As we approach the halfway mark of the Six Nations, the tournament is shaping up nicely with England and France leading the way. It’s currently a two horse race with very little separating the top two teams, but the battle is still on at the bottom of the table with Ireland, Wales and Italy all jostling for places.
Currently top of the table scoring 94 points and conceding just one try. The first 40 minutes in round one was the only time England slightly looked off beat when Italy held them to 7-7 at half time.
England are now getting into their stride and against Wales delivered a crowd pleasing display with royalty (Prince Harry) in attendance.
The set-piece is where England rules the roost. In particular the line-out. Abbie Scott and Tamara Taylor are technically dominant, disrupting and stealing opposition ball for the fun of it.
England next play Scotland on Friday night in Glasgow. I expect Katy Daley-Mclean to be on her ‘A’ game, utilising the cross-field kick as she did against Wales to great effect. The Wasps combo of Danielle Waterman and Abigail Dow have been carving it up on the outside channels and Ellie Kildunne has impressed at 15 and 13. The player to watch though is Poppy Cleall. She looks to have finally found her perfect position at blindside but like a modern forward she can also play 8 or in the second row equally well.
Sitting second in the table having scored 50 points and only conceded three, France are flying high. They are currently snapping at the heels of England and don’t look to be slowing down. They next play Italy at home on Saturday. I expect France to pile on the points against the side propping up the championship table.
The two areas that let France down are their discipline and ability to execute in key areas on the field. But don’t let that fool you. This is a team who know how to play. Strong in contact and physical in defence, they have a team full of destructive ball carriers. Camille Boudaud at inside centre is a wrecking ball in the midfield and Romane Menager at eight thrives on contact. Pauline Bourdon, like Katy Daley-Mclean, loves the cross-field kick and regularly looks for Caroline Boujard or Cyrielle Banet on the wings.
France’s biggest strength is their defence. They are a blue wall that push hard in the midfield forcing teams back in-field. Their defence may give away a lot of penalties with isolated flyers coming out of the line, but it doesn’t seem to change the way they play. They like to take the risk in search of a big reward, but against England, in round four, those penalties could be costly.
Ireland had a tough start against France in round one, but found their feet against Italy in round two. With new coaches at the helm Ireland is a team who are beginning to grow in confidence. Next up they play Wales on Sunday in Dublin, a team who they beat in a pre-Six Nations friendly.
A big blow to Ireland’s campaign though is the loss of their experienced speedster Alison Miller who fractured her leg in the first five minutes of the game against Italy. Thankfully for them, the experience of Niamh Briggs continues to steady the ship at fly half, while the newbie Megan Williams is starting to make her mark on the wing.
The luck of the draw falls well for Ireland with Wales and Scotland both home matches. If Ireland can rack up a string of good performances, and England or France, hit a poor run of form, then they still could have a shot at the title with England up last.
Currently fourth in the table, Wales are a team with lots of potential through their young players. Like Ireland, they are a team building for the future. In round one they held on to secure a victory against Scotland, but against England it was a much bigger challenge and they failed to score a single point.
Next up is Ireland in Dublin on Sunday. Wales have pace in Jess Kavanagh Williams and power in Sioned Harries and now they just need patience. They must not switch off in the second half. If they can pressure Ireland’s halfbacks, give Niamh Briggs no room to play and use the forwards to carry hard into the Irish defence, then this game could be a close one.
Scotland may be fifth in the table but they are a team showing a lot of improvement. Scotland have wingers with pace in Liz Musgrove and Rhona Lloyd and a fullback who is likened to Stuart Hogg in the way she counterattacks. Chloe Rollie, can make something out of nothing and against England, on Friday, she will need to be at her very best.
If Scotland can build the phases and give their back three space to play, we may be treated to some of that Scottish flair they showed against Wales in the second half in round one.
Italy is a team each year I hope and cross my fingers will produce a run of winning performances. Unfortunately, it would appear history is destined to repeat itself again.
Similar to their men’s side, they are a team struggling to hang on. They play well in patches, but are unable to last the whole duration of the game.
Sara Barrattin and Manuela Furlan are Italy’s two outstanding players. Both play a smart game and are central to Italy’s attack. Unfortunately, Italy do not have the depth and quality of players. Like their men, the Azzurri’s lack a talent pool of players to choose from with a domestic league missing the quality of competition other nations benefit from.
Italy’s run of games won’t get any easier as they next take on France away on Saturday. Fitness will be an issue but if Italy can move the French forwards around and avoid a physical encounter, then Italy may have a fighting chance of moving up the table with Wales and Scotland still in their sights.