10 takeaways from round three of the Six Nations

A tough weekend for Scotland against rampant France, while Ireland let Italy off the hook, and England looked aimless against Wales

Damian Penaud scored two tries for France versus Scotland. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Damian Penaud scored two tries for France versus Scotland. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. Matt Williams was right, wasn’t he?

It is not often you find yourself nodding in agreement with former Scotland coach Matt Williams but the Australian was right when asking Scottish players to pipe down ahead of the Six Nations. “They have just got to shut up … They are making fools of themselves,” was what Williams said after Scotland’s loss to Wales and he has a point, especially given Saturday’s roasting. Scotland have never won more than three matches in the Six Nations so talk of winning the Championship is probably a little premature. The Six Nations doesn’t officially start for many until Stuart Hogg has predicted a Scottish sweep and while part of the skipper’s role may be cheerleading, he should know better by now. It isn’t necessarily arrogance but it is surely better to underpromise and overachieve rather than the opposite.

2. England are clueless under Eddie Jones

Beaten at Murrayfield, England scraped past Wales after leaving countless scores on the field in Rome. They will do well to get anything out of their final two ties against Ireland and France. This England team may be in transition from the old (Farrell/Vunipola bros) to the new (Smith/Dombrant/Genge) but they don’t quite appear to have the first clue what to do with the ball without Billy V or Manu T to bash it up. England managed just one try at Twickenham, a gimmie, against a Wales team missing a host of key names (Alun-Wyn, Tipuric, Ken Owens, Josh Navidi, George North etc). The World Cup is held next year and the RFU need to act now if they want England to play more than a walk-on part in it.

3. Forwards front up

I have always maintained that the strength of this Scotland side lies in the backs, especially Finn Russell and the back three, but on Saturday the forwards stood up. The big men won one scrum penalty, conceded two but nicked a line-out throw as well. They negated the French maul, the territory stats were shared but Scotland enjoyed the bulk of possession, although were unable to finish off many of the chances they made. In the final 10 minutes, when Damian Penaud scored his second try from Romain Ntamack’s kick/pass, there were five Scottish backs – 22, 12, 23, 11 & 15 – all clustered together in the middle of the field, leaving the wide channel entirely unattended, to Penaud’s delight. Hogg was the widest defender and even he ended up in between the uprights. What were they thinking?


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4. Forgotten faces make a welcome return

Am I the only one to think that we are a little too quick to discard some good players (Matt Scott, Huw Jones, Simon Berghan, Allan Dell). It’s a long list and this from a coach who had his own international career curtailed at the age of 30, by Matt Williams no less. On Saturday Mark Bennett made his first appearance for Scotland since 2018 and a very welcome sight it was. He was the coming man back in 2015 but Bennett was stigmatised as being a poor defender and, give a dog a bad name, could never quite shake the tag. Perhaps even better than Bennett was the performance of Wales winger Alex Cuthbert who has endured a torrid time after some poor performances led to a heap of abuse on social media from the brave legions of keyboard warriors. On Saturday, Cuthbert was awarded 9/10 after carrying the ball for 188 metres in a losing cause at Twickenham! Good work fella.

5. Never enough Ntamacks

If you thought Emile was a silky runner in his day and Romain can control a game from 10, now there is another Ntamack to admire. The younger son of Emile played number eight for the French 20s who dismantled their Scottish counterparts at the weekend. Theo is 6ft 3ins and runs like the wind. It’s his second season with the French 20s and he was mightily impressive on Friday night in Edinburgh.

6. Tomas Francis’ head space

The burly Welsh prop, who scored against Scotland, took a blow to the head when colliding with fellow Welsman Owen Watkin around the 20 minute mark. Francis was staggering for a few moments like a drunk at chucking out time, before briefly clutching a post for support. He was taken off the field for an HIA but passed it and returned to the field of play. This is madness. If you can barely stand you don’t need an HIA, you need to sit out the remainder of the match. World Rugby is already facing a lawsuit over player care and the first item on the prosecution’s list of evidence will be the sight of the big Welshman with his legs the consistency of jelly. The lawsuit will argue that not enough was done to protect players from themselves and, on this evidence, they will be right.

7. Three cheers for the little guys

First it was Darcy Graham leading the way and now Hawick’s hero has been joined by Ireland full-back Mike Lowry flying the flag for the little guys in a big guys sport. Sometimes it seems as if the arms race is taking over the game and then you come across Lowry, 79 kgs soaking wet (less than 12 ½ stone in the old money) but still able to step you in a phone box (ask your dad). More power to him even if Hugo Keenan is likely to remain first choice for now. Rugby was always supposed to be a game for all shapes and sizes and the emergence of Graham/Lowry suggests it still is.

