By Steve Heath
WALES COME TO THE PARTY BEARING GIFTS
My favourite time of year – Six Nations kick off. However due to a particularly stressful job, I slept through the Ireland v Italy match. According to general consensus I was quite lucky.
England v Wales. The game seemed to revolve around two trips, one by Alun Wyn Jones seen by everyone on the planet, one on Gareth Williams which opened the gap for Danny Care’s try. One quite rightly labelled as utter stupidity, one according to the commentary of Brian Moore labelled as “Good forward play”. On a day when tributes were quite rightly paid to the iconic Bill McLaren it is heartening to know standards in commentating have not slipped.
The reason I watch the sport is to see high skill levels, so will there be a better try this season than the one scored by James Hook? A player cruelly shuffled around who must wonder if he will replace Gethin Jenkins in the front row next week, provided the sublime moment of the game, drifting, sidestepping his way to the line reminiscent of a Barry John try against England in 1969. Superb.
Where do both teams go from here? England according to jingoistic reports will now challenge for the Grand Slam, I’m not convinced, is this truly the turning of a corner or did England take advantage of an off form Wales team? Time will tell.
Wales will point to injuries to key players, Dwayne Peel, Mike Phillips, Matthew Rees and most importantly Gethin Jenkins, but England can also point to the loss of Tom Croft, Riki Flutey, Phil Vickery and Andrew Sheridan. As players grow more powerful will there ever be a time again when we see a first choice team take the field?
Speaking of which, Mathieu Bastareaud will take some stopping as his display against Scotland proved. As with the rest his team, he did just enough to coast through the game, France looked like they could step up a gear at any time. It sets up a mouthwatering clash when the Irish visit Paris next weekend, although spare a thought for Brian O’Driscoll who this week must find a way to stop the man mountain. As the Irish say in BOD we trust – good luck.
But what do you think of the first weekend? Can England really challenge for the Grand Slam? Are France rightly favourites and what are Ireland’s chances of back-to-back clean sweeps?