nd Choice: Guihelm Guirado (France)

3. WP Nel (Scotland)

The adopted South African has become a hero for Scotland, a scrummaging powerhouse and a rock in defence.

2nd Choice: Dan Cole (England)

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Nel in action for Edinburgh against Ulster in this year’s Pro12.

4. Maro Itoje (England)

A star has most certainly been born. Athletic, quick, strong the Saracens second row will be an England star for years to come.

2nd Choice: Richie Gray (Scotland)

5. Jonny Gray (Scotland)

The young Scot is on of the reasons for the rejuvenated Scotland side that have impressed over the course of the Six Nations.

2nd Choice: George Kruis (England)

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CJ Stander on one of his trademark carries.

6. CJ Stander (Ireland)

The Munster flanker’s carrying has been one of the best things about Ireland’s ultimately disappointing campaign.

2nd Choice: Chris Robshaw (England)

7. James Haskell (England)

He has proved himself after the World Cup where the back row came in for criticism but it looks as though Jones is forging a back row capable of competing with the best in the world.

2nd Choice: John Hardie (Scotland)

8. Billy Vunipola (England)

Undoubtedly the best eight, possibly the best player in the championship. Powerful and abrasive for England. So hard to stop.

2nd Choice: Taulupe Faletau (Wales)

9. Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)

Kicked well for his team and led from the front. Laidlaw had his critics but he has been a key cog in the Scotland team.

2nd Choice: Gareth Davies (Wales)

10. Dan Biggar (Wales)

The fly-half has been absolutely sublime this championship, his attack has been wonderful and he has become one of the leaders in the Welsh team. Bigger is also now among the best fly-halves in the world.

2nd Choice: Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

11. Jack Nowell (England)

Called slow on many occasions by his critics but has been one of England’s strong wingers over the course of the championship.

2nd Choice: Tim Visser (Scotland)

12. Jamie Roberts (Wales)

The Harlequins centre has been hugely influential for his side over the course of the championship. His power has played a huge part in Wales’ fairly successful last four years.

2nd Choice: Alex Dunbar (Scotland)

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Campagnaro on the charge for Exeter.

13. Michele Campagnaro (Italy)

The centre is up there on the defenders beaten chart and metres made charts. His upper body strength is something to marvel at.

2nd Choice: Duncan Taylor (Scotland)

14. George North (Wales)

He is bang back in form. Need I say more.

2nd Choice: Anthony Watson (England)

15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

The best attacking fullback in the northern hemisphere, his pace is unbelievable and he has one hand firmly on the Lions 15 jersey.

2nd Choice: Mike Brown (England)

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Stuart Hogg in action for Scotland.

The Big Debate: George Ford versus Owen Farrell

England have won the Six Nations for the first time since 2011, a feat former head coach Stuart Lancaster never achieved. England are 80 minutes away from their first Grand Slam in an astonishing 13 years.

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The class of 2003.

For years the biggest problem for England coaches has been who to pick in the midfield, that problem is still there today but not due to the lack of international quality players but more and overwhelming number of players fighting for the 10,12 and 13 jerseys.

All of them seem to be under the age of 26 as well with Henry Slade, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Kyle Eastmond, Manu Tuilagi, Jonathan Joseph, Sam Hill and Ollie Devoto all competing for just 3 places in a starting line-up add in a couple of older players such as Danny Cipriani and Luther Burrell, then the youngsters coming through such as Johnny Williams and Joe Marchant and you have a plethora of options.

It really is a headache, but a nice one to have for Eddie Jones and his esteemed team of coaches.

Fly-half, a pivotal role to any team, especially at the high level of test rugby, so far George Ford has been Jones’ fly-half and his main competitor for the shirt Owen Farrell has been shifted to 12 for the previous four games.

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George Ford and Owen Farrell.

Both have had fairly quiet campaigns going about their business relatively well without much fuss, that is of course apart from last week, where this partnership seemed to click into place.

Ford and Farrell in tandem which we saw glimpses of against Italy and Ireland blossomed into life against Wales. Ford looked confident behind his giant pack with the Saracens playmaker outside him.

The return however of Tuilagi and the form of Daly and Slade could threaten to upset this glorious partnership in the England midfield if not now then certainly when England travel to Australia in June.