 

8. Nika Amashukeli … it’s easy for you to say

Spare a thought for Nika Amashukeli. He was making history in Dublin as the first Georgian referee in the Six Nations and he was probably anticipating a nice easy Test match with a clear division of labour. Plucky Italy would defend bravely while efficient Ireland would rack up a snooker score. Instead he came across circumstances unique to Six Nations rugby whereby one hooker was injured and a second hooker was red carded necessitating Italy play with 13 instead of 14 men for most of the match as they are obliged to remove an extra man from the field. The law is designed to prevent weaker teams from deliberately orchestrating uncontested scrums. The referee got the big calls right but did Bram Steyn really knock the ball into touch deliberately with five minutes to go or did the exhausted Saffa simply do what anyone else in his position would have done and stuck a hand out as the ball came his way?

9. Ireland would have scored more against 15 men

They lost it. When Italy were reduced to 13 Ireland lost their habitual ruthless streak and, along with everyone else, felt sorry for the ill-fated Azzurri. So instead of clattering into the Italians and chalking up an easy century of points, they played some dumb, half-arsed, half-hearted, error-ridden rubbish; easily the worst performance of the season. Against 13, and eventually 12 men, Ireland kept kicking the ball for heaven’s sake. It was almost as if they, subconsciously perhaps, wanted to keep Italy in the tournament and South Africa out.

10. Fin de Finn?

Will Gregor Townsend drop Finn Russell for the first time … for reasons beyond beer? It’s a valid question after some underwhelming performances from the Scottish playmaker. Ugo Monye’s Six Nations catch up show highlighted Russell’s agonisingly slow plod back into position after he kicked the ball to Antoine Dupont and the French scrummy ran it back for over 50 metres, the move ending in France’s first try. Russell jogs back and never gets into position to help defend the Scottish line. In fairness to the fly-half he would do much better behind a pack that can give him front foot ball because the Welsh and French blitz defence cut his time and his options. Russell needs quick ball to shine and he should get it in Rome … provided he’s there.


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About Iain Morrison 80 Articles
Iain was capped 15 times for Scotland at openside flanker between his debut against Ireland during the 1993 Six Nations and his final match against New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. He was twice a Cambridge ‘Blue’ and played his entire club career with London Scottish (being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2016). Iain is a lifelong member of Linlithgow Rugby Club. After hanging up his boots, he became rugby correspondent for The Sunday Herald, before moving to The Scotland on Sunday for 16 years, and he has also guest written for various other publications.

14 Comments

  1. I’m afraid I find it difficult to take any commentary on Scottish rugby seriously when it references Williams, and further argues he was correct.

    The man is an absolute cretin.

  2. Am I alone in feeling that the team hasn’t been “engaged” with whatever the gameplans were over the last 3 games? Perhaps they are struggling with new systems from AB Zondagh? Gotta start clicking or need some changes. Would love to see Redpath fit with Bennet outside. Need that centre threat to balance attack and give more room to the little and large show….

  3. Agree about Matt Williams being right. There’s an entitled culture of expectation in Scottish rugby bordering on delusion, but i dont think it starts with Hogg.
    I think he’s just responding to the fans, some of whom are mental.
    There’s a pattern of increduble expectation, immense pressure followed by full on character assassination level criticism following any defeat.
    It must affect the players and add to the toxic pressure cooker around our game and the attitude of some seems to be that if you pay money to watch you’re entitled to do it.
    I wish we’d just have realistic expectations of a team drawn from a tiny pool of professional players and try to lift the players.

    I get the feeling that’s what Welsh supporters do.

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  4. With the talent England’s premier league has to offer, I’m surprised Eddie Jones kept his job. Welcome though our victory at Twickenham was last year, it was a glaring illustration of Jones’ failings and an opportunity to install a replacement in plenty of time for the next World Cup. It’s a bit late now.

    As far as Scots talking themselves up, what I see an hear are hopes rather than expectations. Would you really expect a team captain to step up and say “We hope to win a couple of nmatches and not show any progress over last year’s campaign?” We could have won all five matches last year and came very close to doing so, so it is reasonable to expect to be competitive at least. Matt Williams wasn’t right.

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  5. Hogg and Russell are probably the first 2 names on the team sheet, unfortunately they both seem to be taking their places for granted. Drop them both for me.
    Harris, as usual, getting pelters on here but that wasn’t the worst pass I saw at the weekend and most were caught by less celebrated players than Hogg. Russell meanwhile, didn’t try a leg unless the ball was handed to him on a platter. No wonder the pair of them were roundly criticised by Horgan,Kearney and others.

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  6. 1 Darge was immense and is a seamless fit for international rugby. 2 The butchered try followed by the French score was the whole ball game. 3 The French defence enjoyed mopping us up in the 2nd half. 4 We need Hastings on the bench. 5 Someone needs to fire a rocket up Finn. 7 the French fans were everywhere, great to see them out in force. 8 this is good french side (worlds best in my opinion). 9 we need to find our mojo v Italy or the Ireland game will be painful viewing.

