England should finish strongly but Ireland and their rusty half-backs look as if they peaked last year
As Warren Gatland says, they have forgotten how to lose and it is amazing the way they are able to ramp up their performance levels when they need to. That comes down to the coaching staff and their ability to manipulate their players’ emotions, get them to a point and keep them there. It’s 12 wins a row, they will be absolutely thrilled by that and I think the fallow week comes at the perfect time for them. I know Alun Wyn Jones said they wanted to play this week, they didn’t want to lose the momentum, but my question would be can they get themselves up again so quickly. If their win against England was their World Cup final then playing Scotland seven days later would have been a big ask. Their final match against Ireland will be fascinating because those are the two teams who seem most able to get themselves emotionally right on the day. Jones takes plenty of credit of that – to think he has 123 caps is staggering and it is not like he’s a 50-minute man.
Star performer He may have been under the radar for a bit but there is no chance Josh Adams will stay there. The best Wales have in the back three in terms of defence, his aerial skills are superb and so is his finishing.
Star performer After two matches I’d have said Jonny May because of his tries. Kyle Sinckler, Tom Curry and Mark Wilson have all impressed too but Jamie George has been excellent in terms of his lineout and work-rate. He is now a starter, not a finisher.
A positive result against Scotland – you know it is going to be their day when you see Mathieu Bastareaud chipping and chasing – but they cannot let it paper over the obvious cracks. I do not believe Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez should have gone public with their criticism but now that they have, they need to be listened to. Is the problem Jacques Brunel or is it more systemic? The future does at least look bright for France – I fell in love with Demba Bamba at last year’s Junior World Cup, I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen from Romain Ntamack as well but the key for France will be developing them in the right way. They have all this young talent but you don’t want to rush them through, and at the same time you need to make sure they are given the right opportunities.
Star performers In Ntamack, Bamba, Antoine Dupont and Damian Penaud they have a really strong quartet for the future. Ntamack impressed me against France, playing in his second favourite position, in particular.
After the last Six Nations match, you don’t have a Monday review, you don’t have another match to get it out of your system and you really don’t want the negativity to linger.
Star performer It’s hard to look past Jacob Stockdale. Italy will be disappointed with his try in Rome but he finished it well. And Scotland found out just how quick he is.
They are improving but just not at the rate Conor O’Shea would want. He has a thankless job – how many of the other coaches would have to fight to ensure their players’ wages are paid – but I really feel any criticism he gets is unfair. He is effectively a director of rugby, overseeing everything from grassroots to the first team because you have to build a house from the ground up. And I’m encouraged when I see Benetton second in their Pro14 conference, or when I see their U20s being competitive. I also think the narrative around Italy needs to change. They denied Wales a bonus point and it becomes a tale of Wales playing poorly. They stressed Ireland and led at half-time and the fallout is how out of sorts Ireland were. Italy need to be given credit for being competitive.
Star performer In the back row Braam Steyn has looked really good, performing particularly well against Ireland in the absence of Sergio Parisse.
It feels like Groundhog Day. On the back of Glasgow and Edinburgh performing in Europe they will have started the tournament with confidence but here we are after three rounds and again Scotland have not delivered. Yes, they have terrible injury problems – take players as important as Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, Ryan Wilson, John Barclay and WP Nel out of any team and they would struggle – but the level of performance against France just was not good enough. They rely too heavily on Russell; look at England with George Ford and Owen Farrell, Wales with Gareth Anscombe and Dan Biggar, Ireland with Johnny Sexton and Joey Carbery – Scotland do not have the back-up required. Their match against Wales becomes so important in terms of salvaging their tournament. I don’t expect them to win but they have to deliver a performance in front of their home fans.
Star performer Not a great deal to pick from but Sam Johnson has caught my eye at centre.