Rugby union comment: Rugby union may be regarded by some as too predictable these days, but how many pundits could possibly have foreseen the unexpected manner of victory in last Saturday’s Six Nations Championship decider?
England entered the match at Cardiff aiming for their first grand slam in 10 years, but were swept aside by a rampant Wales, who sealed the Six Nations title in style.
Elsewhere the competition’s consistent strugglers Scotland and Italy were both able to secure two home victories this term and achieved third and fourth place this time around.
The Italians memorably beat France in Rome on the first Sunday of the tournament and have proved difficult to defeat as England found out at Twickenham two weeks ago.
Scotland, under interim coaches Scott Johnson and Dean Ryan, have also improved and beat Ireland (12-8) and Italy (34-10) at Murrayfield and generally competed well through all their encounters.
The final table does seem rather strange, displaying Ireland in fifth place and France as wooden spoonists for the first time since this competition became the Six Nations 13 years ago.
Rugby coaches are not as easily disposed of as football managers, but Ireland coach Declan Kidney is considering his position as, no doubt, is centre Brian O’Driscoll after their 22-15 loss to Italy in Rome on Saturday.
This may be the end of O’Driscoll’s sparkling career for Ireland, notwithstanding a final fling in a British & Irish Lions jersey in Australia in the summer, but there are signs of decay in this Irish team.
Yet it was France’s demise that was the most surprising. After their promising autumn campaign, France were virtually every rugby pundit’s favourite for the competition.
But, despite wholesale team changes, they have failed to find the level of consistency required at this level and have put coach Philippe Saint-Andre under particular pressure to remain in his position.
Wales looked like a side that can now compete at a higher level. They have, despite their disappointing opening 40 minutes against Ireland, managed to win in Paris, Rome and Edinburgh and managed to completely and utterly dominate an England side coming to Cardiff with victory in sight.
Wales’s defensive record, with no tries against in their final four matches of the competition, says so much of defence coach Shaun Edwards’s grit and determination to improve after the Ireland debacle on the first Saturday.
England must develop a style of play that reflects not wholesale pressure on the opposition, but a positive running style that makes opportunities to score tries. Creating pressure is just not good enough.
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