Monday Maul
Six Nations climax ruined by broadcasters
Tom Hamilton
March 10, 2014
It is Ireland's Six Nations to lose © Getty Images

The Six Nations title is officially a three-horse race but Ireland have a superior points difference and are in the driving seat. Monday Maul looks back at an eventful weekend of Test rugby.

Six Nations is Ireland's to lose

While the Six Nations table now sees three teams with six points to their name sitting at the summit, the key difference between the pack sits a couple of rows to the right. Ireland's point's difference of 49 more than England means a win in Paris, barring some ridiculous scoreline in Rome, and the Six Nations title is Ireland's.

The round's best fantasy team

  • Outside backs: Yoann Huget (France), Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
  • Centres: Luther Burrell (England), Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland)
  • Half-backs: Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), Danny Care (England)
  • Front-row: Richard Hibbard (Wales), Cian Healy (Ireland), Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy)
  • Second-row: Courtney Lawes (England), Riche Gray (Scotland)
  • Back-row: Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), David Denton (Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales)
  • Team Sauce

It is something they have managed just once since 1972 but this current crop are in a much better place than France. Against Italy, Ireland showed sleights of hand that would have put the huge majority of defences on their heels. Brian O'Driscoll put in yet another performance for the ages while Jonny Sexton had his best game in the championship. They will have a huge amount of confidence behind them and alongside the O'Driscoll factor, Irish eyes are smiling.

Championship climax ruined by scheduling

On that note, it is a shame the three matches next weekend are all at a different time. If England win their match in Rome, they will have to wait another 280 minutes before finding out if they will finish winners or in second place. It is one of the necessary evils of the modern game that television scheduling takes precedence over mere logistics but those big wigs sitting in the various broadcasting towers have denied the tournament a thrilling climax. There will be waiting around and abacuses brought out. It would be much better if all three games were at the same time.

Snatching defeat from draws of victory

Finally the Scotland management picked their best available line-up for the game against France. It has been three games in wait but the coaches went for David Denton, Richie Gray and Kelly Brown in the same team. Scotland played the best they have this tournament and had Duncan Weir's miss-pass found Scottish hands instead of French, they would have won.

The Lions hangover

Much has been written about Wales' superior fitness to any other team in the championship, something that has been part of the Warren Gatland renaissance. But they are lacking puff at the moment. England dictated the tempo against Wales and Gatland conceded post-match his players were suffering from a Test schedule that has been relentless.

For England, they have had to cope with a similar hangover but have used the opportunity to blood youngsters with many of their Lions contingent injured. Manu Tuilagi is returning to full fitness but Tom Croft, Alex Corbisiero and Geoff Parling are all still on the sidelines. There is a similar story in Ireland with Tommy Bowe returning but Sean O'Brien out injured. Wales have been a touch more fortunate in recent times but the excesses of the summer have taken their toll. There is no respite though, a gruelling three-Test tour of South Africa awaits in June and they will be hoping star fullback Leigh Halfpenny is back fit.

Mike Brown deserves Player of the Tournament

Sunday's game at Twickenham was another match where Mike Brown excelled at fullback for England. Wales' game plan saw plenty of long kicks nudged in his general direction but he dealt with them with ease. Regardless of what happens in the final weekend of the tournament, Brown has been the best player in this tournament. For Ireland, Peter O'Mahony and O'Driscoll will have some claim to the gong while Sam Warburton has impressed for Wales and Joe Launchbury and Danny Care have also given England some sterling service but Brown deserves the honour. He has not put a foot wrong, he has made goalkeeper-esque saves and scored tries.

Another Wooden Spoon beckons for Italy

Unless Italy manage to muster their first ever Six Nations win over England next week, they will be left with that old wooden spatula to their name. There have been signs of improvement in this Italy team over the course of the four games to date but without Sergio Parisse at the back of their scrum, they lack direction. Their effort of 208 tackles against Ireland, while admirable, also shows how much they were dominated.

Selection wise, Italy must stick with a half-back partnership. Edoardo Gori and Tommaso Allan looked to be growing as a unit and the call to swap them for two others ahead of the Ireland game was bizarre. It might be put down to a learning exercise but on the other hand, it ruins any momentum they benefited from in that area.

The need to ban the word 'selfie'

A personal gripe, but is 'selfie' not just the worst word ever coined by man? England's Twitter feed was littered with the word when Manchester United's players visited the changing room post-match. Yes it was a great event for the players and I'm sure they enjoyed it, but can we please stop using that dire word.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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