Italy vs Scotland Reflection- Six Nations 2016, Round 3

Italy 20, Scotland 36.

You’d be hard pushed to deny that Scotland deserved that win. Over a year down the line, Cotter’s Scotland has improved drastically, regularly putting out good performances, only to fall short because of basic mistakes. With reference to this weekend, Scotland played over fifteen minutes missing a man, thanks to yellow cards for Finn Russell and WP Nel. They were under immense pressure, but they they finally managed to pull of that illusive win, winning their first Six Nations game following a run of ten consecutive defeats in the competition.

As I predicted before the game in my article on ‘Scotland Rugby News’, this was a game won off the back of a strong scrum. We know that since Nel came along the Scotland scrum is stronger than it’s been in a long while, but I for one wasn’t expecting dominance to the extent we saw this weekend. Scotland won all seven of their scrums and turned over two Italian ones. Then you factor in the scrum penalties that Italy were conceding too and it doesn’t make kind reading for the home side. Even with the most talented backs in the world, without a strong scrum platform to work from, you’re always going to struggle.

Defensively Scotland played well. To start with the positives, Scotland defended valiantly for a large part of the second half, ending the game with nearly double the number of tackles and a success rate of 88%. Italy were bashing away at the line in the second half and it only gave once, just after Russell’s yellow when Marco Fuser crashed over. However, the rest of the time Scotland stayed strong, despite the Italians boasting 72% possession and 76% territory in the second half. The main areas they will be disappointed with is how they kept the Italians in the game from the restart. Sergio Parrisse and Italy’s out-half, Kelly Haimona, linked beautifully on a number of occasions for Italy to regather the ball immediately from the kick, giving them possession in a handy area of the field and getting them on the front foot immediately. This was a big contributor to the possession and territory stats. Scotland’s most concerning defensive slip was for Italy’s first try. Scotland often defend with an aggressive ‘blitz defence’, which is excellent if you wrap ball and man up. However, on this occasion, Gonzalo Garcia the ball got away to Leonardo Ghiraldini who duped Stuart Hogg with a dummy and crossed the line for a well worked try. The ball has to be secured if blitz defence is going to be effective.

In attack other than perhaps the first try, Italy were poor. With the figures mentioned above, they should have broken the Scottish line more often. With two yellow cards, it seemed as though Scotland may have had their second-half melt down and were going to gift the win to the Azzurri. However, other than Fuser’s try, Italy failed to convert possession into points. That’s not to take away from Scotland’s defence, but other sides would have taken advantage of those opportunities you feel. Scotland on the other hand came out of the gates flying. Hogg was crucial, setting up two tries, one for Barclay and another for Tommy Seymour. Ryan Wilson was promoted to the starting XV after a late David Denton injury and was excellent, both in getting the Scots onto the front foot, but also in getting away a brilliant final pass to put John Hardie in for Scotland’s second try of the day. John Barclay was also ever present and cut a beautifu line for the first try of the fixture.

It’s also worth giving credit to Josh Strauss- he came on from the bench, drafted into the side at the last minute, despite having played a key role as Glasgow Warriors saw of Newport Gwent Dragons on Thursday evening.

With reference to the man of the match award, I wouldn’t say that Greig Laidlaw didn’t deserve it. He rallied his troops, kicked his kicks and spread the ball wide in the lead up to Scotland’s last try, instead of playing it safe throught the forwards. However, Parisse was outstanding. I would even go as far as saying it was one of his best matches in an Italian shirt. He was central to Scotland’s problems at the restart, made a couple of brilliant runs, took quick ball from penalties and at times (as pointed out by the commentators) even appeared to be dictating what the backs did. Laidlaw was great, but I think Parisse can feel hard done by. That said, Parisse would probably rather a win than another man of the match award.

This positivity has to be backed up. If Scotland fail to overcome a very poor French side at Murrayfield in two weeks it will make this game just another fifth/sixth place play off. The French will bring physicality. However, if Scotland’s scrum works again and they trust their systems, they can realistically travel to Ireland on the final week with the wind in their sails and hunting for a third win. But that all depends on them beating the French. With away games to Wales and Ireland left, the outlook looks bleak once again for the Azzurri.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see enough of the England or Wales games to comment this week.

