Right… I finally got a few right! Story of my life…
The 6 Nations test between Wales and Ireland was everything it was cracked up to be. It had all the drama and intensity that go with this Competition, probably the best in the world at the moment, and as predicted, there was only one score in it at the end. The game was won by a team that all too often in the past, had just fallen short, except this time the Welsh refused to lie down when the heat was on. They beat the Boks in November and now they have beaten a very good Irish side in the 6 Nations.
The Irish determination to get over the line and preserve their title credentials was matched by the defensive rear guard and scramble of the Welsh, and the result was in the balance until the end. I thought Wayne Barnes did a very good job in this most demanding of test matches. He has lost some weight and showed me that he is very serious about doing well in this year’s RWC. He refereed the game quite strictly, not everyone’s cup of tea, but was fair and consistent and showed some BMT when he had to make the big decisions. Throw in a couple of yellow cards and holding his nerve at the end of the game, I thought it was a fine effort by Wayne Barnes.
There was a wee bit of inconsistency in respect of players not rolling away, or the direction in which they rolled, and perhaps there is always room for improvement for every referee in every game. I do sometimes have sympathy for players caught on the wrong side, though and felt for O’Connell early on when he did his best to allow the quick production of the ball but got caught on the wrong side. The ref is damned if he does and equally damned if he doesn’t. The only thing that I think needs extra consideration is the vulnerability of the player and his realistic chances of extricating himself, and it’s a tough call. He got criticised for awarding a scrum to Wales after an Irish maul was stopped close to the line, when it was a perfectly fair call if he deemed the maul not to have been brought down deliberately. I can’t quite understand why the Irish captain, O’Connell was quoted as saying he couldn’t understand it. I’m sure he did…
The Calcutta Cup was a fierce battle. The Scots did well to hold the English out for as long as they did. The English deserved their win. It was tough. I thought the referee, Poite, did particularly well at scrum time and had clearly done his homework, which others could not have claimed to have done recently in respect of the scrum. Congratulations too to JP Doyle on his first 6 Nations’ test. It wasn’t the greatest match played with a very greasy ball and won’t be remembered by many. It was never going to live up to the Cardiff blockbuster.
So it’s all in the melting pot for this coming weekend. I have some thoughts…
Ireland will be made to battle at Murrayfield. Scotland has improved and it is a home game. One would be foolhardy to write them off even though they haven’t got the big W behind their name yet. I think Ireland may sneak it, but the Scots will be there at the death.
Wales will prove to be too hot for Italy. As much as I would like some success for the home team, they simply don’t have the weaponry to challenge Wales. I think Wales should win comfortably, but perhaps not with the points’ difference that they desire to win the championship.
France vs England is always special!! This will be a very good game. France tested Ireland in Dublin. They will want to prove a point. Everyone will be predicting an English win. I’m not. I think France, like they always can, will rise from the ashes after last week’s away victory, and their scrum will win them the game. They have dangerous backs, and as much as I admire England and the progress they have made, if the French pitch up, they will play for the full 80.
Super Rugby was a mixed bag. The Crusaders are back on track. They used their destructive scrum to keep the overmatched Lions on the back foot the whole game and were comfortable victors. Not sure I agreed with a yellow card for a player who was actually trying his very best to compete but was no match for a destructive scrum. That card then seems very harsh! Once again, I have issues with the way the Crusaders and Crockett achieve their ascendency. I do not doubt their power, but I’ve never been convinced that the angles used are always legal. The Rebels were too skilled for the willing Force, and they will win plenty this year.
The Highlanders produced a comeback of epic proportions to score four unanswered tries against a good Waratahs outfit and deserved their win. It was a very good game, but nowhere near the quality of the Stormers vs the Chiefs. Refereed by Jaco Peyper, who has done really well in the last three weeks, it was the game of the weekend. Bristling with intensity, it was the best attacking outfit versus the best defensive unit. Attack won. The Chiefs simply outlasted a very determined Stormers, whose scrum was immense to start with, but faded towards the end. Perhaps conditioning, perhaps the bench. Either way, they have nothing to be embarrassed about, and finally Matt Proudfoot has a pack that can exert pressure off a static set phase.
Perhaps not a standout match, but no less important, I thought the Canes did enough to win against the Blues, but it was far from straightforward. The Blues were pretty determined on the night, but I always felt the Canes had their measure in terms of their strategy, and the weapons at the disposal. A real low of the weekend, was the non-action during the game of the knee to head by Broadhurst on Braid. Quite why this wasn’t referred for action during the game is beyond me. It’s fine if it was missed, but it wasn’t, and it was replayed over and over. Why was no action taken? Where was the TMO? Of course Braid was wrong to be holding his opponent way beyond the post tackle point, but there really is no excuse for what transpired. Braid was knocked unconscious by a deliberate act, and I would hazard a guess that had any of the referees seen this, they would all have issued a red card instantly. The one-week suspension dished out for this type of assault is absurd. The public is outraged over this type of inconsistency and nothing ever gets done about it. This comes on the back of the incredible leniency shown to Triggs and Franks for their ‘misdemeanours’ recently (read previous post by outraged reader).
The Sharks had a messy win over the Cheetahs, and the Reds were outplayed by an impressive Brumbies outfit which has done little to dissuade me that they are the real deal this season.
I tipped 6/7 so it’s time to advertise my skills. Here goes for this coming weekend…
Highlanders over the Canes by a few
Rebels over the Lions by 10
Crusaders thump the Cheetahs with their power game by 25
I’m going to tip the Bulls to win by 14 at Loftus over the Force
And then the Sharks to upset the Chiefs… I know, a brave or stupid call, but I think the Sharks can win if they play to their potential.
The Waratahs will struggle against the Brumbies, but it’s a derby and they are the Champs. I’m undecided at the time of writing; perhaps the Brumbies?