England are favourites for The Six Nations Title and a Grand Slam after round two of this competition. They won’t be complacent, Grand Slams and titles are hard come by and there is a long way to go yet in this Championship. In this post we listen to the post match reaction of the teams and assess who, mentally, is ready to win.
Declan Kidney is one to emphasise that there is everything to play for, a message echoed by Rob Kearney, quoted by David Kelly in the Irish Independent;
It is not a significant setback at all … It would have been a huge high for us to have won the game. There was only a couple of kicks in it. At six-all we looked in a really good place and as if we were the team building that momentum … We started playing a bit more ball in their half. The sin-bin, did that throw us a bit? Did we try to play a bit too much rugby because we were against 14 men? We’ve one win and one defeat,” he insisted. “England are the only team now with two wins and they still have France and Wales, so this competition is wide open still. We have to look to that and realise we are still hugely in the hunt.
This is a good response by Kearney and if it’s typical of the message and belief running through the Irish dressing room, they cannot be written off. He has used classic impress Formula Language to describe the set back as temporary. Even the fact they were outplayed by England with 14 men he attributes to a temporary flaw of ‘playing too much rugby’. His reference to being ‘hugely in the hunt’ hints at their having permanent & internal qualities good enough to see off their remaining opponents.
With Scotland, France and Italy to come there is reason for Ireland’s optimism. But if they are to win this seasons Six Nations France will have to have completed their worst ever campaign and be at risk of snatching the wooden spoon off Italy.
England’s 6 – 12 win in Dublin was a product of many things; tactics, intelligence and courage to name a few obvious qualities on show. But more than anything in my view it was a victory for leadership. The way Stuart Lancaster and his coaching team have changed the culture, beliefs and values of this England team have been well documented. What is less spoken about is how they have established England’s identity as ‘Winners’.
A team that subconsciously regard themselves as winners respond to adversity by focusing on their strengths and seeking to apply them until they change the momentum of a game. And in this admirable victory in harsh conditions against a good side determined to continue a decade of home turf dominance we saw that quality in abundance. As Tom Fordyce put it in his BBC Sport Blog;
Coach Andy Farrell, a source of strength and belief in the England set up, shows in this summary of the game how he continually builds the winning identity, (Tom Fordyce BBC Sport);
I put that up there as an absolutely massive win … these days are made for Ronan O’Gara and Brian O’Driscoll with their experience and nous to get through these games, and there was a tricky point in the third quarter when we had back-to-back errors … But we put in a masterclass of how to win the last 20 minutes. For a young team to do that well, against a team that’s been there and done it, is hugely impressive
England now have the prospect of a wounded France at Twickenham followed by possibly the less stern test of Italy at home before finishing their campaign against the remarkably unfancied Wales in Cardiff. England seem to be in good shape for these challenges with head coach and captain both emphasising the evidence of a team growing in stature with each game;
I’m chuffed for Farrell, but also the whole team’s maturity … The stakes have always been high but they’re even higher with France coming off a defeat. It will be massive … I think we grew in stature towards the end of the game and deserved our win. We hadn’t won here for 10 years and we went and did it. We will take it … As a test of character it was right up there because of the quality of the Ireland side.
Chris Robshaw was keen to stress the all-round performance of his team.
Credit to Owen Farrell who kicked his goals, but from one minute to 80 the squad were top notch,” said Robshaw “We tightened the game up, ran down the clock and had to be smart. It’s a great day. … Farrell is brilliant at the moment. He’s got a great repertoire of skills, but he’s got a great team around him who keep pushing him to get better. We’re not going to get carried away
Both men emphasise permanent qualities shown by their team in this game, building belief for the next challenge.
So what of France, what sort of challenge do they present England? Their defeat to Wales in the Stade de France is their second in this year’s Six Nations and the first time they’ve lost their two opening fixtures since 1982. In that year they went on to lose the third.
I’m guessing their will be a weight of opinion around a repeat of that achievement. But France were many pundit’s pick for the title this season. They are totally unpredictable and with nothing to lose it would be just like France to play out of their skins. To do this coach Saint-Andre needs to prepare them mentally. Quoted by Brian Palmer on BBC Sport he said;
We know we can’t win the title now, but we can still win respect … we must not be scared [of going to Twickenham]. It is a fantastic challenge. We are at the bottom of the Six Nations but we can’t give up. In rugby you can fight with pride and desire and we must do that.