You can watch the extended highlights from Rome, here.

Official match statistics are available here.

As always, don’t forget get in touch with any advice or comments. A link to my twitter feed is at the bottom of the page.

The Scribbler, February 28th, 2016

Twitter-@RugbyScribbler

Advertisements

The Decisive round in the Six Nations? Round 3

The stakes are high this weekend. Wales welcome Les Blues to Cardiff, Italy host the Scots in Rome, and the men in green make the trip across the Irish sea to Twickenham, where they meet England. In the Six Nations there’s little room for error, but this could be the most important round of the campaign in terms of determining how the rest of their campaign will go.

 We start with Wales against France. Coming into this fixture, neither team has really gotten into their stride. Although weather conditions didn’t help, the French looked very one dimensional in attack against the Irish, their solitary try coming from a phase one move off of the back of a five metre scrum. They had more flair against the Italians the week before, but are yet to combine both for a complete performance and in truth, are lucky to be at round three with two wins. Furthermore, after their destruction by the All Blacks in the world cup quarter final, France are still having to rebuild their confidence. However, with the knowledge that a Grand Slam is on the cards, I expect Guy Noves will be in their ears telling them to go hell for leather on this one. As for how they actually perform? It’s a cliché statement, but it’s anyone’s guess.

On the other hand, Wales have also been incomplete. In round one they fought back excellently from a 13-0 deficit to the Irish at the Aviva stadium, for it to end at a 16-16 draw. They then beat Scotland on five minutes of magic as Scotland (on cue) imploded at sixty-five minutes. However, Wales are notoriously slow starters in this championship and know that they need to win this game if they are to compete for this years title, so don’t expect them to come out dosing, either. This game could completely derail Les Blues chance at a grand-slam (not to mention their confidence) or ruin the chances of Wales claiming another title.

The next fixture of the weekend is what many label the Wooden Spoon decider. Italy welcome Scotland to Rome in a fixture that is a must win for both sides. After yet another World Cup without progression from their pool, Italy were looking clear favourites for the last place this championship. However, the Italians came into the tournament with a largely improved performance from the world Cup, but ultimately losing out to France at Stade de France, 23-21. Had Parisse’s last ditch drop goal gone over, Italy would’ve started with a historic win. Unfortunately, on the day, it was not to be. When they met England the following week in Rome, the Italians went into half time trailing 9-11, a fair reflection of the game. The end result 9-40 to England. As has often happened to Italy, they keep themselves in the game, but ultimately lose out in the closing stages. For Italy, this is a must win if they are to build the confidence required to have a serious chance against Ireland or Wales in their following games.

The Scots on the other hand, came into the Championship from a Quarter Final loss to Australia, by one point at Twickenham. They would certainly have been licking their lips at the opportunity to beat a deflated England side who failed to make it out of the pools and are under new management. In reality, their performance was nothing special and they slumped to a 9-15 defeat to the English. Fast forward a week, Wales in Cardiff and Scotland looked revitalised- in truth, very unlucky not to win. However, as usual it was the implosion at sixty-five minutes where they conceded two tries in quick succession that led to their 27-23 loss to a powerful Welsh side. In this sense, Scotland have similar problems to the Italians, but have managed to get a lot closer to results. In their last visit to Rome, the Scots prevailed thanks to a last minute Duncan Weir drop goal, at Murrayfield the following year the Scots lost out to a final minute Italian Score. In the summer warm up games Scotland won the fixture in Turin and then comfortably dismantled the Italians at Murrayfield.

However, Rome is no easy place to go and the men in blue will have to be on top form to win. It’s realistically achievable for Scotland to beat the French at Murrayfield and maybe Ireland away from home, but that all depends on them winning this game.

