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Brutal Ireland set for fierce England encounter

Cooch’s Corner

This year’s Six Nations has been one of the most unpredictable yet – and I’m not just talking about the weather. As we reach the first break it’s a good chance to look back on how each team has done and assess their chances now they’ve put their cards on the table.

Last weekend I was there in Edinburgh with Venatour where England came away from a stormy Murrayfield with the victory.

 

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 08: England player Ellis Genge goes over for the games only try during the 2020 Guinness Six Nations match between Scotland and England at Murrayfield on February 08, 2020 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Perhaps the real winner of the Calcutta Cup was the weather…

 

In truth, there was nothing between the sides and Scotland showed glimpses of real quality. But when the weather affects a match as much as it did in the Calcutta Cup, the team who does the basis right always win. Despite some promising performances from Blair Kinghorn, Adam Hastings and Stuart Hogg in the backline, Scotland’s poor showing at the line out cost them the victory, losing seven of their own throws in the process.

England were able to adapt to the conditions the best and so I was thrilled when my fellow Bristolian Ellis Genge powered over to ensure his side took the famous trophy back across the border for the first time in years.

Apart from the very Scottish weather, I had a great time in Edinburgh last weekend. It’s a wonderful city and I enjoyed meeting with my old mate Iwan Tukalo to preview the game for our clients.

 

 

The other high-profile match of the weekend was Ireland’s dispatching of Wales in Dublin. I did call an Irish win in my preview, but I never expected this sort of performance against a team as solid as the Welsh.

Ireland played with a real swagger, but this was all because of the platform their powerful forward pack provided for the experienced half backs Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton. CJ Stander has put in man of the match performances two weeks in a row, Peter O’Mahony is a monster in the breakdown, and Josh van der Flier is really coming into his own to complete the most formidable back row in the Championship. This brutality up front really does make them Grand Slam contenders in a fascinating title race.

 

DUBLIN, IRELAND - FEBRUARY 08: CJ Stander of Ireland is tackled by Tomos Williams of Wales during the 2020 Guinness Six Nations match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium on February 08, 2020 in Dublin, Dublin. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

CJ Stander (middle) impressed yet again amidst a powerful Irish back row

 

The physicality that Andy Farrell has added to his side since taking over as head coach a few weeks ago will be key for Ireland as they travel to Twickenham for a huge game against England on Sunday.

Their hosts, led by Farrell’s son, Owen, will be eager to give a proper showing of themselves in their first game at home since making the World Cup Final three months ago.

It’s tough to call this match, especially when you add in the possibility of Ireland winning the triple crown with a victory. I expect England to have learnt their lessons of the France defeat and bounce back to win a close and fiercely contested affair.

I predicted a French thrashing of Italy last week, however France seemed to hiccup over the line as the Italians grabbed three tries against a Shaun Edwards defence that was too strong for England. I expect Edwards will work his team very hard during this fallow week and we’ll see a huge response at the weekend against his former side, Wales.

 

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 01:  Fabien Galthie, (R) the France head coach, talks with the defence coach Shaun Edwards during the France Captain's run at the Stade de France on February 01, 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Englishman Shaun Edwards (left) has been credited with bolstering France’s defence under ‎Fabien Galthié (right)

 

I don’t think that Wales were terrible against a strong Ireland side and won’t rule them out of the reckoning for the Six Nations title. However, they have a mighty challenge on their hands against France this weekend.

Looking back at that now-infamous match in Oita in the Rugby World Cup, France were sailing through until the elbow of Sebastien Vahaamahina led to a red card and a Welsh resurgence.

Now with a more intelligent defence and a young, exciting attack, I predict France to be even stronger than they were a matter of months ago in Japan.

The bookies seem to have Wales pinned on as home favourites in a Principality Stadium that will be roaring their team home. From what I saw against England, I just can’t rule out France.

With this year’s competition being more fiercely contested than ever, we’ve still got a few places left for our packages to Rome in March. Click here to find out more information.

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France v England - Guinness Six Nations Eddie Jones ParisCARDIFF, WALES - FEBRUARY 22: Paul Willemse of France celebrates scoring his sides second try during the 2020 Guinness Six Nations match between Wales and France at Principality Stadium on February 22, 2020 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)