1. Pausing for catches loses matches
It was Frank Hadden who always insisted that too many Scottish backs were unable to hand pass with any accuracy and he was proven right on Saturday. In amongst a long list of Scottish horrors, take a look at the number of passes that were directed at, or behind, the intended recipient rather than in front of him inviting the receiver to run onto the ball. And every time it happened the receiver would have to check his run to ensure he could collect the ball safely. In a game of fine margins that momentary hiccup is more than enough to undermine that phase of attack. Yes, it was wet but if Scotland can’t play wet weather rugby who can?
2. You are only as good as your last match
Finn Russell is a class act but he was well below his corroscating best against Wales. He kicked one restart straight into touch. He tried a long range drop-goal that missed by a mile and his late yellow card when the match was tried went some way towards gifting this one to Wales. He had his moments, mostly in the second quarter, but even those were few and far between. Despite all this, one Sunday paper still awarded him 8/10 points in the player ratings, the same as Darcy Graham. Really?
3. Nine is a key attacker
With the defence of modern teams so well orchestrated these days, the scrum-half has become a key attacking weapon which is hardly surprising as he gets the ball in hand when the opposition “D” is least organised. Harry Randall proved as much for England in Rome. The little buzzbomb picked his moments and almost always made significant inroads. In contrast, it is difficult to remember Ali Price ever threatening with the ball in hand. In two starts for Scotland he has made 15 metres from four carries. After one game for England, Randall has made 24 metres with three carries while Wales’ Tomos Williams (two starts) has made 59 metres from 12 carries. I know he has a world class fly-half outside him but even Russell looks like he’d like someone else to take a little heat. Price needs to threaten with the ball in hand, as he used to do, or risk losing the jersey to someone who will.
4. Poor discipline is a coach killer
Scotland conceded 13 penalties against England and rode their luck. They conceded 13 penalties against Wales and paid the price. Discipline is key and most of Scotland’s penalties were not clever ones (ie conceding three to save five/seven). Nine of those thirteen penalties occurred at the breakdown. Scotland were pinged for offside, not rolling, not releasing, playing the scrum0half under the referee’s nose. In short, most of Scotland’s penalties were as dumb as a bag of spanners. Ireland conceded six against Wales, Wales just eight against Scotland. Single figures is not only achievable but a necessity with France next up.
5. La France.
After the opening weekend I made some comments suggesting that France, while good, were not yet World Cup favourites. The joy about being a pundit is doing a reverse ferret midstream without a shed of embarrassment. Not only were France properly good in Paris against a superbly resilient Ireland side but I thought they played Saturday’s game in a very calculated manner to make a point. Despite having the better back-line, by a margin, France deliberately kept the ball tight and repeatedly pummelled Ireland through their powerful forward pack. Almost as if they were trying to gain a psychological edge over one of their main competitors for next year’s Rugby World Cup.
6. Genge is the new Russell
Last week Ireland’s rock of ages Tagdh Furlong argued that since he had been playing the game from the age of four, pundits should not come over with a fit of the vapours when he throws a one metre pass out the back door. Another prop went one better on the second weekend when England’s Ellis Genge sent a 23 metre pass zipping out to fellow front-row forward Jamie George on the right flank for the hooker to touch down in the corner. The bullet was fired off his left hand! I was trying to find out if Genge was left-handed but came across a report that said he had slapped someone (in a previous game) with his right. So all the more impressive given it was (presumably) off his ‘wrong’ hand.
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7. It’s back
It only takes one and now we have it the floodgates will open and never mind that Dan Biggar’s drop goal against Scotland made no sense whatsoever as it came while Wales had a penalty advantage so he should have gone for the Hail Mary move to score a try. It was the first DG in the Six Nations since 2019 when Romain Ntamack slotted one against Italy. Welcome back old friend.
8. Away woes back to haunt Scots
After wins at Llanelli in 2020, and the same in London and Paris just last season, it seemed for a moment as if Scotland’s woeful record on the road in the Six Nations may be over. Cardiff suggests otherwise. The key connecting those three wins away from home was the fact that none of the stadiums involved allowed any fans inside, so instead of being a hostile arena, Twickenham, Parc Y Scarlets and Stade de France were, well, eerily quiet. More like a neutral ground, or playing rugby on Mars.
9. Italy beat England in the Six Nations for the first time (at U20 level).
Italy u20s have been competitive for a while now and the young Scots will need to be more clinical and physical if they are to emerge from this tournament with a win . Italy were worthy winners on Friday evening, 6-0 the final score, so blink and you’ll miss the highlights package, dashing England’s hopes of back to back Grand Slams at youth level. Moreover Italy managed the victory without their two best players as teenagers, winger Tommaso Menoncello and fly-half Leonardo Marin, have already graduated to Italy’s senior side. Back with the 20’s, the Italian fly-half Nicolo Teneggi was the star, kicking both penalties, but look out for his half-back partner, one Alessandro Garbisi. He is the younger brother of Italy fly-half Paolo, still only 21 himself. According to our Italian insider, the two brothers might well link up for the senior squad at some point in the not too distant future. Their day will come, eventually, the wheel will turn.
10. Joey Carbery step up.
Such has been Johnny Sexton’s influence on this golden age of Irish rugby that it has been hard to imagine the men in green without their whippet fly-half barking orders at one and all, including the referee if needs be. Joey Carbery’s assured performance in the maelstrom of the Stade de France on Saturday has put that one to bed. New Zealand-born to Irish parents, Carberry returned home at the age of 11. He has had a bad time with injuries since first getting capped way back in 2016 but, with the 36-year-old Sexton held together primarily by duck tape, Carbery is the coming man. The only question is whether the pretender inherits the crown before or after RWC’23?