 To the last game of the weekend, England against Ireland. England should be clear favourites for this one- Despite having won the previous two instalments of the Six Nations, Ireland have slumped to a 16-16 draw against Wales, followed by a narrow loss to the French. On the other hand, under new Coach Eddie Jones, England have managed to overcome, in the words of Clive Woodward the “second-division” sides of the Six Nations. Take those words as you wish, but if England only beat a “second-division” side by six points- they should be worried for the Irish. Bitterness aside, Jones has been very open that he’s selecting squads to win games- not necessarily playing how they want to yet. Their second half against the Italians gave a taste of what may be to come from England in the Jones era, but it’s still early days. England will be keen to make up for last years loss to the men in green and to keep their first Grand-Slam since 2003 within reach.

As mentioned, Schmidt’s Irish side have failed to register a win yet, virtually putting them out of the title race. So far, they’ve generally been defensively astute as usual, but hit hard by injuries. Many have criticised their lack of attacking ambition as they have struggled to play any really threatening Rugby. They still look to struggle without Sexton and his intelligent kicking game and management. With Madigan not impressing many either, there are calls for Paddy Jackson to be given the bench slot for fly-half. Depending on how Schmidt approaches the game, this could either be a chance to blood some new players at the start of a new World Cup cycle or, perhaps more likely, he will focus on getting the win away from home to bring some pride back to the Irish jersey.

My predictions therefore are not overly controversial. I expect the Welsh to earn their second win, with a loud Cardiff crowd behind them as usual. Italy against Scotland is a harder call, but I think Scotland will go to Rome and complete the job, but perhaps not a large winning margin. Finally, I believe England are growing into the Six Nations this year and with the prospect of Elliot Daly making his English debut, it’s hard to see them losing at Twickenham. That said- if Ireland mix it up by playing the likes of Craig Gilroy and Stuart McCloskey- then who knows.

As usual, please weigh in by commenting here, on Reddit, or on twitter.

The Scribbler, February 24th, 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler

Do International fixtures have a disproportionate knock on effect on club rugby?

In the hallowed week of the Six Nations, I thought I’d take a look at how international rugby (focussing on the Six Nations) affects club competitions and how it could affect the validity of the final standings. The topic was first brought to my attention by the Driving Maul twitter page, where a poll was run asking if people think that the Six Nations is the cause for the upsets in the premiership last week (round 12) and therefore ruins the validity of the competition. The most notable upset that weekend was of course, Saracens defeat to Wasps, 23-64.

Looking at Wasps victory in the Premiership first, the first thing that struck me was the strength of both side’s team sheets. Of course, influential names such as Owen Farrell, Duncan Taylor and the suspended Chris Ashton are missing from Saracens team and the likes of Joe Launchbury and Ruaridh Jackson from Wasps. However, overall the teams were both strong, neither side looking obviously depleted by the Six Nations. Charles Piutau and Marcelo Bosch were just two big names on the field that day. The Premiership has been made up of around “61-63%” English qualified players since it’s inception. As the majority of the players are qualified for NH teams, during the Six Nations they may be taken off to their international sides (England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland) However, with most Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Irish players playing in their respective countries, the Premiership more or less only has to feed one national side, England, with the occasional extras to European Nations Cup and the Americas Rugby Championship. In addition European clubs have significantly more power over players from these nations and can therefore dictate whether players from ENC and ARC will be made available to their national sides or not. Overall, in my opinion this does test depth, but shouldn’t cause too many issues for Premiership sides during this period.

Arguably, France are the least well equipped to deal with the Six Nations. When the likes of Wesley Fofana, Francois Trinh-Duc and Guillem Guirado are away on international duty alongside the occasional Irish, Welsh, Scottish or Italian player, times really do look tough for Top 14 sides. They have to turn to the likes of second rate Southern Hemisphere players such as Dan Carter (who’s clearly past his best), Adam Ashley-Cooper (who was never that good anyway) and Ma’a Nonu, who doesn’t bring much other than the occasional ‘powerful’ run.

Jokes aside though, some of these southern giants have struggled to settle in to things in France with Ma’a Nonu being perhaps the most notable. On the other hand many have questioned whether Racing 92 actually need anyone else on the pitch other than the brilliant Dan Carter who is continuing in the same vain of form that saw him excel in the World Cup final last year. Top 14 sides also have the luxury of never really being without their southern stars, as the rugby calendar down under sees them playing internationals in the summer and autumn, but not during the Six Nations. This again means a minimal effect in theory. I will confess though, I don’t overly follow the Top 14 though, so please let me know if this is the reality or not!

