After a great first weekend of the Six Nations there’s no question where everyone’s attention will be on Saturday – Twickenham.
Wales have had a lot of praise this week, and deservedly so after a brilliant performance in Cardiff against Scotland, but this is where the real challenge for them begins.
It’s one thing being able to win a game in that manner, but what really counts is being able to do it week after week. Rugby is all about what you can do next and the Welsh setup will be fully aware of that and be focused on the task in hand.
Scotland were embarrassingly poor last week, but England are a serious side. They are one of the best few sides in the world and this will be a proper test for Wales – but one I think they can overcome.
England have a very good coach in Eddie Jones and it has been interesting to hear some of the things he has had to say about Rhys Patchell and Alun Wyn Jones in the last couple of days. The media always makes a big deal about mind games like this, but he’s just being a good coach.
If England win then people will look back at the comments and say what a good job he’s done, if they lose then they’ll all be forgotten about. It’s a no lose for him. The players won’t be taking any notice of it either – they will just have their heads down, looking forward to the game.
In Italy I thought England’s passing looked really slick and sharp and they are full of confidence. Sadly, the way Italy are playing it’s a little difficult to judge exactly how good the performance was, but England are looking a very strong unit. Wales know they will have their backs to the wall for potentially large parts of the game and the result will depend on how they cope with that.
There are some great battles all over the field. I think Wales have probably got the better back row which could be crucial. Out wide will be interesting too with Anthony Watson and Jonny May looking good, up against Steff Evans and Josh Adams. Watson and May might have more experience, but ultimately you have to get the ball to them, and for both sets of wingers it will come down to how the lads inside them play and if they can get the service they need.
I’ve got some great memories at Twickenham, every time I started there we won, and there are a few Welsh lads who have experience of winning there and that will be really important.
Wales were superb last week and I have spoken to a few of the boys and their confidence is high on the back of that and I think they might just spring an upset.
It’s a massive game at Murrayfield with Scotland and France both coming off tough losses.
Scotland let themselves down badly against Wales. There was no physicality, huge gaps in the defence and they just couldn’t string phases together – it was like schoolboy rugby at times.
I have said previously about Scotland having to deliver and once again they have failed to do so. They got a lot of credit for running New Zealand close but you have to be winning games consistently to be taken seriously.
For France, losing so late is always tough and now you have to hope they don’t crumble. I had some harsh words to say about them last week, and it is really sad to see how they are at the moment. I grew up watching great French sides – I even had a France shirt as a kid – and to see them not in the top two fighting for championships is a shame.
But international rugby is all about playing for 80 minutes. It’s no good performing for 30 or 60 minutes, the level has to be high for the whole game, and that’s where they are falling down at the moment.
It’s going to be a very interesting game, and one in which both sides have to show some real fight and get some pride back, but I think France will bounce back and get the win.
Finally, it looks like it could be a cricket score for Ireland as they face Italy.
They did very well last week to snatch a win in Paris. I actually texted Johnny Sexton to ask if he had shinned that drop goal – he looked so surprised it had gone over.
Once again they seem to be going about their business quietly and getting the job done. They got the ball rolling in France and you would expect them to follow that up with a very comfortable win against Italy. That will tune them up nicely for the tougher games to comes when Wales go to Dublin, and they have to travel to Twickenham.
The Mike Phillips Rugby Academy in Dubai is run in conjunction with Just Play. Currently aimed at 3 to 11-year-olds, you can register your child to be coached by Mike and the team by calling 04 348 3869 or visit http://justplay.ae/rugby/
England’s head coach objects to the way in which Jones stood in front of Finn Russell to prevent the Scotland fly-half from converting Peter Horne’s late try while the television match official reviewed the score.
The British and Irish Lions lock exchanged words with Gauzere and Russell before retreating back to the try-line.
In comments that are sure to enrage Wales ahead of their Six Nations visit to Twickenham on Saturday, Jones has accused his namesake of failing to “respect the integrity of the referee”.
“I thought that was right out of order. When he tried to stop the referee from allowing the kick at goal – we can’t have that in the game,” Jones said.
“That’s borrowed from another sport and I really hope World Rugby don’t allow that to creep into the game because it shouldn’t be part of the game.
“All we say is just to be respectful. At times players lose their cool, but that was a contrived bit of behaviour.
“It’s not great for the game and I’ve said something to World Rugby about it, I feel that strongly.
“We’ve got to respect the integrity of the referee in the game because we’ve got one of the most difficult games to referee. And the game only gets more complex.
