Thursday, February 18, 2016

Six Nations - How are the UK Doing?

By Edward Wade

Will European rugby always be inferior to what gets played beneath the equator? Wales and Scotland were both knocked out in agonising fashion at the World cup, against South Africa and Australia. But the six nations are a chance to prove that teams from the United Kingdom can play well, here we take a look.

What’s going wrong with Ireland?

Ireland started the six nations campaign with the possibility of winning an unprecedented third consecutive six nations. After two defeats, things haven’t quite worked out. It has been a difficult couple of months for the Irish after having a reasonably successful world cup, going out against Argentina.

One of the key question that has been asked of this Ireland team, is if it is young enough? The team averages an age of just under 30 and have been accused of being too slow. Unfortunately for Ireland, they have traditionally brought in their youngsters too late.

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The team are undoubtedly in transition. It should be time for Stuart McCloskey to be let loose, as Ireland prepare to play England in their next match. He is one of the younger players in the squad and it is about time he was given his chance.

Apart from McCloskey there isn’t a great deal of talent on the bench. That was a serious problem in the game against France, Johnathan Sexton went off injured and was replaced by Ian Madigan who woefully underperformed, kicking the ball straight into touch and giving away a penalty. The Leinster player is not used to that kind of pressure and only usually comes off the bench to play 12,15 or 10 at some point.

Are England over the world cup?

Whilst Ireland struggled against France, England demolished Italy 40-9 and were outstanding in their victory. Jonathan Joseph bagged a hat-trick, with Owen Farrel and George Ford also scoring tries. Surprisingly though Joseph was overlooked for the man-of-the match performance with scrum half ben youngs claiming the award.

After such a great result you have to wonder just how far they can go in the tournament. After the turmoil of the world cup this is a great response. Coach Eddie Jones has given the players the wakeup call they needed, and although Dylan Hartley might not be the best in the No.2 position, he is a great leader.

There have been improvements, but the first hour against Italy was patchy to say the least. It was in the final 20 minutes when the lions upped their game, and started producing the kind of intensity we would expect. If they play quicker balls, with more momentum and straight running they, will be favourites for the title.

One key question you might ask is how much longer they can hold back Maro Itoje and Jamie George. The pair are coming off the bench and making an impact. If Hartley wasn’t captain you could also envisage George wearing the No.2 jersey.

Is too much expected of the Scots?

After an incredible world cup campaign Scotland have failed to gather momentum and lie at the foot of the table. There is possibly too much expected of Scotland after their heroic performances at England 2015, they were controversially knocked out against Australia thanks to a disastrous referee decision.

The Scots showed a lot of character against Wales and played well. But they have now lost nine games straight in the competition which doesn’t make for good reading. Ruaridh Jackson admitted that they need to ‘forget about the world cup’ and just ‘get on with it.’

The Gray brothers arguably remain the most important players for Scotland. The pair are perhaps the biggest hitters for Scotland and they need to find their defensive outlay if Scotland are going to have a chance in the tournament.

Where now for Wales?

The welsh have had a mixed bag so far. George North showed that even European rugby players can elegantly glide through the field, as he did when scoring his incredible try against the Scots. North is hopefully starting to play his best rugby after some stuttering form, he has been showed his strength defensively and been ok, but his running ability is second to none.

The dragons had a good world cup and put in heartfelt display against South Africa. The Welsh showed, then their defensive abilities as they put up a colossal performance. So far they have been similar in the six nations. It is key to get North and kicker Dan Biggar playing well. Against France they are expecting Biggar to be targeted, but this is surely a compliment to the Ospreys man.

They have enough quality to go all the way and victory against France would set up an incredible finally against England at Twickenham in March.

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