Last, but by no means least is the PRO12 which for me is the league affected most by the Six Nations, but not necessarily in a bad way. During the six nations four nations have squads to select from twelve PRO12 sides. There are of course exceptions, with some players playing abroad in England and France, but the majority of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy’s squads are made up of these twelve sides whilst a few players are lost in this period to the ENC and ARC too. This means that some of the top sides struggle during the Six Nations, allowing sides such as Zebre, Treviso, Newport Gwent Dragons and Connacht the chance to register some results (although Connacht have certainly dropped the whipping boys of the PRO12 of late, sitting at the top of the table) This can, at times, give the illusion that a side is a bigger player in the league than they really are.

It’s not all bad news though, this Six Nations period gives opportunity for new players to make their claims for a starting berth. Indeed, Finn Russell is a perfect example of this, moving from the edge of the Glasgow Warriors squad to the Scotland ten shirt in under a year, all thanks to the opportunity the Six Nations gave him to get game time at Glasgow back in 2013.

The biggest hit tends to come once every four years, World Cup time. The PRO12 contributed more players than any other league to the World Cup, which severely affected some sides in the league and in Europe, Leinster and Glasgow being perhaps the most notable.

In the Premiership it’s harder to tell the effect the World Cup had, as the league was paused until its conclusion. However, Bath’s fall from grace this season is a good example for me. Despite sitting comfortably in the top half of the Premiership last year, having signed a number of world class players, they find themselves struggling with four wins from twelve games. Most expect that to change next season, as they have time to regroup after the disruption of the World Cup.

In truth, as far as the Top 14 goes I’m not sure. I don’t have much opportunity to follow it and unfortunately neither can I follow Super Rugby. If anyone wants to weigh in on the effects on these leagues, please feel free to comment or contact me on my twitter which is linked below.

To conclude then, there is no denying that International fixtures affect club rugby in a notable way, but generally I don’t think it causes a significant enough upset outside of World Cup years to blame a clubs poor form on this. As usual, any advice appreciated and if you wish to get involved in my twitter poll on the matter, you can here.

You can take a look in further depth at the shortcomings of the Guinness Pro 12 in Europe this year, here.

The Scribbler, February 20th, 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler

RBS Six Nations 2016- Week two round up

First off we start in Stade Francais, where a determined French side over came an Irish side looking to register their first win and to defend their two consecutive Six Nations titles. Unfortunately for the Irish, they struggled with injuries early on, ultimately costing them the game as the French subs had the edge over the tired Irishmen, final score 10-9. If there’s one thing to say of this match, it was far from vintage. The game consisted of nineteen scrums, twenty-one penalties (many of which came from the scrums) and sixty seven errors in total according to the Stats page of the Six Nations. There was only one try in the game, a first phase score off the back of a five metre scrum.

This game was at its best, a dull game. If there were calls following the World Cup for the Northern Hemisphere to play a more open game, they certainly weren’t heard inside the Stade this weekend. That said, conditions looked torrential, which of course never lends itself to fast and flowing rugby.

One thing that has been said many times before, it seems as though Ireland still rely on Johnny Sexton. I fully agree that Ian Madigan has huge potential and that he should be given more of a chance, but unfortunately when Sexton went off, it was apparent in the play. On a few occasions the Irish attack lost ground, as opposed to gaining it. Madigan’s passing looked a little shaky and he made a few errors when Ireland were going forward. He needs more game time with the Ireland set up, as he could provide a solid plan B. That said, Paddy Jackson has been playing out of his skin of late and in my eyes is due another crack at the 10 shirt, even if it does come from the bench. However, I fear that Madigan may forever be seen as the ‘utility man’ as he can cover multiple positions in the backline.

Now we move to what was another heartbreaking day at the office for the Scots, but in my eyes, the game of the championship so far. Five tries and fifty points as I believe Andy Nicol predicted before the game. With the roof closed on the Mill.. Principality Stadium, both sides got the opportunity to play fast running rugby.