“It doesn’t get any easier. There’s more density around the ball. The players are bigger, faster, stronger. There’s quicker decisions from the referee to make.
“And if we don’t respect the integrity of the game we’re going to lose part of it.”
Jerome Garces will officiate Saturday’s clash between the old rivals and Jones is confident the Frenchman will not allow the Wales skipper to “intimidate him”.
“Garces it’s a very experienced referee. He’s got plenty of big match experience, he knows how to handle interesting moments in games,” Jones said.
“He won’t let Alun Wyn Jones intimidate him. Garces won’t tolerate that sort of stuff. He won’t let Alun Wyn Jones referee the game.
“We say to our players just to be respectful. You’ve still got to respect the integrity of the referee.
“And all that video work is to help the referee make the correct decisions. So that’s to help them. And the players have got to play their role in that.”
The Six Nations is only a week old, but already it’s shaping up to be some year. A youthful Wales, bereft of star names, slaughtered Scotland 34-7 at the Millennium Stadium. Champions England, going for a record third-straight crown, rolled over Italy in Rome. And Ireland rescued victory from the jaws of a defeat thanks to Jonny Sexton’s stunning late drop goal in Paris.
There’s already been high drama and great games in the first round of fixtures, so rugby fans should be excited for the rest of the campaign. Here, Matt Jones looks at some of the most dramatic Six Nations games and moments in the tournament’s 18-year history.
1. Wales 31 Scotland 24, February 13, 2010
Arguably the most enthralling end to a Six Nations match. Wales were 24-14 down with 76 minutes on the clock but Leigh Halfpenny’s late try and Stephen Jones’ conversion made it 24-21 and gave them a chance to level.
Scotland, down to 14 men, were then reduced to 13 when Phil Godman, who’d barely been on the field a minute having replaced Dan Parks, took out Lee Byrne and was sent off. Wales opted for safety and the penalty to level the game.
However, there was just enough time to take the kick-off and Wales, roared on by a fervent home crowd, poured forward, Shane Williams eventually taking advantage of a ragged Scotland defence to score a try and seal the most dramatic end to a rugby match, perhaps ever.
2. England 55 France 35, March 21, 2015
On a truly mad-cap final day three years ago, a total of 221 points were scored across three games as Ireland, somehow, successfully defended their Six Nations title as a record 40-10 win over Scotland surpassed Wales and England’s final-day efforts.
England fell one try short of a first Six Nations title in four years as they out-ran France in a sensational 12-try contest that ended 55-35 to the Red Rose. Needing to win by 26 points to deny Ireland, they attacked relentlessly in a chaotic, thrilling match and so nearly pulled off a remarkable win as they fell six points short.
It was the culmination to a splendid day’s rugby as Ireland, needing a 21-point victory to overtake a Welsh side who had thrashed Italy 61-20 earlier in the day, led 20-10 after Paul O’Connell and Sean O’Brien crossed. Scores from Jared Payne and another for O’Brien then took Ireland beyond the reach of England. Winless Scotland were condemned to the Wooden Spoon.
3. Wales 15 Ireland 17, March 21, 2009
To this day, the greatest moment in Irish rugby history. The men from the Emerald Isle had not won a Grand Slam since 1948, but made history nine years ago thanks to the boot of Ronan O’Gara. A 78th minute drop-goal brought Ireland a famous win, in spectacular fashion as they overcame Wales by two points at the Millennium Stadium.
Ireland’s first Slam in 61 years was sealed by O’Gara’s late drop goal. Stephen Jones, who kicked his third and fourth penalties and appeared to have won the Triple Crown for Wales with a drop-goal with five minutes remaining, saw a late penalty attempt for Wales, following O’Gara giving the Irish the lead, fall just short.
4. Italy 34 Scotland 20, February 5, 2000
A defining moment for the expanded tournament as new boys Italy made a winning start against the reigning champions with 29 points from impeccable fly-half Diego Dominguez.
Not only did the Azzuri make a dream debut by defeating Scotland in their first ever Six Nations game, even more significant was the fact that they made the front page of the Gazzetta dello Sport the following day – the first time rugby had ever knocked football off the famous publication’s front page.
Italy, rank outsiders, had been given no chance against the Scots after conceding 196 points in the 1999 Rugby World Cup, including a century against New Zealand. Dominguez’s dominant performance included nailing three drop goals, one from just inside the Scotland half.
5. France 25 Ireland 27, March 19, 2000
A memorable day for many reasons. Ireland secured their first win in France for 28 years, while a certain 21-year-old centre by the name of Brian O’Driscoll truly announced himself to the world, setting the game alight with a stunning hat-trick.
