Now that the dust has settled on Round 2 of the 2016 RBS Nations and a rest weekend coming up, we thought it time to reflect on what we’ve learned about each team so far and play chief selector with our pick of the players from the opening rounds of games.
What have we found out about each nation?England - As we already knew Eddie Jones is a shrewd operator, with two RWC finals and the immense rise of Japan under his belt, we know what he is capable of. Whatever his secret formula is, it seems to be rubbing off on the England squad with two very solid performances to be proud of. Thinking ahead, it could be quite frightening what England could achieve; their huge resources - both financially and player numbers - teamed up with Jones’ expertise will surely see them mixing it again with the Southern Hemisphere elite.
France – Two close and ugly wins to their name so far but I’m sure Guy Noves and the French public will be relatively happy with that, winning is a habit after all . With games against England and Wales to come, arguably the two strongest looking sides in the tournament, they will have to step up their standard of rugby to rub shoulders with the form teams.
Wales – with a slight let up in injuries since the RWC and the usual Gatland levels of fitness and intensity, Wales to me as started look like one of the form sides. Yes it’s “Warrenball”, sometimes quite a limited game plan, but its effectiveness cannot be denied. A win and a draw in this highly competitive tournament is not to be shirked at - just look at how it came to the wire in 2015’s final day.
Ireland – With big Pauly missing it now does appear Ireland are going to have to go through a phase of re-building. With back-to-back Championships to defend, it was never going to easy, especially with some pretty big rugby boots needing filled. However with Scotland and Italy still to visit the Aviva Stadium the Irish will not be short of confidence in these two fixtures.
Scotland - now look to have developed a really solid 1st XV, with 1 or 2 substitutes capable of impacting a game, however overall the bench, so crucial in international rugby, is just not cutting the mustard. The drop off in standard come the later stages of matches is very worrying. The Scots will still fancy their chances in Rome but if the usual Wooden Spoon decider becomes an arm wrestle there shall be only one winner.
Italy – With one or two players showing up well, and joining the World Class Parisse, Italy certainly seem to be competitive in the earlier match stages. Similarly to Scotland they are lacking that cutting edge to last 80 minutes with the big guns of the Northern Hemisphere. Where the improvement can come for Italy I am unsure, and with Parisse now 32, the talisman cannot bind this team forever.
Based on our vast playing experience of Scottish amateur and school boy rugby, this is our team of the 1st two rounds:
1. Jack McGrath (IRE)
2. Guilhem Guirado (FRA)
3. WP Nel (SCO)
4. Jonny Gray (SCO)
5. George Kruis (ENG)
6. CJ Stander (IRE)
7. Justin Tipuric (WAL)
8. Billy Vunipola (ENG)
9. Danny Care (ENG)
10. Dan Biggar (WAL)
11. Virimi Vakatara (FRA)
12. Jamie Roberts (WAL)
13. Jonathan Joseph (ENG)
14. George North (WAL)
15. Maxime Medard (FRA)
Coach – Eddie Jones (ENG)
An experienced, industrious pack and a back line combining some hefty bruisers with some sparkling talent. Of course Eddie Jones gets the nod at coach after turning around the toxic English atmosphere post-RWC. We'd like to think there is not much to argue with in our selection but if you think differently just let us know in the comments below.