After conceding a controversial, early Gareth Davies try, Scotland responded in the perfect way, Laidlaw sniping and bringing the Scots into the twenty-two, taking it phase by phase. It was then finished of with a chip through by Russell, finished off by Tommy Seymour scoring his 12th try in 24 test matches. With Wales never looking that threatening after the initial try, Scotland deservingly had the edge at half time, 10-13.

The second half was where they let it slip. Wales played themselves into the game and following a seventy metre sprint down the wing by Wales’ lost winger, Tom James, Jamie Roberts bruised his way over the line to start things off. This was soon followed by an excellent line run by George North who cut against the grain leaving the Scotland defence flat footed and unable to stop him.

The Scots did come back and following his try saving tackle on Tom James, Duncan Taylor was let loose by Ruaridh Jackson and went on to beat Gareth Anscombe to score an excellent try. Wales will be happy to have got their Six Nations on the road and Scotland will be happier with the performance. However, it’s another one that got away for Scotland. It’s the second game in two weeks that they could’ve won, but didn’t. When they learn how to close out games, they could be a dangerous side, but until then it’s the same old story. On a side note, I also hope Stuart Hogg’s injury isn’t too serious.

To the final game of the weekend, England VS Italy. England certainly gave Italy ‘a good hiding’ in Eddie Jones’ words, with the final score standing at 40-9. However, as often happens with Italy, it was the final twenty where they let it slip. It was most likely an active decision by Jones to weather the Italian storm then strike, but I felt as if England started very flat. They were sloppy, giving away silly penalties.

A moment the encapsulates this for me was in the first half. Despite the Italian’s not contesting, England still attempted the driving maul. Anyone who has watched any amount of rugby in the last two years knows that you will often end up giving away a penalty for obstruction- exactly as England did.

However, once they got rid of Mike Brown (after a quiet day at the office) for Alex Goode, brought on Maro Itoje, Jack Clifford and Danny Care, England gave glimpses of the force they could grow to become. Ford went better than last week and took his try well, although still made some simple errors. I thought Farrell and Joseph both went very well in the centre’s. For me, the young guns showed the old dogs how to do it for England today.

Italy did of course have moments. Carlo Canna looked good again and rectified his poor kicking which costed them against the French and Michele Campagnaro looks to have beefed up and made a physical impact, but is still able to deploy his deceptive footwork.

IMG_0433
The Table as it stands after Round Two

 

Looking ahead, I’m excited to see England when they play France. Both sides have given glimpses of the threat they have out wide and defended very well. I have a feeling England will take the game, but both under new coaches, it could be a very interesting game in a few weeks time.

Highlights from all of the games can be found here.

As usual, thanks for reading and feel free to comment with your thoughts/criticism!

The Scribbler, February 14th, 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler

We ask it every year.. but is now the perfect time for Georgia and Romania?

We are only in the first round of this years instalment of the Six Nations, so perhaps this is premature. However, following the first round of the Championship, I want change. I want it to become a more exciting tournament on the whole.

The Pumas (Argentina)have found success following constant exposure to the best the south has to offer, no doubt. They came 4th at the global showcase that was England 2015. Their inclusion in the Rugby Championship is a perfect model of how the power houses of World Rugby can help global development of our sport and is a testament to all involved in the competition. Argentina are in turn playing their part, this year participating in the America’s cup against emerging nations Canada, USA, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. Wouldn’t it make sense for us to finally give Georgia and Romania a chance?

If there should be one common goal of every rugby team, league and nation in the world, it should be to expand our sport. How can we do that if we neglect the most promising newcomers? When the Six Nations seems so stubborn to accept these new sides, it begs the question of whether they share this common goal or if they’d rather just sit on the money the Six Nations brings and leave it at that.

I feel that beyond the benefits to the up and coming countries, fresh competition might push existing sides to perform. As it stands, you can expect England, Wales and Ireland to make up the top three, France could go either way and generally Italy and Scotland to battle it out for the glorious wooden spoon. Is it really that exciting for us the spectators?

