There are games that show you what a team is made of, and it outlines their title-winning credentials, but this weekend showed that this year’s tournament has become a huge game of one up.
Wales dominated Scotland and showed one of the best defensive displays to cement their place at the top of the table, while England absolutely blasted Italy apart in the highest-scoring game of the Championship.
And to wrap it all up when things were looking like a two-horse race, the Irish horse was revived with a stirring win over France who despite a big win over Scotland, fell back to square one with another lacklustre performance. But how did the team’s rate?
Grand Slam hopefuls move one step closer with defensive masterclass
If ever you want to see how to defend in rugby, and excel to the extent where you could start etching your name on the side of the trophy already, watch Wales. Warren Gatland’s final trip to Edinburgh as Wales boss was arguably his most impressive yet, despite the heroics against England and that comeback in Paris.
An early attack from Josh Adams and a slick finish from Jonathan Davies got the job done in the first half; they were precise and they did the damage early on. But Scotland weren’t down and out like they looked in the first half, and Darcy Graham’s try on his debut gave the home side hope. But I urge you to read Jeremy Guscott’s breakdown of the defensive shift Wales put in, because my word it did the trick on Saturday.
They were never short of bodies, were reading attacks play by play with precision, and were not only anticipating everything from Scotland but they were reacting brilliantly. This defensive style is what wins you Grand Slams, not scoring five or six a game, and as much as it might win the title in ugly fashion and lack flair like Ireland’s high scoring campaign in 2018, you can’t argue it gets things done.
This wasn’t just the chance to sing the praises for Wales though, this was a realisation Scotland have lost their edge. Now before I criticise them, it’s harsh of me given they have had arguably the absolute worst of luck with injuries, but the men on the field on Saturday are not a bad squad and something is going seriously wrong for Gregor’s men at the moment.
They have the ability to work the ball into a good area and win a five-metre line out, or a scrum right in front of the sticks, and they’re gaining nothing from it. Some teams would punish you for even being in your own half, and yet that clinical edge instilled under Vern Cotter and passed down through Gregor Townsend has just left this side completely this year.
We saw the same issue in the autumn and it hasn’t cleared up, but the result of that is that two games we saw Scotland win at home two years ago, have both slipped through their fingers and cost them big time. They need a result in London or for the French to keep the Italians down, and quite frankly we all know what’s more likely.