Right, then, Wales. Your moment of reckoning nears.

This time, hiding behind the underdog tag won't do. No more nearly men. Nothing but victory will suffice.

The time to rise up is now.

Eleven straight wins is commendable and all. Equalling the Welsh record set from 1907-1910 after a first November sweep, which included grinding wins over the woeful Wallabies, and Springboks, is nothing to be scoffed at.


Depth has undoubtedly improved in that time, too.

If we are honest, though, this unbeaten run stretching back to March lacks real substance. The scalps of the All Blacks, Ireland and England are absent, after all.

As yet, no result makes you sit up and believe Wales have suddenly turned the rugby world on its head.

Six of those wins were at home – another rather meaningless against a second string Springboks team in Washington.

The point is, to be considered genuine World Cup contenders, Wales must upset England next week in Cardiff to keep the Six Nations title race alive.

Forget the World Cup warm-ups to come, this match carries expectations and meaning and is, therefore, most relevant.

Achieve that feat and, given the formidable form England have found, Wales will be viewed in a completely different context – just as England are now after two commanding wins to start World Cup year.

Defeat of any kind in Cardiff - narrow, gallant, wide - and Wales will head to Japan lacking fear factor when it comes to test rugby's top tier. That is their brutal reality.


Sure, on their day, Wales are capable of surprising. Their recent record against Ireland - two wins, one draw, one loss - offers encouragement. But they haven't beaten England for four years – the All Blacks since 1953.

As it stands, unless they prove otherwise, fourth in the world seems about their lot.

The hailed comeback in their opening Six Nations match in Paris, after falling 16 points behind by half time, was immediately put in context by events at Twickenham and the sad state of this French team on the verge of another mutiny.

And while Warren Gatland has an out, of sorts, after making 10 changes for last week's dire test in Rome, much more was expected than the 11 point margin against an Italian team that has now lost 34 of 35 games against tier one opposition. The fact a mere 38,000 – many of them travelling Welsh fans – turned out at Stadio Olimpico sums up where Italian rugby is at.

The All Blacks were far from full strength when they embarrassed Italy at the same venue last year, running in 10 tries in the 66-3 romp.

For all the progress Wales have made in the past year, Gatland has concerns.

Neither Gareth Anscombe nor Dan Biggar asserted dominance against France or Italy in the starting playmaking roles, both making an impact off the bench rather than commanding from the outset.

Seven months out from the World Cup is not the time for uncertainty about who should guide the team.

Classy loose forward Josh Navidi can't carry Wales every week.

In their first, rampant 40 minutes in Paris, France repeatedly exposed Wales with the offload too. With Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola coming to town that is a worry, though news damaging prop Mako Vunipola has been ruled out of the tournament due to an ankle injury lessens that threat, somewhat.

Two wins on the road, however unconvincing, leaves Wales in a strong position in this tournament.

Winning has a funny way of becoming a habit, and Gatland will no doubt attempt to harness that further by evoking his favoured siege mentality for England.

Whatever it takes, Wales need to take this next step or internal belief as much as anything else risks coming to a standstill.


Two steps back against England, one forward in Edinburgh, seems fitting to describe Ireland's tournament to date. Joe Schmidt devised another stunning pet play for Jacob Stockdale's try – his 13th in 16 tests. The cleverly planned switch move around the ruck with Jonathan Sexton provided another reminder of Schmidt's ability to roll out new tricks.

On the whole, though, Ireland are still well short of their best this year. Injuries to the midfield, loose forwards and second row haven't helped - nor the loss of Sexton after 23 minutes in the 22-13 win over Scotland. But it is hard to shake the sense Ireland's attacking game must find another gear before Japan. In this regard, Joey Carbery's talents may need to be utilised more often.


Chaotic, headless, what an utter shambles France were at Twickenham. France never cease to amaze with the depths they can hit but one expects more from teenagers than this performance.

The French backfield - compared to the Sahara, Antarctica and Australia's outback such was the vast expanse – conceded five of England's six tries after coach Jacques Brunel selected two centres, Damian Penaud and Gael Fickou, on the wings and winger, Yoann Huget, at fullback.

An unnamed French player told Midi Olympique of the second half of the 44-8 defeat, France's worst against England since 1911: "Nobody knew which positions to play. We were lost on the pitch and tried to ask the bench."

In what has been described as a potential rebellion rising, French halfback Morgan Parra took aim at Brunel post match.

"I think that we are capable of doing what the English do, but are we working on this during training? I think we don't work on it enough, even not at all," Parra claimed. "Yet these are very simple things that are today part of high level rugby. We can do this. But do we work on it? No."

This comes after referee Wayne Barnes had to inform Clermont lock Sebastien Vahaamahina he was captain during the second half of France's opening loss in Paris.

France are, of course, no strangers to uprisings. Players turned against coach Marc Lievremont during New Zealand's 2011 World Cup, where they lost the final by one point to the All Blacks.

Eddie Jones' comments on England's kicking game were, meanwhile, just as telling – not only of his side's tactics, either.

"We just think that's the way the game is going," Jones said. "If teams defend as they do now, there's space in the backfield. If they don't fill it we've got an opportunity with our pace to convert that into points."