There are already calls from some quarters to oust Ford for Tuilagi next week, but how can that be the case after what can only be described as a strong performance from the Bath out half.

He made two line breaks, made a try saving tackle on George North, kicked well out of hand and took the ball to the line therefore capitalising on Wales’ blitz defence. He looked like an international fly-half for the first time since last season.

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George Ford scoring a try in last year’s championship.

Ford was immense his only mistake coming when Dan Biggar who is in blisteringly good form himself charged down a poor kick from Ford.

The attacking mastermind surely has given Eddie Jones a thought of how to deal with this situation he finds himself with Ford pitted against Farrell.

Owen Farrell did kick well against Wales and his defence was as usual solid. Farrell is different to Ford, he doesn’t offer the attacking flair that Ford does which frankly is nigh on impossible to teach. The same way Ford doesn’t offer unflappable goal kicking or big hits.

Farrell was by no means perfect on Saturday his lack of vision resulted in a wasted try opportunity which would have put England out of reach heading into the final quarter.

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Farrell in action for England.

Neither deserve to be dropped, both have performed incredibly well, but Jones has to ask himself if one is to be dropped, flair or pragmatism, attacking or defence, Ford or Farrell?

Tension on Tyneside

Newcastle manager Steve McLaren looks to be on his way out of Newcastle United after a run of poor performances culminating in the 3-1 loss to AFC Bournemouth at the weekend.

McLaren has failed to achieve what he was asked to do despite having signed some pretty big names in the summer such as Wijnaldum, Thauvin and the further captures of Seydou Doumbia (on loan) and Jonjo Shelvey in January.

Selection was a total shock for McLaren to pick Emmanuel Riviére who has only scored one goal for Newcastle since his arrival in the summer of 2014 for around £6 million.

The idea that he was selected ahead of Serbian international Aleksandar Mitrovic who has netted five times in twenty four games this season, although it is not a great return he and Perez looked to be gelling last November and they were finishing chances.

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Mitrovic signed for Newcastle last summer.

The chances though have dried up and it leaves Newcastle languishing in 19th only one point off Sunderland in 17th. Swansea though have seemed to have pulled sway from the relegation battle with their 33 points.

Newcastle surely have to do something to try and slow this decline, McLaren has to be the first to go, a number of other names should follow none more so than the incompetent Graham Carr, head scout.

Carr has brought in no player with any real ability over the last few years, Shelvey the one player that seems to have added anything to Newcastle this season. He seems incapable of bringing stars that the club set out to buy such as striker Charlie Austin who now plays for Southampton after Newcastle failed in their attempts to buy him in the summer.

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Newcastle chief scout, Graham Carr.

And with the club lacking goals this season, that miss could be the biggest of the season would the Magpies find themselves relegated come May.

If McLaren is to go the most likely man to step into the breach at St James’ Park looks to be former Manchester United manager, David Moyes.

The Scot has been in charge of a club like Newcastle before when he spent time with Everton where he arguably achieved the most success. Spells at Manchester United and Real Sociedad followed where he suffered two sackings.

Moyes looks the ideal candidate to try and resuscitate this once great English club.

My Newcastle United XI (at the moment)

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R Elliott; D Janmaat, C Mbemba, J Lascelles, M Haïdara; J Colback; A Townsend, M Sissoko; G Wijnaldum; A Mitrovic, A Perez

Six Nations Half-Term Report

So we are halfway and already two clear frontrunners have emerged, England and Wales are clearly head and shoulders above the other four.

Italy are looking like the wooden spoon favourites whilst the other three look to scrap it out for a place in the top half with each of them playing at least one of the others over the remaining two weeks.

Two new coaches, very differing starts, Guy Noves, the former Toulouse head honcho started with what can only be described as two stale wins over Italy and Ireland relying on late scores to win both.

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Guy Novés, France head coach.

Jules Plisson’s long range effort and Maxime Médard’s sensational finish were the only difference between two losses in the French capital. These wins were hugely important especially as they only have one more match in Paris against leaders, England.

Cardiff was their first away game and their first real test which materialised into a tough defeat for France.