The addition of new sides would certainly be seen as a threat to the likes of Italy, Scotland and potentially even France. For England, Ireland and Wales it may be seen more as an opportunity to up their points difference in the first few years of their inclusion at least. However, this would all encourage a more expansive style of play and a bit of variation in the make up of the table after the final whistle has blown. It would also boost interest and investment in these countries, making Japan 2019 an even more exciting prospect as these ‘Tier Two’ nations develop further.

Recently the Georgian Rugby Union published a cartoon, depicting aspiring European nations attempting to break into the fortress of The Six Nations. With Rugby now the largest sport in Georgia and with automatic qualification to Japan 2019, they have every right to want access to top tier games and this is the perfect time for it. The obvious example is, as previously mentioned, how regular, top tier games has rocketed Argentinian rugby past many well developed rugby nations to the top. Argentina are only getting their first professional side in one of the larger leagues this year, Los Jaguares in Super Rugby and have potential to grow even further.

Georgia.jpg
The Six Nations cartoon going around the internet at the moment

Of course, Georgia aren’t alone in this desire and for more, high quality games. Romania also merit their demand for top tier rugby, with the sport growing well again after the initial set back of the sport going professional. Before professionalism, they had claimed scalps of top sides such as France, Scotland and Fiji and I for one would love to see them get back to that kind of level.

Unfortunately, at the moment the Six Nations seem closed. Ireland have played Georgia recently and Scotland are due to in the Autumn internationals, which would be an interesting indication of how they might get on if they played in the Championship, but that’s as far as they’ve got. John Feehan, Chief executive of The Six Nations said “It’s not our job to provide solutions for Georgia, Romania or anyone else”, which pretty much answers the current attitude. Unsurprisingly then, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll see a bonus point system or anything else to try and encourage a more exciting style of play, either.

You can of course look at Italy, who have two professional club sides and have been involved in the competition since 2000. Many would argue that they haven’t developed all that much. That could well be to do with internal politics and funding, but who are we to say Georgia and Romania can’t one day emulate the Pumas? The inclusion of these two sides will only help grow the sport we love and make our beloved Six Nations all the more exciting.

The final team to mention is Russia. Bought to my attention by the fantastic ‘Pen’ from Glasgow Warriors (take a look at his twitter), they have made in roads of late, most notably when their European Challenge Cup side Enisei-STM won against both Brive from the Top 14 and Newcastle Falcons of the Aviva Premiership. They are one to keep an eye on for the future.

In conclusion, I’m not sure at this time if I’m suggesting a relegation system or an expansion of the existing competition as both have a number of pros and cons. What I am certain of, is that international rugby in Europe could do with a change to make it more exciting and this could achieve just that. I know it’s highly controversial and I’ve only just started to open up to the idea myself, but I think this is the perfect time.

If you’re interested in these ideas, I would highly recommend John Beattie’s article for the BBC from back in 2011 and the Guardian’s piece about Georgian Rugby.

To give you an idea of their potential, take a look at this video of Georgia against Tonga.

Highlights from Italy Vs Romania show the potential of the Romanians (Watch all the way through!)

As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts. You can comment, tweet me directly at the link below, or get involved using the hash tag #SixNationsExpansion

The Scribbler, 10th January 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler

Calcutta Cup preview- 2016 Six Nations

Calcutta Cup
The Calcutta Cup, to be battled for at BT Murrayfield, 6th January 2016

 

According to England’s head coach Eddie Jones, Scotland are favourites to take home the Calcutta Cup this weekend. In the eyes of many, this is of course, him stirring the pot.

Scotland had a very positive World Cup, being denied a spot in the Semi finals in the closing moments of their Quarter final against Australia at Twickenham, by just 1 point (See the penalty here). On the other hand, England failed to make it out of their pool and looked like rabbits in headlights against the Aussies, who scored some excellent tries to knock them out with one game left to play. The final score was 33-13 in favour of the men from down under.

However, history is somewhat in England’s favour. The last time Scotland beat England was at Murrayfield back in 2008, where they won 15-9. I won’t disclose the date of the last time Scotland beat England at Twickenham but what I can say is it doesn’t make pretty reading for the Scots.

