Planet Rugby

Six Nations: Five key themes

14th March 2014 13:36

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Brian ODriscoll March 2014

Final bow: Brian O'Driscoll

We take a look at five key talking points in the Six Nations as the Championship enters the final weekend with the title to be decided.

The Numbers Game

A mathematician plays hide and seek with Isaac Newton. Newton hides by drawing a square of one metre by one metre on the floor and then standing in it.

After counting to ten, the mathematician sees Isaac and exclaims 'Newton, I've found you!'

Newton replies "No, you've found Newton over a square metre; that means you've found Pascal."

And so this weekend's fixtures have mathematics of similarly obtuse complexity.

If Ireland win, unless the floodgates open in Rome, they're home. However, the permutations are astonishing; if France beat Ireland by 29 points plus England's winning margin in Rome (assuming the Rose win, which in itself is not a forgone conclusion) they could conceivably take the title.

If Ireland win but England win by 49 points plus the winning Irish margin, then they can snatch victory at the last gasp. If England lose and France win, Paris celebrates.

The Irish will have the advantage of 'batting second' but need also to keep one eye on the predictability unpredictable French. They have nothing to lose and it's springtime in Paris, an equation of thermo-nuclear potential!

Whatever the results, the Six Nations Committee need to have a team of auditors on standby just to be sure of mathematical precision.

The Fear Factor

Let's be totally honest; we all love to hate them, but England have been the stand-out side this year. As the tournament has progressed so has the ambition and style of Stuart Lancaster's men and it looks like there's a lot more to come.

Rarely has an English side looked so promisingly complete, and their ability to play attractive yet humble rugby is winning them a lot of friends.

Witness their win against Wales with only 52 percent territory and 50 percent possession. A side that traditionally relied on inefficient bullying to win, raw statistics will prove their predecessors would have lost by 15 points with such paucity of ball and field position.

However, Italy always present a potential aneurysm for coaching teams. Brutally committed in contact and adept in defence, they are the sluggers of Six Nations rugby.

Stuart Lancaster sat the England team down yesterday and reminded them they'd scored one try in the last two games against Italy.

But if Lancaster and his team truly want to make this a season to remember, they must remove all fear of failure in the minds of their charges; empower them to put on a rugby feast and a display of exhibition handling and destroy Italy and to get their 49-point plus margin.

Do it, believe it. Then truly, we can proclaim a new era of English Rugby has dawned.

Dropping the Bomb

It's a long time since Adam Jones was actually left out of a starting line-up. With fitting irony, the man known to all as 'Bomb' has been dropped.

Somehow, Gethin Jenkins' lamentable and uncharacteristically petulant display at Twickenham is rewarded with his record beating 105th cap, while Wales also recall the reliable hooker Ken Owens, with Scarlets' tighthead Rhodri Jones winning his 10th start in the tighthead berth.

Despite a loss, Scotland started to click in the set piece last week. Lions' prop Ryan Grant was compelling in every aspect of his play and gave the much vaunted Nicholas Mas a torrid time in the tight. Wales' changes may just have shorn their side of the power they always need at set piece.

It'll be an interesting battle and for once, with Scotland's lineout always functional, Warren Gatland may just have played right into opposition hands.

Rome wasn't built in a day

Italy have truly flattered to deceive this season. Early displays had commentators purring at a newly found panache and, finally, Jacques Brunel seemed to be nurturing a slightly deeper talent pool than some of his predecessors.

However, the last-gasp loss at Murrayfield and the destruction in Dublin have both conspired to derail the promise and ambition of the Azzurri.

Reports suggest that Sergio Parisse wasn't overly keen to be 'rested' for the Irish encounter and is smouldering at Italy's destruction in his absence.

The talisman will return for his 105th cap against England and he will be plotting back row and front row destruction respectively, two areas where Italy could, with good fortune, gain an advantage over England.

It'll need a solid foundation to rebuild the Italian fortunes this season, but the back row and front row are traditionally the strength of the men from Rome. If Italy win those battles, and it's a huge if, then they're in the game.

The Finishing School

After last weekend's O'Driscoll inspired win, attention turns to the great man's last ever international match.

It would be absolutely remiss of us not to savour the midfield match up in Paris. France pick new starters at 10 and 12 with the precocious talent of Castres' Rémi Talès alongside the silky skills of Toulouse centre Gaël Fickou.

Mathieu Bastareaud remains in outside berth. Ireland's team is a copy and paste of many recent team programmes with Sexton, D'Arcy and O'Driscoll featuring for the very last time as a unit.

It is 252 caps versus 52. 58 tries versus three. One of the greatest midfields against an untried, scratch combination.

However, there's something quite delicious about the matchup. The Irishmen have pedigree but Frenchmen have potential; it'll be interesting to see if the Gallic trio can control their fear as the green onslaught hits them, which it surely will.

The midfield test couldn't be greater for Les Bleus and there's a lot of lessons that will be learned. One thing is for sure, however; they will emerge as better players for the experience, whatever the outcome.

by James While

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