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.

STUART HOGG

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.

Billy Vunipola

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.

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The ‘French’ Way

France, a nation that prides themselves on having that little bit of class, a certain ‘je ne sais quoi.’ A nation that in sport brings the flair, the dazzling beauty, the spectacular piece of skill that oozes not just class but astounding physical beauty and makes any other wondrous moment seem so insignificant. Players from both rugby and football have shown us this outrageous talent for coming up with the showstopping brilliance when it matters.

In rugby France have always been the unpredictable yet brilliant to watch team. They bring an air of confidence that if they play well they can beat any challengers. This was shown at it’s best in the 2007 World Cup, a warm night in Cardiff, the hosts France having been close to their best for most of the tournament come up against the overwhelming favourites a team that had blown away all comers in their pool and blessed by the boot of the mercurial Dan Carter.. and all of a sudden that’s it Carter limps off. France win.

New Zealand fly-half, Dan Carter.

New Zealand fly-half, Dan Carter.

They have a knack for producing the big moments when it matters most, this happened 4 years later. It’s 2011, New Zealand are on home soil, but this time France meet England once again at the quarter-final stage. The Auckland air is humid and France having scraped through the pool after a horrific display against Tonga face an England team that have failed to dazzle yet have scored tries. And from nowhere France produce a stunning product, that is high on power and pace with that little electricity that courses through the veins of a Frenchman, that French way, that touch of Parisian class, that hint of French devil, that one thing that makes France French. France win.

England look dejected after losing to France in World Cup quarter-final.

England look dejected after losing to France in World Cup quarter-final.

France are without doubt one of the most talented teams in the world, they have players that make you stop and take a breath, they make your heart skip that beat, they make you fall in love with the game. Gaël Fickou showed this exact moment that player took charge in the 2014 Six Nations. England come into the game with every hope of snatching a win in France. France are low on confidence after a bruising autumn and there a huge question marks over the suitability of former Sale coach Saint-André. England lead going into the final minute, Saint-André’s last roll of the dice is to throw on the young Toulouse centre. Fickou gets the ball and then it comes as if divine intervention has sparked inside the young back, he skips past defenders leaving the English grasping at air. He glides through the defence with an aura of self belief and the glamour that you see on a fashion runway. He turns past the last defender then comes the roar of the Parisian crowd as the centre ends the game with a flourish of French ability and with such French swagger as all England do is watch the jaw dropping, mindblowing talent. France win.

Gaël Fickou scores match winning try against England.

Gaël Fickou scores match winning try against England.

This year France have had a torrid time after beating Australia things were looking up that was until a week later where Argentina bludgeoned them to win 18-14. France came into the Six Nations and can only manage wins against an ageing Italy and a very weak Scotland. France have always performed in World Cups and that showed 4 years ago in Auckland when they beat England and in the final when they lost 8-7 to hosts New Zealand in a game that they should have really won. The chips are well and truly down for France as they travel to England in September, their backs are up against the wall and once again Saint-André has failed to select the 3 Maxime’s (Machenaud, Mermoz, Médard.) France though have a chance, we know that, we know what they can produce, that fantasy land of daring, that paradise of beauty, that state of untouchable glory. If the French can play like France then they have every chance of winning the 2015 World Cup.

France head coach Phillipe Saint-André has come in for criticism over his selection.

France head coach Phillipe Saint-André has come in for criticism over his selection.

My France XV (assuming all are fit and selected):
1 Vincent Debaty (Clermont Auvergne) 2 Guilhem Guirado (Toulon) 3 Eddy Ben Arous (Racing Metro) 4 Yoann Maestri (Toulouse) 5 Alexandre Flanquart (Stade Français) 6 Thierry Dusuatoir (Captain, Toulouse) 7 Fulgence Ourdraogo (Montpellier) 8 Louis Picamoles (Toulouse)

9 Morgan Parra (Clermont Auvergne) 10 François Trinh-Duc (Montpellier) 11 Teddy Thomas (Racing Metro) 12 Wesley Fofana (Clermont Auvergne) 13 Gaël Fickou (Toulouse) 14 Yoann Huget (Toulouse) 15 Maxime Médard (Toulouse)