Frankie Glover gives Label a preview on her thoughts about the Lions selection.
The 2017 Six Nations got underway this weekend and the pressure is on to impress British and Irish Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland before he decides the squad to emulate the success of 2013 and take on New Zealand’s All Blacks in June. Although Gatland’s #LionsWatch started months ago, the Six Nations tournament is pivotal in deciding the final selection, as shown by the 2013 squad, which included most of the Welsh team that claimed the Six Nations trophy during the same year. Each week, there will be a brief round-up of the weekend’s action, and a starting XV will be chosen based on the player’s most recent performances.
The first weekend of the championship started with a trip to Murrayfield and saw a rejuvenated Scotland side take on Ireland, considered one of the favourites to take the trophy. Scotland stunned the Irish early in the first half and raced to a 21-5 lead, with two well worked tries from Stuart Hogg, one from centre Alex Dunbar from a Scottish line out deep in the Irish 22 and some immaculate goal kicking by Greig Laidlaw. A disjointed Ireland attempted a comeback but were thwarted by the relentless Scottish defence. As the second half got under way, Ireland seemed to find their feet and began to apply pressure to the Scots, resulting in Ireland’s second try from Ian Henderson, converted by Paddy Jackson in the absence of Jonny Sexton. After some great passages of play from both sides, it was Ireland who came away with another try and conversion by Jackson, giving Ireland a one point lead for the first time in the match. With the final whistle looming and the new scoring system offering a bonus point for four tries scored, the game was far from over. Ireland attacked continuously but Scotland had the final say, both teams physically exhausted from the clash. Two penalties by the Scottish scrum half ends the game with a well-deserved 27-22 win to Scotland.
Defending champions England clashed with age old rivals France at Twickenham, for the second fixture of the weekend. Although scrappy, both teams started off evenly matched, with France enjoying an early lead and most of the possession thanks to the English ill-discipline; the scoreboard ticking over for penalties awarded to each side. Throughout the match, both teams failed to get their set pieces working effectively, resulting in neither side really getting the forward momentum that was desperately needed. However, the French trio of full back Scott Spedding, number 8 Louis Picamoles and winger Virimi Vakatawa proved to be dangerous with numerous line breaks and strong carries into the English half. Jonny May was unlucky to receive a yellow card midway through the half for a ‘barely illegal’ tackle. 9 points a-piece at the start of the second half, and a rebounded England penalty provided France with a chance to counter, however repeated infringement caused a halt in the team’s advances. England made a strong come back and were unfortunate to be denied a try from an impressive Elliot Daly. At the turn of the hour, France crossed the line for another try by replacement prop Rabah Slimini. As the match came to a close, debutant Ben Te’o dived over for England, bringing the final score 19-16 to England. A rather pedestrian performance from the defending champions, which will need to be improved dramatically for their trip to Cardiff for the next game.
The final match saw Wales travel to the Stadio Olimpico to tackle a passionate Italian team. A strong start from the passionate Italians caused a stalemate between the sides for the first half an hour of the game. The Italians drew first blood with a converted try from Eduardo Gori, while the only reply from the men in red came from a Leigh Halfpenny penalty in the 36th minute. The second half is where the action finally kicks off after a rather lacklustre first 40 from the Welsh. Three penalties in quick succession brought the welsh in front for the first time in the match. Further infringements by the Italians in the scrum caused Andrea Lovotti to be sent to the sin bin, giving Wales an opportunity to capitalise on the one man overlap, and a try from outside centre Jonathan Davies soon followed. Five minutes later, Liam Williams was put over in the corner for the second welsh try of the match. Leigh Halfpenny converted to give Wales a 19-point lead into the final 10 minutes. After a breakdown in play, Sam Davies releases the ball to George North who despite carrying a thigh injury from the first
half, sprints past the defence for a painful 80-metre try. Dying flourishes of attacking play from both sides ends the game, with the score line at 33-7 in Wales’ favour.
Many of the usual stars of the Six Nations failed to show their quality on the field. The likes of Dan Biggar, Mike Brown and Dylan Hartley have a lot of work to do if they want to be chosen for the Lions tour in the summer, as the sub-par performances over the weekend’s fixtures simply won’t impress. Based on the performances of the weekend, this week’s starting XV has been chosen below. With injured first string players making a comeback, let’s see how different next week’s squad will be.
This week’s Lions Starting XV:
15. Stuart Hogg (SCO) 14. Leigh Halfpenny (WAL) 13. Jonathan Davies (WAL) 12. Owen Farrell (ENG) 11. Liam Williams (WAL) 10. Finn Russell (SCO) 9. Greig Laidlaw (SCO) 1. Jack McGrath (IRE) 2. Ross Ford (SCO) 3. Tadgh Furlong (IRE) 4. Richie Gray (SCO) 5. Alun Wyn Jones (WAL) 6. CJ Stander (IRE) 7. James Haskell (ENG) 8. Hamish Watson (SCO)