I'm sorry I didn't get around to posting about this year's six nations. Probably because we just finished the 2020 six nations.
Once again England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy face off. England enters as the defending champs after winning the elongated 2020 campaign. Yet we're off and running again before we even get a chance to sit down.
This year I'm picking the French. They got a bit lazy and got ambushed by the Scots last year. However those were the bright young Frenchies of 2020. Now they're more battle hardened and have more international experience. They have their pieces in place and some of the most exciting young players, among which are scrum half DuPonte and fly half Ntamack who are both healthy again, in international Rugby right now. This should be their year. With England dithering, Wales reloading, Ireland deciding now would be a good time to take up self inflicted butt loving, Scotland being, well, Scotland with their penchant for the spectacular loss, and Italy in their perennial role as Wooden Spoon Barer the French are this year's favorites.
My predicted order of finish is France, Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and Italy.
The fixtures for the first weekend were as follows
France v. Italy
Ireland v. Wales
England v. Scotland
Here is how it played out.
Wales v. Ireland (In Wales) Wales scored first with a penalty and then Irishman Peter O'Mahoney committed a piece of foul play that should be in the Rugby Handbook of exactly how not to enter a ruck with a shoulder to his opposite number's head. An automatic red card and the Irish were a man down just 13 minutes into the contest. What followed was a case study on how an Rugby Side can literally beat themselves by making almost every mistake in the book.
After the penalty the Irish stayed game and put the first try across and took an 11 to 6 advantage into half time. However just after the break the Irish became suddenly generous and the Welsh got rolling off a knock on by the Irish. Playing advantage the Daffodils bust through the Irish defense. The Welsh 13 seemed to be the only Red jersey on that side of the pitch as he literally ran past 4 green jerseys without any visible support into the try zone to score their own first try and bring the score to 13 Ireland to 11 Wales.
After another try exploiting an advantage off another Irish penalty the Welsh took the lead which they held until the end. The Irish were actually in striking distance at the death of the match even though they were behind 21 to 16, but then Irish generosity struck again and Billy Burns of the Irish managed to punt the ball out of the back of the try zone on the fly off a penalty kick and the match ended there with the Welsh beating the Irish 21 to 16. The Welsh escape and the Irish manage to make love to their own hinder regions once again.
Italy v. France (In Italy) Nothing to see here. Move along. France drubs Italy 50 to 10.
England v. Scotland (In England) Ah the sacred ground of Twickenham. An absolute Death Trap for all things Scotish and for years the virtual Tower of London for the Scottish sides that have dared to show their faces in Jolly ol' England. For decades the Cross of St. George has been brutally superimposed on the Cross of St. Andrew at Twickenham as if to remind the Scots that their cousins to the South were ascendant in all things Great Britain. And then this weekend ... shades of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn arise! Scotland the Brave is playin' on the pipes!
This was a tough, tight, grinding Rugby match, although it seemed as though England committed every penalty in the match. It was off one of those penalties that Scotland drew first blood with a Finn Russell penalty kick in the 5th minute. Scotland took a 3 to 0 lead.
The sloppy and penalty ridden play of England continued as in the 23rd minute Billy Vunipola got a yellow card for a high tackle around the neck of the Scots ball carrier. It wasn't necessary as the ball carrier was stopped dead and surrounded by English jerseys, but Vunipola reached out his massive arm and clothes-lined the hapless number 10 from Scotland. Just a terrible moment of lazy play by a player who should know better. A few moments later Scotland found the try zone with a classic Rugby overlap play to the long side of the pitch, scoring from 30 meters away. This play was set up by a beautiful box kick by Finn Russell that the English failed to field. The ball fell kindly into the hands of the Scots and they were off across the pitch with quick passes. A powerful run by Duhan van der Merwe for the last ten meters coupled with some absolutely shoddy tackling by no less than 4 English defenders and the Scots were into pay-dirt with the try for an 8 to 0 lead over the shell shocked English.
In the 37th minute the English now down 8 to 3 off a penalty kick, got rolling and seemed on the verge. Then Scotland's number 10 got sent off by a yellow card for a trip on the English ball carrier. Owen Farrell booted in the penalty and the English narrowed Scotland's lead to 8 to 6. England was now within a penalty and a man up for the next ten minutes. For a moment England seemed to have wrested momentum in the match. But halftime arrived to give the Scots a breather and a chance to regain the front foot.
Early in the second half the Scots were again assaulting inside the English 22 and again the English committed a silly penalty by failing to wrap on a tackle. Finn Russell booted home the penalty kick and the Scots were up 11 to 6.
What followed looked a bit like the old Rugby drill named kick tennis. The sides took turns booting the ball over the respective defensive lines and the fullbacks had a chance to shine. Stuart Hogg, Scotland's Captain had several brilliant minutes of Rugby catching English kicks and either running and getting positive meters or kicking back and catching the English back line flat footed culminating in a play where he fielded an English kick behind Scotland's 22 meter line and then punted it back down the pitch where it bounced out into touch well inside the English 22 meter line.
Then will just over 3 minutes to play the Scots punted to the English number 11 Johnny May who inexplicably failed to field it and spilled the ball for a knock on. He was under absolutely no pressure and had only to keep his eyes on the ball for it to fall softly into his hands, yet he lifted his chin to look at Scotland's pursuit (which was still distant) and simply missed it. As the commentator lamented, "That, in microcosm, sums up England's afternoon".
There was one furious round of play at the death as England tried desperately to score a face saving try, but the Scots turned the English over in a ruck and kicked the ball into touch to secure the victory. At the final whistle you could hear the collective groan of English Rugby fans the world over. Honestly this match wasn't as close as the score indicates. Had the Scots converted a few more of their penalty kicks (something for the Scots to think about) this match would have been done and dusted early. However the Scots let the English hang around, but the English just couldn't get any traction. Just as when Good King Robert the First smote Sir Henry Dabun with his battleax the English had fallen to the Scots in tragic fashion giving hope to all Scottish nationals from the Solway Firth in the south to windswept Shetland in the north and all points in between. Creag an Sgairbh!
After the match English coach Eddie Jones, inexplicably with his head still attached to his neck although I can only assume that will be remedied come Monday morning, called the loss to Scotland at Twickenham an embarrassment to the whole country of England. Tell the headsman to sharpen his axe! Eddie Jones must atone for this affront to English national pride with his head! Set it on a spike on Tower Bridge and let all those who see it know this is the awful price of such a treasonous failure of spirit! Not even the Royal Writ of Clemency from Elizabeth the Second can save Jones from the gallows this time! Nor would her Royal Highness deign to stoop so low as to save Jones from the angry throng of her loyal subjects now baying for his blood! What would Alfred the Great say? What would Henry the Fifth Say? What would Richard the Lionhearted Say? What would Queen Victoria say? What would Lord Churchill say? What would the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher say? Good gods not even the abdicated and disgraced King Edward would speak in Jones' favor and he was a Nazi lover! Only Jones' removal can begin to wipe the sting of his humiliation from the national consciousness! A plague on his house!
So there you have it. The first week is in the books and we're looking on to the second week and for that the fixtures are:
February 13 : England v. Italy. Should be all England all the time. It's a perfect "get well" game for the English but they did not exactly shine in the first half against the Italians last Six Nations. I'll pick the English, but only because they're playing Italy. Anyone else in the tournament I'd have to pick against the spiraling English side.
February 13 : Scotland v. Wales. Should be a victory for Scotland, but Wales won't go easy.
February 14 : Ireland v. France. Les Tri Color toy with the Irish and eat cake while the Irish continue to make sweet love to their own bundun.
Son, you've got a panty on your head.