Friday, February 29, 2008

Roses in bloom

Well, predictions are made to be dashed, I suppose... A cussed defeat of the French in Paris by England and a predictable win for the Irish over the Scots saw the table level out again, with Wales still just ahead. Although I remain confident that my forecast of a Wales-France showdown for the championship will come to pass, it looks like the equation may not be quite as simple as it looked like turning out.

England in particular will have their tails up after winning away to France in the Six Nations for the first time since 2000. Where the team had fallen away in the latter stages against Wales and Italy, Ashton's charges showed far greater resolve in the Stade de France, and their rugby was typified by a hard-boned aggression which Marc Lièvremont's youthful side could not compete with. Although France's lone try came from a front five push, it was chiefly in the tight exchanges where England confirmed their ascendancy, while the inexperienced half-back pairing of Morgan Parra and François Trinh-Duc were unable to harness the running potential of the back three outside them.

England's victory could yet turn out to be another false dawn, with a potentially troublesome trip to Murrayfield tomorrow, but at least they have finally shown some guts on the road after numerous disappointing international away-days over the last few seasons.

With a final match-up against Ireland at Twickers to come, England will hope for eight points and only the aberration of Wales' win at Twickenham to haunt memories of their 2008 campaign. Brian Ashton may then be able to unfurl the attacking masterplan we all hope he has up his sleeve and lead the red rose back to the lost citadel of try-scoring rugby. Fingers bisected of course.

For the Welsh, the fable of 2005 could yet be retold, and the Irish will need luck as well as judgement to resist the shimmering waves of red. A victory margin of anything more than 10 points will bolster the already-formidable Welsh difference, and see them practically assured of the title, if not the grand slam. Don't bet against it...

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