By Alan Dymock
ROUND TWO of the RBS 6 Nations throws up some intriguing match-ups, with Scotland facing a white-hot Italy, an out-of-sorts Wales facing a flailing France and Ireland’s match with England being billed as ‘winner takes all’.
If we look into the past, though, have these matches thrown up any interesting pointers?
Scotland v Italy
Italy have beaten Scotland 6 times, while Scotland have triumphed on 7 occasions. Italy won the first time in 2000, and the last time, in 2012. The try count is also equally balanced with 19 Scots dots only slightly better than Italy’s 17. Neither team are the most prolific of scorers, but we all remember that remarkable day in ’07 when Italy scored three times in the first six minutes.
The biggest poacher in that time? Well, the only current squad member who has scored more than once in this match is Andrea Masi, with 2. Perhaps this is because, traditionally, this fixture is won with the boot. Luciano Orquera and Greig Laidlaw will be hitting for the sticks on Saturday, but they have some way to go before they get near to the legends of the tee. Diego Dominguez nudged 8 penalties in his games against Scotland in the 6 Nations, while Chris Paterson claimed a stonking 21 three-pointers in total against Italy.
While we are at it: does anyone remember the bulging polymath Sergio Parisse knocking over a drop-goal in 2009?
France v Wales
This is a game that tends to bring out big pack performances. The likes of Morgan Parra, James Hook, Stephen Jones, Jean-Baptiste Élissalde and Dimitri Yachvili have all built scores thanks to penalties won off the back of grunting forwards. However, do you remember the try brace from Lionel Nallet in ’11, or even the two tries from Martyn Williams in ’05? Remember Nugget at it again in ’08 when he dummied and darted to an impossible score to help Wales and a magical Shane Williams topple France and claim a Grand Slam? One year later, of course, Nallet and a try-scoring Thierry Dusautoir made sure Wales lost for the first time in almost two years as they squeezed them out in the Stade de France.
It is also worth mentioning Alex Cuthbert’s jinking try that sealed victory in 2012. The Cardiff Blue had scored well in the Heineken Cup before the region fell out of the competition and he bagged a try last weekend, despite his team having to climb a mountain.
Maybe a big man will lift the crowd this weekend, with both teams desperate for a victory.
Ireland v England
The last time England were building towards ‘something special’ they had a championship decider in Dublin.
It is far too early to say that this Sunday’s clash will decide the whole tournament. However, Ireland will still want to guard against history repeating itself. That day, in 2003, England ran riot with Will Greenwood scoring twice and team-mates Tindall, Dallaglio and Luger all dotting down while Jonny Wilkinson helped himself to 15 points. The score was 6-42.
England now have a multi-skilled No 12, men who can bash and a fly-half who racks up points…
While we are looking at tries, legend Brian O’Driscoll has only scored 3 times in this fixture since 2000 – although he does have one drop-goal – but Ireland have won 8 of their 11 6 Nations matches when O’Driscoll has been named in the starting line-up.
Two notable victories in amongst those came in ’06 and ’09. In 2006, 2 tries from Shane Horgan and a score from Denis Leamy were enough to see the Irish past the English and saw them take a Triple Crown. In 2009 they won by a point, with a close-range try from O’Driscoll helping them to a 14-13 success.
No doubt many expect a nip-and-tuck affair at the Aviva, with some magic from a centre or a fly-half simply stretching out the win.