  7. Now the disappointment has worn off from Saturday, lets remember we were down a whole group of important players Watson, Ritchie , Fagerson , Gray and Cummings. Ok so we found out Darge is even better than we thought. I also think we have lost our mad attack at all costs mentality , but how much of that is due to the coach and how much Finn being very poor by his standards. Price also had his worst game for years and was at fault for at least 2 of the tries. The backs just did not click Graham was anonymous, VDM was slower than Penaud all afternoon , not sure if Tuipulotu is the answer, maybe Bennett or Hutchinson or Jones all of whom are playing well might be. Harris has had a lot of stick but he is there because of his defense. Anyway are big changes the answer , the forwards did well , we have tons of options in the backs , possibly too many to pick with so many options. On to Italy unfortunately we cannot afford to experiment now it’s a must win game. We cannot afford to rest Finn & Hoggy though I think they might benefit from it.

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  8. The Tomas Francis video is truly shocking – I’d hope the book gets thrown at them, but nothing seems to have come of the head injury incident in the Italy v England U20s game, so I’m not holding my breath.

  9. Not much in the way of inspiration in the 3 games so far, Graham v England and Wales, Kinghorn v France and a couple of flashes of Russell, there’s something amiss, Russell, Hogg, VDM and Graham are top class, we should be scoring more points.
    Are we trading flair for solidity?
    Has GT lost the dressing room?
    Are we simply not good enough?
    We need something extra at centre, Redpath has had rotten luck with injuries and Harris is not the answer. Bennett deserves a start, Steyn adds physicality and pace. Kinghorn is talented but IMO is not to be trusted at 10.

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  10. Unfortunately it isn’t what Mr. Morrison or the readers of the Offside Line take from the weekend fixtures, it’s what the Scottish players and coaching staff take from the weekend, or specifically their game against France.
    Personally I am far from comfortable about our next fixture considering Italy kept Ireland to 50 odd points with 13 players on the field, 12 for the final stretch. I didn’t watch all the Dublin fixture like many I metaphorically switched off at the farce of inappropriate laws designed to stop blatant cheating being used, World Rugby not for the first time not considering all the consequences prior to changes to the Laws: but back to the point, in a strange way I would rather have Ireland next up than Italy.
    With the Rome fixture in a couple of weeks time Townsend and Co have to make absolutely sure that those selected are well aware that a ‘W’ is not a given because Italy showed a resolve and fitness to stick in there in Dublin although perhaps Ireland coasted a bit as Point 9 suggests.
    Point 4 is a timely reminder Bennett put in a good performance when he came on and although Harris puts in a good defensive game, sadly it isn’t enough Huw Jones looked very sharp when I so him playing for Harlequins recently.
    Point 7 is a rarity that is destined to become even rarer unless World Rugby stop thinking about ‘money’ inventing new and ever more vacuous faux competition and begin to realise that the game is getting lost with ever more tinkering here and tinkering there when a primary method of bringing the game to ‘all shapes an sizes’ is reconsider as EJ calls them ‘Starters and Finishers’.
    I’m not alone in suggesting that if they had to play 80 minutes the game wouldn’t have France trundling out a 150kilo prop: replacements for genuine injury only and a limit on the bench of a Utility back a Prop and a Hooker. Anyone remember the days when you only got the Jersey if you were good enough to Start and Finish?
    Whilst they are at it strict refereeing, put in down the middle with Props propping and Hookers having to strike for the ball, straight lines out and only one supporting the player jumping, or even no lifting at all.
    Are those thoughts as retrograde as they seem? The game is haemorrhaging finance and players at the Grass Roots, and I know it was a different game when I played but I wouldn’t want to spend my Saturday sitting on the subs bench I would rather have dropped down a side to get a full game in, if you get my drift.
    Get things wrong in Rome in a couple of weeks and my goodness then ‘you know what’ will hit the Fan.

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  11. It was a much better forward effort than in Wales and the stats show that they can compete with the French in most aspects of the game. The whole set of backs seem strangely out of sorts though. I’m not sure who in the back room was sharing covid with Mish but the attack was way off along with the defence. So I wonder if the last minute planning was all screwed up. But then these backs are all senior pros, the majority of them test Lions, and you would expect them to be able to organise themselves even if all the coaches were off sick. Hogg was saying what fantastic analysis Russell brought of the French players but if that was the case the game plan to deal with it wasn’t well constructed or executed. You never know what is going on behind the scenes but it looks like Russell and some of the other backs are not on the same page as the coaches and are half heartedly playing along to a plan they dont believe in. Somethings got to give.

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    • Apparently we only kicked 3% of our possession whereas in our most successful games we kick 13-14%. My first thought was did Russell decide that in play or was that a coaching decision. However, Russell is one of the best kicking fly halves in the world so that wouldn’t be his normal approach. Then you realise that Price wasnt box kicking and Hogg wasnt kicking much either so that must have been the planned tactics. With hindsight it wasnt a good plan.

      Maybe Duponts kick return for the first try spooked them but that was world class to get a blocker between himself and Darge and the French switched on to attack faster than we switched on to defence. Even then if the players decided not to kick there was plenty opportunity to get messages on to the pitch during the game or at half time to reinforce or change the tactics. So for me that’s down to the coaching.

      • Squidge on Youtube really nailed where we went wrong but as you highlight it’s not clear if the tactics were imposed by the players or the coach. Either way we have an issue.

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