With the reigning champions now out of the equation, three teams are left to battle it out for the 6 Nations title following Round 4 of action this weekend. England exacted revenge for 2013 after an impressive performance against Wales, whilst Ireland underlined the title credentials with a thrashing of Italy and France will have been relieved to leave Scotland with their title ambitions still in tact.
So apart from the obvious results, what exactly have the Lovell Rugby team been discussing in the offices following Round 4 of the 6 Nations? Read on as we share our top six spots from the weekend action and remember that you can join the discussions on our Facebook and Twitter sites.
Points Win Titles
If it comes down to points difference this Saturday then the safe money is surely on Ireland, having amassed a huge +81 difference and a healthy 50 point lead over England. Quite simply a win for Ireland will mean the 6 Nations trophy being lifted in Paris and require England to record a victory in the region of 60-70 points.
Having scored and conceded an average of 27.5 and 7 points per game, Ireland certainly look solid all round and few could argue against them being the deserved champions. Irish fans will be all too aware of the fact that they have not beaten France since 2009 though and their last two encounters have ended in draws so Irish fans of a nervous disposition you have been warned.
Italy Are Going Backwards
When Italy first joined the competition to create the 6 Nations back in 2000, everyone knew it would take time for them to find their feet but ultimately they would become a stronger nation for regular actions against Europe’s elite. Over a decade has passed now and by all accounts it looks like wooden spoon number ten in 2014.
Only twice have the Azzurri won two games in a 6 Nations campaign (2007 & 2013) and following the progress made last year it was expected the team would continue in the same direction for 2014. After a promising opening encounter against Wales and a spirited performance in France, the crunch match came in Rome as they lost by the narrowest of margins against Scotland. A team seriously lacking in confidence then went on to face Ireland in Dublin at the weekend and were completely put to the sword, with very little positives being taken away. In many ways on Saturday it was the Italy of old who turned up and the 2014 6 Nations campaign looks like being one to forget.
The Weekend Belonged to O’Driscoll
You don’t have to be Irish to appreciate the impact that Brian O’Driscoll has made on the rugby world. Now officially the world’s most capped international rugby union player, BOD surpassed Australian George Gregan’s record against Italy and to cap the occasion was also awarded man of the match. In another vintage performance which saw him play a part in three of Ireland’s tries, the number 13 walked off to a standing ovation that marked his final international appearance on Irish soil
Clearly humbled by the occasion, O’Driscoll is now hoping to end his Ireland career by lifting the 6 Nations trophy in Paris next Saturday, a fitting finale to his illustrious career. For those who paid particular attention to BOD at the weekend, you may well have noticed he was wearing a rather attractive pair of customised adidas boots. We won’t reveal all here but keep a look out later this week for our exclusive blog on exactly what O’Driscoll took to the field wearing to mark this historic occasion.
Experience Doesn’t Always Win Matches
Going into the match between England Wales and many saw the encounter as men v boys quite simply due to the amount of experience from Warren Gatland’s squad, which boasted 11 British & Irish Lions. England on the other hand had Care and Hartley with 100 caps between them whilst the remainder of the team were relatively inexperienced when it came to the international level.
What Saturday showed though is that the hosts were a team with their eyes firmly focused on the 2015 Rugby World and have the potential to ascend to great things over the years. Wales are always going to be a formidable task, having won the previous two 6 Nations titles, but this weekend showed that experience doesn’t always win you matches and you need and fresh talent can often being new impetus to the team.
Ireland Keeping It Tight
Whilst the Irish attacking line has deservedly be gaining all the plaudits, their defensive line should also be well recognised. Having conceded only 29 points in the 6 Nations so far, then a further 16 or less against France next weekend will see them surpass England’s 2003 record of 46 conceded in a 6 Nations campaign. In fact England are the only team to achieve double figures against the men in green this year and only two players have crossed the Irish line so far.
A true test of their defence will come against France on Saturday, in this winner takes all clash on Saturday. Whilst it may well not be the prettiest of encounters with so much at stake expect a wall of green set out to thwart the counterparts and you can be assured there will be plenty of battered and weary limbs come the final whistle in Paris.
Halfpenny is Carrying Wales?
If anyone was in any doubt as the all round ability of Leigh Halfpenny then his performance on Sunday at Twickenham proved to be the only shining light from the defeat. Committed to the cause from the start, you simply cannot give the full-back even a sniff of the posts as he converted 6/6 penalties and confirmed his status as one of, if not the, top goal kickers in the world.
Even when the game was lost he put his body on the line, despite not being a textbook tackle, to prevent Burrell putting the icing on the cake for England with a second try. Ultimately he paid the price for such commitment as it has now been revealed the Cardiff Blues player has been ruled out for the season with a dislocated shoulder following that tackle. Bad news for Welsh fans with an imposing and physical Tour of South Africa looming this summer and new club Toulon will also be keeping an anxious eye on his recovery.