Saint-Andre’s language is tilted towards, ‘away from’ motivation in this quote. If this is typical of what is going on behind the scenes France will come to Twickenham with what they don’t want to happen loaded into their subconscious minds. Under pressure that becomes their conscious thinking and erodes belief and resilience. Maybe this has already had an affect. Brian Palmer went on to say in his piece;
England will put them under immense pressure and it’s hard to see past a victory for the home side.
I posted a question before the start of this Six Nations, Is Everyone Underestimating Wales? Three halves of Welsh rugby later I’m feeling vindicated in my opinion that the reigning Champions are still a force to be reckoned with, although I’ll admit to a few doubts during the first half against Ireland in Cardiff. In the second half they showed real quality and a victory in France is to be cherished.
It’s my view they never became a bad team, they were a good team on a bad run. My belief came from analysing the impress Formula language they were trotting out in the build up to this year’s campaign. The Welsh talk was along the lines of having a run of bad luck, talk of small margins and big consequences and six of their eight straight defeats coming by eight points or fewer. This focus illustrates a belief in their permanent quality and the temporary nature of their set backs.
The second half against Ireland and victory in France has justified their optimism and cemented their belief in themselves. The language from Captain Ryan Jones on BBC Sport was good impress Formula;
… the character and die-hard spirit was something special … We knew our errors last week were our undoing, so we tightened a few things up and we’ve taken the spoils.
Full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who was named man of the match after kicking 11 vital points for Wales, was full of positivity and focusing on his teams permanent qualities;
I can’t describe how much that means … The boys played incredibly well, we stuck together and what a fantastic win – it’s been a long time coming. The boys were outstanding in defence, working for each other, just wouldn’t give in. When we had a chance we took it, and that’s what international rugby’s about, taking your chances … It means everything – playing for that jersey, we’re doing it for all the fans here and everyone back home and the boys were outstanding today.
Wales have Italy and Scotland to play before the England game in Cardiff on the final day. It’s quite possible they will go into that game with the one solitary loss, bags of confidence and licking their lips at the prospect of retaining their title at the expense of England.
Wales must not write off Scotland who under Scott johnson have found the passion and spirit for which they are renowned. I posted last week on Scott Johnson’s inspiring leadership after defeat to England and his words showed their effect in the 34 – 10 win against Italy. His post match comments show his ambition for his team as well as demonstrating his inspirational qualities once more, as quoted on BBC Sport;
I liked our intent … from the start, we were competitive at the contact, we turned the ball over early and were rewarded. I keep saying it, if we get that part right, we can finish sides off. We showed that today. It wasn’t perfect, we acknowledge that, but there were pleasing signs and we showed good skill to finish … No one can ever question the passion of the side, the integrity of this team is great, that goes without saying … But passion will only get you so far; you need to finish your skill-set off … There was a 14-point turnaround when Hoggy intercepted … That’s the beauty of the side, we can punish teams when they falter because we can go the full length, we’ve shown that in the last two weeks against quality opposition … We’ve got speed to burn and some quality, we’ve just got to keep doing it.
Having emphasised his sides permanent and internal qualities he goes on to remove the “acceptable reason to fail”;
We’re back in this tournament. We’re in it up to our eyeballs! Ireland will be here in two weeks and they will be ready to play. This will count for nothing if we don’t get the next part right. Instead of worrying about the woes of last week we can worry about winning the tournament.
Good stuff and under Johnson Scotland are quite capable of competing with any team. But whether in reality they have the quality to take this to victory over a resurgent Wales is another question.
Based on this review of the post match reaction and the inspiration, belief, confidence and mental strength demonstrated in the language of players and coaches I expect England to go into their final game in Cardiff unbeaten. Wales who started the competition unfancied will in all probability have lost only the opener against Ireland and be relishing the prospect of denying England. It’s even possible that the dream of retaining their title in front of a home crowd would be still alive. If this scenario pans out then forget the All Blacks last Autumn or Ireland last weekend. Wales will provide England with the stiffest test of their standing in World Rugby.
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