Monday, 11 March 2019

Six Nations 2019: a Grand Slam for Wales?

Warren Gatland is a wily old bird. Prior to this year's Six Nations he claimed that a Welsh win in Paris on the opening weekend set his team on the way to a Grand Slam and so it has proved, with Wales set to attempt to seal the deal against Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.

Throughout this Six Nations I've been tipping Wales to lose (other than against Italy). I believed that France would prevail in the opening fixture (not banking on a French second half implosion), that England would prove to be too strong in Cardiff (not anticipating the English tactical howler that followed) and that the Scots would get it right against Wales at Murrayfield (not taking into account the current Scottish propensity for making costly errors). Wrong on all counts.

What Wales have done so far is to stay in games and not concede too many points when under the cosh - and then, when opportunities have arisen, they have taken them. There is much to be admired about this - the ability to win tight matches in which the tide is against you for long periods is not to be underestimated and is borne from the confidence that a 14 match unbeaten brings.

What Wales haven't done, however, at any point in this Six Nations so far is to cut loose and set the championship alight. Nine tries (the same as France and Italy) and no bonus points from 4 games is a pretty meagre return. It's almost as if Wales have taken the concept of "Warrenball" and made it even more functional, more efficient, more error-free and more hard-nosed. It's nothing special to watch, but it's difficult to knock given how effective it has been.

And so to the Grand Slam decider against Ireland. I'd like to be able to predict a more expansive Welsh performance but my expectations are that this will be another tight, tough, bruising encounter. Ireland, seemingly having played their way back into form, will provide one hell of a final hurdle for the Welsh but I am expecting more of the same from Wales and certainly wouldn't bet against them completing the clean sweep.

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