For years the 5 and 6 Nations script was written in stone. Bigger, more physical teams from France and England would be pre-match favourites and would take that attitude onto the pitch, believing they would win.
The smaller teams from Wales, Ireland and Scotland would revel in the “underdogs” role, wanting to embarrass their supposedly superior opponents. The Celtic teams would try to soak up the pressure and live on the counter-attack, trying to create chaos and live on mistakes.
The two camps knew the parts they played and were happy with their lot.
The European order has been turned on it’s head.
England have visited Cardiff and Dublin with little more than defence in mind. France have similarly reduced their game plan, in recognition of the superiority of the current Irish and Welsh teams.
England and France have both concentrated on how to stop their Celtic neighbours, rather than imposing their own game.
By contrast, Ireland and Waleshave not been comfortable in their newfound favourite’s role.
Declan Kidney said before Saturday’s game at Croke Park that there was “no such thing as a bad English team” and kept referring to England’s three World Cup Final appearances. After Ireland’s victory, he sought to deflect expectations by saying how good his next opponents (Scotland) are.
Wales have also yet to make the shift to having the aura of superiority. They have scored just two tries in their last two games and have seemed uneasy when invited to dictate terms by England and France.
They are still happier trying to operate on the counter-attack.
Ireland and Wales are currently better teams than England and France, better coached with more cohesion. But to take the next step to being dominant sides, they need to embrace the favourite’s tag.
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