By Felix Bolton | Contributor
The scheduled break from Six Nations action gives us the chance to reflect on rugby gone by and look forward to the second half of the tournament. While the players enjoy well deserved recovery, we are left to stew in our living rooms, anticipating the next round of matches.
France and Wales lead the way so far, both on track for Grand Slam glory. France set the tone for the tournament in the opening the game, dismantling an Italian team with an attractive brand of rugby. Their win in Dublin was less convincing, but just as effective. Conversely, we are yet to see a Wales game finish with thirty players on the pitch. This will not phase Wayne Pivac and his pressured coaching team, valuing results over performance. A strong finish will surely see the New Zealander live another day at the helm of Welsh rugby.
A slow start for England in Edinburgh blew the Championship wide open. An English revival is to be expected as they travel to Cardiff for the always feisty match against Wales. With Scotland now posing a serious threat to any opposition, a four horse race could potentially be on the cards.
And that leaves Italy and the wounded Irish. Following two narrow losses, Andy Farrell’s men must win the remaining three games convincingly to even compete in this year’s Six Nations. With Italy floundering once more, next week’s bottom of the table clash could be pivotal.
In every team, there are standout individuals, so who has impressed so far?
Ireland – Robbie Henshaw
In a mis-firing Irish backline, Henshaw stands out as the solitary spark. His dynamic carrying game and ability to stand in at first receiver has become crucial for Ireland in their first two games. Although ending up on the losing side on both occasions, the Leinster centre has provided needed go-forward, alongside club colleague Gary Ringrose. Whilst being lightyears away from the iconic Darcy and O’Driscoll midfield partnership, the current pairing have become integral to Ireland’s possession based game. Aside from his impressive line break to set up his team’s try against Wales, Henshaw has been subdued compared to his lofty standards. A must win game against Italy in matchweek three might be enough to reinvigorate the top class centre.
England – Tom Curry
The youngest player to ever start at flanker for England, and the youngest forward since 1912, Tom Curry has become a stalwart in this England team. His stubborn nature at the breakdown and aggressive carries make him a nightmare for attacks and defences, yet his impact on this tournament has been limited. An England team bruised by an opening day loss to Scotland will need Curry to be at his brilliant best to keep hopes of retaining their Six Nations crown alive. A mouth-watering battle with Justin Tipuric may prove pivotal, not just for Championship glory, but with a Lions tour on the horizon.
Italy – Stephen Varney
In an Italian team constantly battered with a storm of scrutiny and scepticism, the young scrum-half has offered a glimpse of hope. With zippy passing, wide-eyed energy and a threat around the fringes, Varney has shown a capability beyond his years alongside fellow millennial baby, Paolo Garbisi. Focussing on speed and dynamism, Varney is a welcome sight for Italian rugby fans. Whilst still prone to game management errors, he adds a fluent dimension to Italy’s attacking shape, beating three defenders and making one line break so far in the tournament. With three games still to play, can the Welsh-born nine help his side avoid another dreaded wooden spoon?
France – Charles Ollivon
Captaining a team fuelled by the mercurial talent of Antoine Dupont, Gael Fickou and Gregory Alldritt, Ollivon embodies the term ‘talisman’. His calm head creates a balance to counter France’s undeniable flair, creating the perfect rugby ying and yang. An authoritative presence and a desire to clear up the scraps set the platform for his team’s fast paced game plan, which looks odds on favourite to lift the trophy. A try against Ireland and effective play in the loose against Italy show Ollivon to be one of the standout performers so far, with all signs leading to yet more domineering displays in the weeks to come.
Scotland – Ali Price
Blessed with searing pace and an archetypal scrum-half tenacity, Price has been steadily improving other aspects of his game. This tournament has seen Price mature into his role in the Scotland team, showcasing his rugby brain. Darting less from the breakdown, the Glaswegian has effectively taken control of the kicking game, easing pressure on himself whilst allowing Finn Russell to control the tempo. His box kicking ability was demonstrated perfectly against England, constricting Eddie Jones’ men, giving them no escape. A real contender for the Lions’ nine jersey, Price’s importance in Scotland’s Six Nations push can not be underestimated.
Wales – Louis Rees-Zammit
Currently the tournament’s top try scorer with three in two matches, Rees-Zammit has taken to the international stage like a jet fuelled duck to water. Raw pace matched with defensive guile has placed the 20-year-old at the heart of Welsh rugby, proving to be a vital cog in an increasingly polished backline. His two tries were instrumental in Wales’ win over Scotland last weekend, earning himself a Man of the Match accolade. With an England trip to Cardiff just around the corner, can lightning Louis continue his scoring run against his team’s most bitter rival?