LIAM BOTHAM COLUMN # 4
We were on the mark in this column last week, leaning strong towards Scotland to beat England in their Six Nations Opener.
The satisfaction of that prediction aside, it was frustrating to see England perform so poorly. This is sport and we should always treat it as such, there are highs and lows, but I have to admit to getting just a little hot under the collar at times.
What we saw from England was woeful. Coach Eddie Jones was deflated when he lost to South Africa in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final and seems to have adopted a style that is not effective, just doesn’t work.
Jones was brought on board after his success with Japan in the 2015 World Cup. He should revert to that style of play, or go home. His team was extremely poor and beaten in every department.
All that said, I won’t be detracting from Scotland’s win as they outplayed England in every department. They’re on a roll, playing a fine, confident game and will fancy themselves for back-to back wins in Saturday’s second round of Six Nations matches, facing Wales.
Wales, tenacious as they are and with some momentum going into their contest with the Brave Hearted Scots, will be up against it, facing a few injuries.
My boy, Jimbo, is on the bench for Wales as a result of these injuries, he is raring to go and we’re hoping he gets some game time.
Wales beat a 14-man Irish team, they did so all the same, but even having risen to their last occasion, I think Scotland will have their measure.
The English won’t be thinking of last week’s defeat. I’d hope so, anyway. They play Italy and this is as good an opportunity they’ll ever find, to get back not only to winning ways, but to rectify the errors, lift their heads and play the kind of rugby they are capable of.
The Azzuri were, expectedly, comprehensively outplayed last week and this (under normal circumstances) should be no more than a training session for the English.
Out of sorts as Eddie Jones may be, he remains a world class manager with the ability to swing the pendulum. He may have to resort to several changes to make things happen and I suspect he will do what he has to do. At flyhalf, for example, Owen Farrell presently looks like a lost sheep. Will he retain his starting position?
In the third Six Nations encounter, France take on a wounded Irish team, on Sunday. The Irish had excuses last week, of course, having to battle most of the game with one man less on the field, but France is formidable, in form, and have a good chance here to put a tournament marker down. While Ireland will have to win to have any kind of chance of fulfilling their 2021 Six Nations Dreams, their hopes are likely to be dashed by the rampant Le Bleus.
Next, let’s look at the English Premiership matches, starting with Friday’s clash between bottom of the table Gloucester and leaders, Bristol. The odds will be deep in the red on Bristol, but as a rock-solid start in multiple bets you won’t find a better qualifier.
Sale, third on the table to Exeter and Bristol, looks to have a freebie against 10th placed Bath. Their squad, packed with very capable South African players, is consistently strong. Sales’ supporters will argue ‘so what’, and will have a right to do so. I just think that this overload of SA players in a single team is not good for English rugby, as young English players don’t get a fair chance to prove themselves like they are able to do in the absence of international players, elsewhere.
Regardless, Sale is the team to bank on here, with an upset unlikely.
On Saturday, fourth-placed Harlequins meet 8th-placed Leicester and their positions are a fair indication of what the result may be. A close mid-table encounter, I guess, but Harlequins should have the edge.
Exeter, the consistent and classy outfit, play London Irish at home. That, alone, should be a factor that tilts things the way of the obvious favourites.
London Irish, vastly improved last week, will probably put in a bold showing, but as the minutes tick over, Exeter are likely to assert themselves, like they tend to do.
I’m a fan of Exeter’s eighth-man, Sam Simmonds. The pivotal Chiefs Player is just superb, and it boggles my mind that EJ hasn’t called on him for the England Squad. His brother, Jack, meanwhile, is knocking at the door that leads to Owen Farrell’s home. Chances are it will open in due course.
A proper close contest is expected between Northampton and Newcastle, Saturday. It is bound to be a close affair and could go either way – my marginal preference is for Northampton, who are starting to play a likeable game.
I wrote about Wasps last week, they’re somewhat out of sorts at present and not reliable, but they’ll have to start putting things together against battlers Worcester to stay afloat. One would expect the Wasps to win this one, but I won’t be asking the bank manager for a loan to bet on them.
In the Pro-14 series, the Newport Dragons are at home to Edinburgh at the Rodney Parade, Friday. This will be a close match – if I had to put my head down, I’ll go with a home win.
The conundrum of the weekend could be the PRO-14 battle between Glasgow at home to Benetton, Saturday. On paper, and from previous results, this should be a very easy home win but Benetton impressed me last week.
By most accounts they were set for a ‘cricket score’ against them, posted by Munster, but the Italians gave the Irishmen the scare of their lives. The game was decided late, with a Munster drop goal changing the score board. I felt for Benneton.
Paul Gustard has made an immediate impact at Benneton – there is no reason why this galvanised team can’t secure a win away from home.
*On the cricket front, my own congratulations to Joe Root, and every cricket fan will know why. The man is in sizzling form and must seriously be considered one of England’s best. Let’s hope his big form continues in the second test against India this weekend.
Until next time!