6 Nations 2014: Friday night lights

For the last couple of years there’s been a single Friday night match in the Six Nations Championship and it always seems to be the Wales v France match. I have no idea why this is and it kind of bugs me that it’s always us who play on a Friday, as I quite like Saturday afternoon internationals. Whatever, the one bonus of the Friday night game is that as I was passing through the centre of Cardiff on Friday I got to soak up a bit of the pre-game atmosphere, which was already in evidence about four hours before kick off.

I saw a lot of light hearted banter going on and a lot of French fans knocking around, many in costume. There was an Asterix and Obelix duo and lots of those French cock hats, which seem to have been invented purely to vanquish the stereotype of French sophistication and sexiness.

Even Audrey Tautou would struggle to pull this look off.

Even Audrey Tautou would struggle to pull this look off.

The game turned out to be a belter, after the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Irish, we needed to get back on top right away and did so emphatically, with Leigh Halfpenny getting an early penalty before George North capitalized on the shaky French defence to snatch a try in the opening 5 minutes. Wales then proceeded to turn the screw and thanks to dominating the scrum and Halfpenny’s kicking by half time led 20-6.

The second half was less full of incident until the 63rd minute when Sam Warburton, who had a great game, snatched the ball and muscled over the line. Halfpenny converted and that was the last score of the game.

Sam Warburton touches down

Sam Warburton touches down

It was a sensational game to watch as a Welsh fan as all the failings from the Irish game seemed to have been addressed and the team seemed a stronger, more cohesive unit. There had been a few changes made, some due to injury and they seemed to work, George North came into the centre and played well and Rhys Webb played well at 9, taking over from Mike “I could start a fight in an empty house” Phillips, who came off the bench towards the end and still managed to get into a spat.

The only change I would have considered was Rhys Priestland at number 10. Priestland is irritatingly inconsistent, playing shockingly last week after having impressed in the Italy game. Here his kicking was erratic and he still seems afraid to take a hit, Dan Biggar or James Hook might have been a better fit.

But no matter, a win is a win and Wales remain in the running for the championship. It now being a four-way face off with France, Ireland and England.

The rest of the weekend’s games were a frustrating affair.

I was rooting for Italy in the wooden spoon decider, and in a scrappy match they had the upper hand for the most part, regardless of what the Scottish commentator said. They led towards the end before Duncan Weir took a cool drop goal edging them to a 21-20 victory. Weir’s kick was impressive and well taken, but the victory merely papers over the cracks of the Scottish side and the BBC commentator’s claims that they had “turned their season around” seemed something of an exaggeration, especially with France and Wales still to come, it looks more like this win was a blip.

Weir hits the drop goal to snatch the match for Scotland

Weir hits the drop goal to snatch the match for Scotland

I felt for the Italians, who were far from stellar, but having victory snatched at the death is a hard blow to take and with tough matches against England and Ireland yet to come, a whitewash looks to be on the cards.

Ireland’s visit to Twickenham presented an awful dilemma for me, Ireland needed to lose a game for Wales’ hopes to remain alive and this game seemed the most likely for them to slip up, meaning I was in the awkward position of wanting England to win.

It was a tight match and a low scoring first half was a tense affair. The second half was where the majority of the points came.

Ireland struck early after the break with a strong try from Rob Kearney which was converted by Sexton placing them 7-3 up. Sexton got a penalty minutes later and Ireland had a 7 point margin.

An Owen Farrell penalty closed the gap to four. Farrell’s kicking was on point during the game but he continues to be temperamental and I wouldn’t be surprised if he visits the bin before the end of this tournament.

England took the victory with just under 25 minutes to go as Danny Care received the ball to race for the line after Mike Brown cut through the Irish defence with embarrassing ease, he offloaded to Care and the try never looked in doubt.

Care breaks for the line to give England the lead

Care breaks for the line to give England the lead

 

A Farrell conversion put England three points in the lead and they managed to hold off the ineffective Irish attacks to emerge with a victory.

I should have been pleased, but it’s hard to want England to win, even when it benefits Wales because I have to endure “Swing Low” echoing from the TV and the hyperbolic and smug press coverage the following day, still it opens up the tournament and I’ve spent the morning trying to work out what needs to happen for Wales to win their third championship in a row.

We have to win our remaining games against the English and the Scots and hope that results elsewhere go our way (ideally Scotland and Italy pulling off upsets in the next round against France and Ireland respectively, or the Irish-French match ending in a draw). Wales are in control of their own destiny to a point, and a victory at Twickenham will keep hope alive and eliminate England from the running. But we also need to win with big margins if we hope to catch the Irish who have built up an impressive points difference already.

Predictions for round 4- wins for Ireland, France and Wales. (current score 6/9)

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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