It was a supreme performance from O’Driscoll, who injected life into a side who started the tournament as likely contenders for the Wooden Spoon.
The silky centre started the move that led to his first try. He added a second after Warren Gatland – now Wales coach – introduced veteran Paddy Johns from the bench.
Scrum-half Peter Stringer side-stepped his way through a host of French tacklers, before offloading to the young centre with the try-line beckoning, David Humphreys’ conversion seeing Ireland celebrate a famous win.
6. Ireland 20 England 14, October 20, 2001
England travelled to the old Lansdowne Road in October – it was the year that foot and mouth hit Ireland, so they played their final three Six Nations fixtures in September and October – hoping to avoid an infamous hat-trick.
The Red Rose had been denied Grand Slams in the final round of fixtures in 1999 (by Scott Gibbs and Wales at Wembley) and 2000 (by Scotland at Murrayfield).
However, Clive Woodward’s side were again forced to endure bitter disappointment, losing 20-14 to an Ireland side inspired by Keith Wood’s ingenious try. Wood took a line-out five metres from the England line, set off as the throw left his hand, took a quick return from Anthony Foley and smashed through the surprised English defence for his eighth international try.
7. Wales 11 England 9, February 6, 2005
The game that came to be defined by ‘The Tackle’. Mathew Tait, the 18-year-old England debutant who had been revising for his A Levels 12 months previously, was picked up and carried backwards like a rag doll by Gavin Henson, in a tackle that may have well seen him yellow carded today.
It became the abiding image of Wales’ 11-9 victory. That and the spray-tanned, spiky-haired, silver-booted Henson’s monster 40m penalty four minutes from time that secured a result that bore huge significance. For Wales, it was their first victory in 12 years over England in Cardiff and laid the basis for the first Grand Slam since 1978.
Henson appeared on the cusp of greatness, although his career deviated worryingly after this. Injuries played their part but many setbacks were of his own making. The year after winning a second grand slam in 2008, Henson took a sabbatical from the Ospreys and appeared on celebrity TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing.
8. Wales 30 England 3, March 16, 2013
Wales stormed to the Six Nations title as they secured a record win over England and crushed the visitors’ Grand Slam hopes in the process.
Two second-half tries from winger Alex Cuthbert, four penalties from Leigh Halfpenny and eight points from Dan Biggar’s boot were a fitting reflection of what became a romp. Wales had needed a winning margin of at least seven points to snatch the title from their visitors’ grasp, and led by only six at the interval.
But they steamrolled an overwhelmed England side in the second half and ran away with the match as the capacity crowd celebrated wildly.
It represented a remarkable turnaround for Wales, who had lost their last five matches in Cardiff and been dismantled by Ireland in the first half of their last fixture here. But four successive victories – this last one the best of the lot – meant they topped the table for a second season in succession.
9. France 18 Wales 24, February 26, 2005
This was the game that convinced the nation something very special was about to happen as Wales came from behind thanks to a brace of tries from Martyn Williams that helped set up a first Grand Slam for the Dragons since 1978.
Wales found themselves 15-6 down at half-time, with skipper Gareth Thomas forced to leave the field injured. Shane Williams sent ‘Nugget’ over for an early try in the second period and that was soon followed by another moment of magic from the flanker as he took a quick tap penalty and dived over to give Wales the lead.
Frederic Michalak leveled the scores with a drop goal but Stephen Jones landed a penalty and a drop goal of his own to seal a famous comeback win.
10. France 22 England 24, March 11, 2012
England, under new captain Chris Robshaw, shattered a cautious France with counter-attacking tries by Manu Tuilagi, Ben Foden and Tom Croft. England took revenge for their Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat the previous year and produced by far the best display of interim coach Stuart Lancaster’s young revolution with a nerve-shredding victory in Paris.
Tries in the first 20 minutes from Tuliagi and Foden helped England to a 14-3 lead but France, with penalties from fly-half Lionel Beauxis, scrum-half Julien Dupuy and his replacement Morgan Parra, came roaring back to within two points at 15-17.
Croft’s fine solo try and Owen Farrell’s dead-eyed conversion looked to have made the game safe, only for a late try for the outstanding Wesley Fofana to again bring France within range of a remarkable win.
But Francois Trinh-Duc’s last-gasp drop-goal attempt fell just short and England were left celebrating their fifth victory in their last Six Nations match of the year against Les Bleus.