1. Felicitations La France
And welcome back to the top of the table for the first time since 2010. Europe’s showcase tournament needs their big guns firing live rounds and La France were on form (almost) throughout. The best side by a margin, they deserved the title and the Grand Slam despite that wobble in Cardiff. Opposition teams will study that match for chinks in the French armour but you have to think the problem was psychological rather than anything else. The biggest threat to their crown was always coming from Ireland and the way the French slapped them down in Paris on the second weekend, with huge physicality, more than merited the silverware.
2. This Scotland team adds up to less than the sum of their parts
And that has to worry Gregor Townsend who is on record stating that this is the best squad of Scots ever to compete for the Six Nations. The only thing a coach has to do is cajole his team into performing at, or near, their peak every time they take to the field. In this regard Townsend failed. Scotland gave a gutsy display in Dublin and they did well to overcome a seven point deficit against England but otherwise they played well below par with a lack of accuracy, physicality and discipline in just about every game. Had they played in Cardiff as they did in Dublin they would have won handily and that is difficult to swallow for players and fans alike. Watching them it wasn’t obvious what they were trying to achieve or how they were trying to achieve it? Sam Johnson was picked, dropped and then re-selected but we don’t know why? The sudden selection of Blair Kinghiorn looked like desperation. What is Townsend’s current rugby philosophy? Do Scotland have a discernible style or are we making it up on the hoof? Answers on a postcard please.
3. Key players go missing
Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg have earned a host of headlines between them and for a very good reason but neither man added much to his palmarès in this championship. Russell looks poorly conditioned and would benefit more than most by a change of coach while it’s difficult to know which of Hogg’s decisions were worse … going for a beer after the Italy game or going for the line in Dublin only to be bundled into touch after ignoring support on the inside. He should lose the captaincy and would do so if there was another obvious candidate.
4. Josh Adams and Mike Lowry show some class
Josh Adams was spotted gifting his man-of-the-match award to Italy’s new talisman Ange Capuozzo after the final whistle in Cardiff which was a nice touch. Incidentally, it was Adams that missed the tackle on Capuozzo early in the move so the little Italian has reason to be doubly grateful. Meanwhile Lowry was on debut for Ireland against Italy in round three and the slight 15 had already scored two tries when another opportunity turned up. Instead of going for the hat trick score, it seemed like a sure thing, Lowry passed the ball to his winger and made a new BFF in Kiwi James Lowe.
5. Ange Capuozzo … baby faced assassin
Along with Darcy Graham, comfortably Scotland’s best back, and Irishman Lowry, the little Italian full-back/winger is proving that small can be beautiful. He looks about 15 years old but, after a brace of tries off the bench against Scotland, Capuozzo danced his way into the history books by setting up that late, late score in Cardiff that ended the longest losing streak in sport outside of San Marino (whose footballers have never won a match in 35 years of international competition). Good work fella.
6. Eddie Jones talks mince
As the old saying goes, when all is said and done there is a lot more said than done, and that phrase could have been coined with Eddie Mince in mind. The gobby Australian has more players to pick from than anyone else, with the possible exceptions of Fabien Galthie, and yet England won just the two games, against Italy and Wales, the latter by an uncomfortably narrow margin. Jones has an excuse for everything and a solution for nothing. He did brilliant things with Japan in RWC’15 but this England team looks rudderless and his selections, George Furbank ffs, are frankly bonkers. He has never prospered anywhere for very long and England need to hand him his jotters or risk Jones talking his team right out of the next World Cup. His latest comment of “I obviously haven’t done a good enough job” is the only sensible thing to have emerged from his mouth in months.
7. Kieran Crowley was nicely understated
It must have been an emotional day for the 60-year-old Kieran Crowley who coached Italy to their first win since 2015. The coach’s understated understanding of the game is exactly what Italy needs at the moment. Even when losing every weekend, the Italians seemed like a close-knit bunch. While his players were exhibiting their delight on the field in Cardiff, the taciturn Kiwi kept his cool when interviewed after the game, reluctantly admitting: “Yea, well, err, I am just really proud”. When the entire world seems to wear its heart on its sleeve, this small example of emotional restraint somehow conveyed so much more, even if it wasn’t very Italian.
8. Ireland have the hex on Scotland
The two teams are neighbours but none too friendly ones after Scotland voted for France to host RWC’23 rather than support the Irish bid. It still grates. Glasgow and Munster also have previous and the ill feeling seems to have spilled over into the Test arena where Ireland appear to hold all the aces. They beat Scotland in RWC’19 in Japan with something to spare, they haven’t lost to Scotland since and the two teams meet again in RWC’23. Townsend almost certainly needs a win over either South Africa or Ireland in Pool B to progress to the last eight. From 2000 onwards, Scotland have won six of 29 matches against Ireland in all comps. Two of those wins were RWC warm up matches, i.e. meaningless friendlies, so 4/27 is a more accurate summary. The two teams meet in RWC’23 on Saturday, 7th October, 2023 at the Stade de France. Townsend has 18 odd months to come up with a winning formula. The clock is ticking.
9. Townsend still supported by stats
Whatever you think of Gregor Townsend, and he has obviously made mistakes, the Gala man has the best numbers of any Scottish coach … if only just. His winning percentage is 57% compared to the next best, Vern Cotter at 53%. Of course we won’t know what “Stern Vern” might have achieved with this pool of players had his contract been extended but Townsend has done well, if only in patches. On his watch Scotland has beaten England three times and lost once, beaten France four times and lost three, played Australia three times and won every time! Only against Ireland/Wales (played 13, won 1) does Townsend come badly unstuck. Townsend is a smart coach but he lacks some big hitters up front (where is Jason White when you need him) and is desperately short of leadership (where is Jason White when you need him). Townsend doesn’t help himself, a micro-manager and control freak. He is under pressure but rather than soak it up the coach passes that pressure onto the players with overly draconian rules and regulations on drinking etc etc that simply beg to be broken. He is not said to be hugely popular with the players but that will count for nothing if he finds a way to beat Ireland or the Bokke when it matters most, at RWC’23.
10. Why doesn’t anyone think of the children!?
OK, the Scotland U20’s may baulk at being called kids but they had a torrid time of it this year, losing every game, the last one against Ireland by a whopping margin of 59-5, where it did look like men against boys. Ouch! The Scotland 20s lost every game last year too. They got one losing bonus this year, which is one point more than they managed in 2021 so progress of sorts, I suppose. I wrote about the problems of youth development in Scotland for TOL a while back. Scottish Rugby is failing the youth players because, almost 30 years into professional rugby, they have yet to deliver a structure of youth rugby that gives young players the one thing they need above all else … tough matches most weekends. Instead they tinker … re-launch an academy, introduce Super6, hire a new coach, fire an old one. Murrayfield will do anything other than address the problem. So Scottish rugby will continue to struggle until this issue is addressed, especially against Ireland who boast the best youth development structure in Europe, possibly the world.