The 2022 Guinness Six Nations has been a cracking Championship to date.
In round one, Scotland dealt with England at Murrayfield as Eddie Jones made a tactical blunder taking Marcus Smith out of the contest with 15 minutes to go when England had a 10-point lead.
But the highlight of the first round was Ireland’s comprehensive win over Wales at Lansdowne Road.
It seems that Andy Farrell’s Ireland picked up where they left off last November when, you may recall, they completely outplayed the All Blacks.
By the way, the All Blacks are another story.
Surely the coach can’t survive. It is one of the worst performing All Black sides in recent memory.
Ireland, under the direction of Andy Farrell, have continued to play a high-ball-movement game, stringing together over 200 passes per match. The quality of the passing is picking opposition defences apart, as well as being a pleasure to watch.
To complete round one, France hammered Italy scoring some outstanding tries and putting a stake in the ground for this year’s Championship.
In round two, last weekend, Ireland were beaten, in Paris, by a monster French team. I think France can win the Grand Slam.
It must be remembered that Johnny Sexton did not play against France and Ireland are a far more potent attacking team with their captain on the field; but this wonderful French side is captained by Antoine Dupont, arguable the best player on the planet right now.
Dupont and his Toulouse half-back partner, Romain Ntamack, are in imperious form as they call the shots behind the biggest French pack ever assembled.
At tight head, Uini Atonio is 151kgs. His backup, Demba Bamba, is 124kgs. In the second row, Romain Taofifenua, is 133kgs. And Paul Willemse is 125kgs. Never before has such an enormous pack been assembled in the Six Nations.
Whoever tries to beat France is going to have to cope with their physicality up front. I don’t think anyone can.
Though, if a team has the capability to win ball and move such a big pack around the paddock, there could be points available in the last 10 minutes of each half.
In round 3, on Saturday week, February 26, Scotland will host France at Murrayfield; England will host Wales at Twickenham; and Ireland will host Italy at Lansdown Road.
You don’t need a crystal ball to tip France, England and Ireland to win.
From an Australian perspective, it has been great to see Mack Hansen, from Canberra, playing so well for Ireland on the wing. He plays his club rugby for the Irish Province, Connacht, and is coached by fellow Australian, Andy Friend.
Last weekend, Hansen scored a breathtaking try against France, from the kick-off, that went viral.
Most Australian rugby fans are asking how he slipped through the Australian rugby net.
In our domestic game, the Harvey Norman Super Rugby Pacific kicks off this weekend. I would have preferred to see Rugby Australia continue with the Super Rugby AU format, but that horse has bolted. Let’s hope our provincial teams can prosper in the new structure.
On Friday night, the Waratahs host the Fijian Drua in Sydney. I think new coach Darren Coleman’s young team will be strong enough to provide a long overdue win for NSW. Coleman could well provide the surprises in this new competition. He has a habit of turning sides into winning outfits.
NSW is his biggest challenge to date. I expect Coleman to deliver.
On Saturday night, the Queensland Reds face the Melbourne Rebels in Brisbane. The Queensland coach, Brad Thorn, has done a very good job with Queensland. They should win.
Then, the Brumbies face the Western Force on Sunday afternoon. It could be an interesting encounter.
The laws keep changing. How the rugby punter keeps up, I have no idea.
We are going to see Rugby League type goal line dropouts.
Why we keep imitating Rugby League, I have no idea – 50/22 kicks in general play, when I would have thought the spectator wants to see the ball in hand, not being roofed down the paddock.
There will be 20-minute sin bins for red cards, but the elephant in the rugby room is the referee trying to manage a growing concern about concussion in our game.
Meanwhile, over and above all of this, the kind of administrative reform we seek is not forthcoming.
The rugby follower has little say in the game; the administration is still top-heavy; there seems to still be a lot of money being spent but legitimate bewilderment about the game’s revenue stream.
Whether we like it or not, and I hate it, the game today doesn’t command the media attention, media exposure, public debate and enthusiastic support that the game once had.
I would have thought it was the job of any administrator to turn that around. We seem to think in vain.
But good luck to everybody this weekend.
To coaches and players, from the first kick-off, think of your role in growing the product. Can we see less pick and drive and more ball in hand, but then, that all depends on the way the teams are being coached.