One good thing has come out of France’s campaign so far and that is the giant Fijian winger Virimi Vakatawa, his try against Italy in the opener was something you can’t teach the beautifully timed step inside rather than powering over was a showcase of his talent within 20 minutes of international rugby.

Roberts has emerged as one of a number of Wales stars, Dan Biggar has had a couple of great performances and along with Gareth Davies he has controlled the games against France and Scotland.

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Dan Biggar in action for Wales at the World Cup.

It’s no coincidence that the only game Wales did not win was the game in which Rhys Priestland played the majority.

That is not to say the Bath out half is a bad player it’s a testament to just how good Dan Biggar is. His World Cup form has continued so far with his clever attacking game and solid defensive display.

Scotland have finally broken their duck with the win over Italy in Edinburgh, Scotland have had some really influential players so far in the Championship and none more so than Willem Nel.

Nel has been outstanding for Scotland, the prop is an anchor in the scrum and important in the line out. WP Nel has also been a totemic ball carrier and an enthusiastic defender and often stays on for 80 minutes.

The backs are starting to play some incredibly entertaining rugby and it is lighting up the Six Nations.

Tommy Seymour has ignited the fields he has taken, his pace is electric, he beats defenders on the outside with ease. His try against Wales was a picture of beauty with the leaping finish.

He has added some spice to a backline that already had the audacious Stuart Hogg, the evasive fullback is fast, agile and a talented footballer.

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Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg on the attack.

Hogg is one of the best fullbacks in the world, he has a skill set similar to that of an in-form Israel Dagg. Dagg was the best 15 in world rugby, Hogg is near that standard.

Italy have found a new star in Carlo Canna, he was the star against France with his scything breaks and tactical kicking. The fly-half knows how to control the game something the Italians have lacked since the mercurial Diego Dominguez.

Outside Canna we have Campagnaro who has been an important carrier and has made so many breaks for Italy. His pace and upper body strength make him a hugely important player for Italy and Jacques Brunel.

And of course Parisse who did not stop against France right to the last even stepping up to try and win the game with what was ultimately a wayward drop-goal.

He was shackled by England but once again a huge presence against Scotland, they couldn’t stop him making breaks or breaking the gain line.

Ireland are under pressure and the injury list will not stop growing they are missing the stars. Jared Payne just one of the added casualties to the already long pre-tournament injury list that contains names like O’Brien, Bowe and Fitzgerald.

The loss to England proved to them that they are not the force they were last year, with crucial games against Italy and Scotland to come, these are games the Irish simply have to win to claim to be a credible force still in Europe.

It looks as though Schmidt’s plan could have the cracks start to appear. An extremely worrying idea for Ireland and their fans.

England are looking unlike France in good health. Eddie Jones is shaping a revolution but is using pragmatism at the same time something we heard form Phillipe Saint-André four years previous on the other side of the channel.

Billy Vunipola has been the best eight so far, with two man of the match performances he has impressed, England the only team still in with a chance of winning the Grand Slam which is words that will only be uttered should England beat Wales in a clash of the titans at Twickenham in less than two weeks.

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Billy Vunipola has been impressive for England.

The new captain Hartley is also looking very strong for England and his leadership has been superb so far. Heads have not once dropped and he has very much led from the front.

Maro Itoje has been immense since his debut against Italy and along with other newcomers Clifford and Hill have been impressive.

The Ford-Farrell combination looks like it may be clicking as well, there were signs the two were in tandem against Ireland and Italy.

My Six Nations Team of the Tournament so far: 15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland) 14 Virimi Vakatawa (France) 13 Jonathan Joseph (England) 12 Jamie Roberts (Wales) 11 Tommy Seymour (Scotland) 10 Dan Biggar (Wales) 9 Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)

1 Rob Evans (Wales) 2 Dylan Hartley (England) 3 Dan Cole (England) 4 Jonny Gray (Scotland) 5 George Kruis (England) 6 Sam Warburton (Wales) 7 James Haskell (England) 8 Billy Vunipola (England)

Notable mentions must go to George North, Michele Campagnaro, Carlo Canna, Gareth Davies, Edoardo Gori, Joe Marler, Eddy Ben Arous, Samson Lee, Alun-Wyn Jones, Devin Toner, Richie Gray, Maro Itoje, Chris Robshaw, Justin Tipuric and Sergio Parisse.