Lots has been written about the games so I’m going to focus on the progress (or otherwise) of each team.
Wales 22 Ireland 30
Wales need to ring the changes – Paul James and Justin Tipuric were excellent but bringing them into the starting team means dropping Gethin Jenkins and making changes to the back row. Toby Faletau was Wales’s star player so I’d like to see Warburton at 6, Tipuric at 7 and Faletau at 8 with Ryan Jones on the bench. If Wales can get the back row right despite Dan Lydiate being injured then they can make serious progress. I am very surprised at criticism being directed towards Mike Phillips – I think he had an excellent game under the circumstances and once Wales started moving forward he was instrumental in providing quick ball. Dan Biggar performed better than Rhys Priestland but I think the conclusion from the game is that Hook should start at 10 with Biggar coming on from the bench.
Ireland were simply amazing in the first half though there were clearly fitness issues as the game went on. If Stephen Ferris returns I see no reason why they can’t aim for the Grand Slam.
England 38 Scotland 18
England were extremely effective and played as a team rather than a collection of great players and it paid off. England’s biggest flaw was in elements of their back play – Brown, Barritt, Ashton and Goode were not as involved as they should have been and I feel a shake-up is required if they are going to beat Ireland in Dublin. A shift to fullback for Brown, Tuilagi on the wing and Foden at 13 is how I’d go. The battle for hooker between Youngs and Hartley and for Scrum half between Youngs and Care is set to go on for the entire championship.
Scotland, as predicted, were good, but not good enough. The biggest disappointment was in the pack where they shouldn’t have had problems keeping England in check, but only Johnnie Beattie seemed to make an impact. The midfield combination of Scott and Lamont seemed out of the game and they miss the energy a player like Joe Ansbro provides to the back line. Stuart Hogg was the star man for Scotland and he’s catapulted himself into Lions contention.
Italy 23 France 18
Italy won the game on their own merit – this was not simply France playing poorly. There were some problems at the scrum and breakdown and the penalty count needs to fall but they will never have felt so confident ahead of next week’s game at Murrayfield. The defensive display towards the end of the match was sheer brilliance. Whipping boys no more.
France just didn’t have the motivation to attack until it was too late and it felt like a return to the wild inconsistency of the Lievremont era. This is a French team that was finally being recognised as a world class team and nobody expected this result. The problem areas were the lineout and the half backs (France need to realise that playing two scrum halves just doesn’t work in the modern game) and it’s difficult to see how this can be repaired though it should be noted that the last time Italy beat France in Rome, Wales went to Paris the following week and were demolished. Surely it shouldn’t take defeat to motivate the French players when they’re performing so well for their clubs?
Team of the week
Where the best player is French or Italian the home nation’s player of the week is indicated.
1. Cian Healy (Ireland)
2. Rory Best (Ireland)
3. Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy) (Mike Ross (Ireland))
4. Joe Launchbury (England)
5. Donnacha Ryan (Ireland)
6. Tom Wood (England)
7. Sean O’Brien (Ireland)
8. Sergio Parrise (Italy) (Toby Faletau (Wales))
9. Ben Youngs (England)
10. Jonny Sexton (Ireland)
11. Simon Zebo (Ireland)
12. Billy Twelvetrees (England)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)
14. Luke McLean (Italy) (Chris Ashton (England))
15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
Lions squad of the week
As it’s Lions year I’ll give you my Lions squad based entirely on performances in each week’s games. As each week goes by some patterns should start to emerge. The principle of the squad is simple – two players per position plus an extra loosehead prop, hooker, tighthead prop, second rower, back rower, scrum half and two utility backs. 38 players, 21 forwards, 17 backs, alphabetical order.
Rory Best (Ireland), Dan Cole (England), Toby Faletau (Wales), Richie Gray (Scotland), Dylan Hartley (England), Cian Healy (Ireland), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Paul James (Wales), Adam Jones (Wales), Joe Launchbury (England), Joe Marler (England), Mike McCarthy (Ireland), Ben Morgan (England), Sean O’Brien (Ireland), Geoff Parling (England), Chris Robshaw (England), Mike Ross (Ireland), Donnacha Ryan (Ireland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Tom Wood (England), Tom Youngs (England)
Chris Ashton (England), Brad Barritt (England), Danny Care (England), Owen Farrell (England), Toby Flood (England), Craig Gilroy (Ireland), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Rob Kearney (Ireland), Sean Maitland (Scotland), Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland), Mike Phillips (Wales), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Jonny Sexton (Ireland), Billy Twelvetrees (England), Ben Youngs (England), Simon Zebo (Ireland)