Today was the first of four days, of one of my favourite yearly sporting events. It’s the time of year when we all start to dress in tweed and become horse whisperers, doesn’t actually mean we win many bets, but we give it a damned good try. We haven’t become horse racing specialists over night, even if we do read the Racing Post front to back. That is unfortunately the route i take. But some just like to pick their favourite colours or lucky numbers. Either way we all love the excitement, and to put a little or a few bets on over the four days. Go for the favourite, or take a chance on the outsider. Yes i’m talking about the Cheltenham Festival and talking of taking chances, this takes me to Dublin on Saturday. (Hey… you see what i did there, with the link). Just imagine the amount of pints of Guinness that will be consumed this week and the weekend, especially with it being St Patrick’s Day. Anyway the rugby, the game that will take place on Saturday is England’s chance, their chance to achieve greatness, to quote Eddie Jones. He has also said that the players should treat it as their World Cup Final. So they should, they may only ever get to one World Cup Final and this may be their only chance at creating history with winning this game in Dublin. Not only will they have won 19 consecutive games in tier one, which would be a new World Record, but they would also be the first team in 6 Nations history to win back to back Grand Slams. But lets come back to all this and lets look back at the games that happened last weekend.
Going in order again, takes us back to Friday night and with the roof shut, under the lights Wales and Ireland took part in an incredible game of rugby. Making this 6 Nations one of the best that i can remember. This game had everything, huge hits, attacking rugby and of course bundles of passion. Wales seemed up for it from minute one, Rhys Webb is taking the battle for the Lions number 9 shirt right to the wire. George North showed why never to doubt him and what a little warning/pep talk from the coaches can do. They also showed England what to do to keep the Irish threat quiet, get at Murray and Sexton and also defend and tackle like your lives depend on it, stop the likes of CJ Stander and Sean O’Brien making the metres, with the carries they can make that is some challenge, but Wales succeeded. Don’t get me wrong Ireland had their chances too, i’m pretty sure Robbie Henshaw will be kicking himself after the maul debacle. But i just felt that Sextons yellow card didn’t help and by the time he came back on, Wales had ruffled up his fellow half-back to the point where he could hardly pass the ball. They never seemed to get the same momentum they did against France. I felt that Stander had a quiet game as well, i only really remember one big barnstorming run, i mean what a run but when he got substituted i had forgot he was on the pitch. But anyway this loss for Ireland will only fuel the fire more for the visit of England.
Which brings me to the England v Scotland game on Saturday. I was a nervous wreck minutes before kick-off. I was confident of an England win, but a little part of me was not so, as Scotland had played so well up till then. So what came after kick-off was just…just what we had all been waiting for. Few, thank god and wow what a performance. Don’t get me wrong Scotland weren’t the best but that was also because of how good England played. Straight from the start with the Fraser Brown tackle on Daly (i felt the ref got it right with a yellow card), things just went from bad to worse for Scotland, they just didn’t recover from that and England were soon up 10-0. Then Scotland lost Hogg and then it seemed player after player to injury, which made it harder and harder. The onslaught didn’t stop there, Youngs, Ford and Farrell were outstanding and the way they passed and played was top notch. Straight off the line-out 1 phase boom, boom, boom, try. The forwards had their best game apart from Launchbury and Lawes who just carried on their outstanding form from the other games. We finally saw the Hughes we had been waiting for, but the crowd could not contain their excitement when they finally saw Billy come off the bench, then makes an impact within no time with a try. Joseph got the Man of the Match award and deservedly so for his hat-trick of tries, the bonus was that there was so many candidates. So the All Blacks record of 18 consecutive games unbeaten was matched and another 6 Nations title in the bag, but all is not complete, they and we as fans want the Grand Slam. Scotland need to forget this game, erase it from memory fast and just focus now on beating Italy and beating Italy good, to try and climb back up the table to get a finish that their previous form before this game deserved and give Vern Cotter the right send off.
The France v Italy i didn’t really see much of, but from the result it seemed as though there was nothing much really to talk about. We expected a French win and we got no different. From what parts i did see, the man mountain Louis Picamoles was causing havoc with no great surprise. But it just made me think of another gigantic battle we will have in store with him going head to head with Ross Moriaty in the France v Wales game.
Now to Dublin we head and a St Patrick’s Day weekend, a defeat to put right, fire in their bellies, wanting to do a nation proud on home turf and they just want to beat England full stop. All of this will lie ahead for England team who hopefully are hitting form at just the right time. They face one hell of a battle, i can’t wait. We want both teams to be on top form to create a great spectacle, but for England to win they must take every chance to put Ireland to the sword, and watch that Wales v Ireland game back and take note of how they stopped Murray and Sexton playing. England have without doubt got to see this game as their World Cup Final, or maybe it is an even more important game than that. As to get to the World Cup Final in 2019 they will either along the way or in the final need to beat the best team in the world…The All Blacks, and i’m sure they would get the job done if they were in England’s shoes. This game is another step in the long road to building a team to beat the All Blacks and win the World Cup 2019. But what the hell, a good amount of Guinness’s will be sunk by yours truly on Saturday night and i’m a fan, and i want us to win the Grand Slam god dammit. Go on boys, make history for England and of course most importantly…yourselves.