When the BBC asked their pundits to predict the outcome of the tournament Keith Wood made a comment along the lines of it being hard to make predictions until you have have seen the first round of matches. He’s right. It is a short tournament, and you never quite know how the teams will shape up coming into it. Now, however, with the first round of games behind us, things are much clearer.
Scotland were getting a lot of hype prior to today’s game, but they were deeply disappointing. They got over the gain line a lot in the first half, but couldn’t string enough moves together to make it pay. They have a huge pack that failed to use its weight to advantage in the first half and was taken apart in the second. They won’t make the mistake of leaving Chris Patterson out again, and Scott MacLeod also did well off the bench, but Rory Lamont is probably out injured for the season and Henderson is likely to get a ban for that head butt. I fear Scotland are headed for another wooden spoon.
France, on the other hand, were an unknown quantity. They had a lot of players retire (some less forcibly than others) after the World Cup debacle; they had a new coach, and several new and unknown players. It made no difference. The new kids did OK, and the old hands such as Clerc and Heymans showed that they still have what it takes. France were by far the most impressive of the six teams out of the blocks. Obviously they are still a work in progress – several promising back line moves broke down with wild passes – but at least they were able to move the ball with ease. They also have the advantage of playing two of their toughest opponents – England and Ireland- at home. I expect them to come to Cardiff on the final weekend with four good wins under their belts.
Wales are very well placed. They now have two relatively easy home games against Scotland and Italy. They should win both, provided that overconfidence doesn’t set in. However, on the basis of their display at Twickenham yesterday I’m not sure that they’ll be able to win at Croke Park. Right now they also don’t look as capable of scoring as the French, so even if they do win that final game and tie with France on points, they will lose the championship on the tie break.
I’m expecting Ireland to lose in Paris, but if they can hang on against Wales at home they will face a final weekend visit to Twickenham with the prospect of possibly joining France and Wales on four wins apiece. That should make for a good game..
England will now be hoping that they can survive visits to Rome and Edinburgh.
Italy will be licking their lips at the prospect of a visit from the Scots.