As a Scottish rugby supporter I have a bit of a Six Nations routine, that I’m sure is shared by many. Step one includes the excitement for the championship and the blind hope that this year Scotland might return to the former glory of the five nations. Step two, watch a few games and say that we’re not far away. Step three, watch some dire performances and talk about what could’ve been and how England have a bigger pool of players for the next year. Standard stuff. However, this year I don’t feel as if the optimism is just a figment of my imagination.

Many people don’t expect much from Scotland this year. They feel Japan deserved Scotland’s place in the quarter finals, following their triumph over three times champions South Africa, which shook the rugby world. Many claim that Samoa would have beaten Scotland if it wasn’t for the ref. But as the men in dark blue found out in the Quarter finals, you play the ref and sometimes decisions don’t go your way. Ref’s don’t always get it right and the results are the results. On top of this, most pundits recognise that actually Scotland played some very positive rugby and for the first time in recent years, could potentially contend for the title or at least find themselves deservingly in the top half of the table.

No matter your opinions on the referees and the Samoa game, you’d be hard pushed to deny Scotland the fact that they have played some of their best rugby in years recently and that they have some genuine class, young players such as Mark Bennett, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray to name just a few.

It’s worth also recognising that despite how it looks on the face of it, England didn’t play dreadful rugby at the World Cup. When they were on their game, they scored some brilliant tries, it was just a drop in intensity and some crucial decisions that let them down. (Kicking to the corner instead of taking three to draw level with Wales being the most obvious) You can highlight the fact that England have only managed one Six Nations title since their 2003 World Cup title, which certainly isn’t a great record. However, they’ve come second for the last three years in a row and again, played some good rugby in that time. They, like Scotland, are a young side, with a tremendous amount of talent and with a new coach, if they get some wind in their sails they’re as likely to win the title as anyone (except perhaps, Italy).

This game really holds a lot of potential. It could continue what has been dubbed the ‘renaissance’ of Scottish rugby. On the other hand, its the perfect opportunity for Eddie Jones to silence his critics and for England to shake off those demons from their humiliating exit from their own world cup- the first host team ever to exit at the pool stages.

If this game wasn’t interesting enough, the form of some key players just adds to the uncertainty of the game. Scotland stars Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell have found themselves highly criticised recently for their lack of form. Many other players have been very quiet, such as Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland. If Scotland are to contend, every man needs to be on his game.

England are also in a similar situation. With key players like George Ford and Jonathan Joseph playing their part in a Bath side that has been less than effective this season, their form has not reached the heights of the last few years. To add to this, Jones has ignored calls from the public to include Wasps’ from centre Elliot Daly and promising young Saracens lock cum blind-side, Maro Itoje, both of whom have been in scintillating form for their respective clubs of late (although they are travelling as injury replacements to Edinburgh)

On the other hand, Owen Farrell has been turning some heads at Saracens with some stand out performances in the European Champions Cup and in Scotland Jonny Gray has continues playing beyond his years as Captain of the Glasgow Warriors and imposes himself on every game.

But what do you think? Last night, I took to twitter to get your opinions. Sixty three percent felt that Scotland would win by a small margin and twenty percent thought England would by a small margin.

IMG_0240
My Calcutta Cup twitter poll

 

However, looking at other polls of a similar size, I think maybe the majority of my twitter followers are Scottish..! The one thing that seems to be a recurring theme when looking at these polls, is that no matter which side of the border you hail from, the majority don’t think it’ll be a large winning margin. Having considered all aspects from form, injuries, players, depth etc etc I can confirm that I have absolutely no idea what will happen. That goes for not only the Calcutta Cup, but the whole championship. What a tournament we have on our hands.

Despite all of this excitement, I’m going to conclude that the game will be awful. This is based not on my knowledge of rugby nor my opinion, but simply on the fact that instead of watching the game, I’ll be dancing as a ‘Happy’ yellow monster at a carnival in rural Catalonia. So don’t try and tell me otherwise.

As usual, let me know your opinions!

The Scribbler, 3rd February 2016

Twitter: @RugbyScribbler