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Red Rose In Full Bloom And Wales Now Face A Thorny Problem

Wales head to Italy this weekend, but Robin Davey already has one eye on round three of the Six Nations and that looming clash with England. Having tipped Ireland to win the tournament, he’s now ready with the whitewash.

Just a week ago the Six Nations was all set to be painted green as Ireland were expected to follow up their glory against the All Blacks with another spectacular canvas.

But one round of matches in and the picture now has a decidedly white appearance – with a splash of red around the edges – as England and Wales both emerged triumphant in their different ways. The blue of Scotland can’t be wiped out either.

I have met so many people this week who all asked the same question -how good were England?

Maybe some of their fans, plus the team and staff of course, expected them to sneak it in Dublin, but the way they demolished their much-vaunted opponents must have exceeded their wildest dreams.

As a rueful Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admitted afterwards, they were bullied out of it as they conceded the most number of points (32) since November 2013 against Australia and their first home defeat against a northern hemisphere rival in the Six Nations since back in 2013, which was also against England.

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In truth, England were awesome as they destroyed Ireland up front with an impressive display of power, backed up by some precision stuff behind, notably in the creation of the tries by Johnny May and the first by Henry Slade.

They have suffered a blow with the loss of iconic forward Maro Itoje for at least the next two games, but such is their depth that they can bring in Courtney Lawes, who deputised for him when he left the field against Ireland, and Joe Launchbury.

Unless France show a rapid improvement and cut out the foolhardy and embarrassing errors they made against Wales on the opening night last Friday, they will be brushed aside at Twickenham on Sunday.

And after that there’s a week off ahead of what promises to be a titanic clash when England rock up at the Principality Stadium on February 23.

So what to make of Wales after their curates egg of a performance against the French? They were pretty shambolic in the first half and went in 16-0 down at the interval, seemingly without a hope.

What followed was pure comedy from a French point of view as they made two absolute howlers, virtue of a defensive fumble and a ludicrous pass which was easily intercepted. Both gifted Wales tries and they were able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

But given the nature of the French capitulation it’s difficult to really judge Wales and Saturday against Italy in Rome may not provide a real idea either as coach Warren Gatland is set to make quite a few changes.

Warren Gatland. Pic: Simon King/Replay Images.

It will, though, provide an opportunity to test the squad depth again.

England next up after that will be a different matter and though Wales have lost in Rome before they should still be expected to make it a record-equalling 11 wins in a row, a feat last achieved between 1907 and 1910.

That, at least, should work wonders for their confidence.

Since their triumph against France the Welsh squad have headed south to the resort of Nice for some warm weather training ahead of their Italian job – another good idea by the thorough Gatland, whose clever use of replacements last week was another factor in Wales’ victory.

Take nothing for granted, of course, but wins by England and Wales will set up their clash later this month, beautifully. Some showdown that should prove.

Meanwhile, Scotland can’t be written off either, though, a bit like Wales, their performance in their opener against Italy was rather two-sided.

They stormed into a 33-3 lead courtesy of a hat-trick of tries by wing Blair Kinghorn, their first in the Six Nations, then they eased off and let the Italians back in, conceding three late tries before running out 33-20 winners.

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They are at Murrayfield again on Saturday when they host Ireland who will be licking their wounds after they were routed by England.

Difficult to predict this one, but if the Scots win again and with the benefit of three home games, they could yet be a force in the Six Nations.

One round of matches in and it’s already shaping up to be another unforgettable tournament.


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