Six Nations: round three takeaways

Iain Morrison picks out some of the main talking points from the weekend's action, with Scotland's successful over a poor England

Dr James Robson lifts the Calcutta Cup after his last home game before retirement. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Dr James Robson lifts the Calcutta Cup after his last home game before retirement. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. Duhan is the Man

Back in the days when Jonah Lomu was ripping up the turf, a joke did the rounds. The All Blacks coach is giving his pre-match chat and says to the lads: “Right fellas, above all else, rugby is a team sport so I want all 14 of you to pass the ball to Jonah whenever you get the chance.” You have to think that Duhan van der Merwe is now nearing that same level of awesome finishing excellence. Lets’ forget that hiccup for the first England try when the big winger jumped out the line and got caught in no man’s land. It is fair to say that he made amends for that mistake. Scotland have managed seven tries over the three matches thus far, Duhan has scored five of them including that hat trick at Murrayfield, a number of which no one else could have scored. That is some effort and South Africa’s boss Rassie Erasmus must view him as one that got away. The Springboks’ loss is Scotland’s gain even if that means we must sweep under the carpet any questions about the ethics of a South African representing Scotland. It does also beg the question of how on earth Scotland will manage without him if/when he gets injured/carded?


Six Nations: tunnel vision helped Duhan van der Merwe see the light

Six Nations: Gregor Townsend says Scotland preparation is damaged by English clubs’ release policy

Six Nations: Scotland v England: Scotland player ratings


2. Awful England is no laughing matter

It wasn’t a great match at Murrayfield, again, but obviously it’s always nice to beat England, especially since Saturday made it four times on the bounce. Scotland won with something to spare and they did so without playing terribly well. Duhan took his chances, yes, but elsewhere the Scottish performance left plenty to work on. Scotland fixed their poor second half performance only to be utterly useless in the opening quarter. England were pretty awful throughout. Embarrassingly bad at times. Some of the slapstick and Duhan’s first try arose from England players struggling with a new rush defensive system, but elsewhere the basic skills of the game deserted perfectly good players. I take no great pleasure in pointing this out. Okay, I laughed until my ribs ached, but on a more serious note the health and well being of European Rugby in general and the Six Nations in particular needs its two big beasts, France and England, to be firing live rounds. France are genuine contenders, or they will be when Fabien Galthie goes, England are not. I would love to see them beat Ireland at Twickenham but I can’t see it happening without a plague of red cards for the men in green. It is difficult to pinpoint why England are so bad. In the run up to this match, Sam Warburton suggested that the men in white are not very fit, which may hold water. But there must be other reasons that turn good club players into poor Test ones? I would like England to become a very good team so Scotland can beat them and really have something to celebrate. Last Saturday evening felt a little flat.



3. Forza Azzurrini

The Italians are a mystery to me. The country keeps producing good, well trained, highly competitive under-20s sides who then disappear into the ether when you expect them to transform the fortunes of the men’s senior side. While the senior team were thwarted by the width of the post in Lille on Sunday, the 20s went one better, beating France for the first time ever in the Six Nations. The game was held in France and Italy triumphed despite playing for ten minutes with a man in the bin. The young Italians were shown celebrating on X with a rendition of Nessun Dorma, which warms the heart. It was a brilliant game, 20s matches are infinitely more entertaining than the senior equivalent, and Italy won for two reasons. Throughout the game the Italian forwards ruthlessly dismantled the giant French pack at the set scrum. They powered a scrum over the French line for the winning try around the 70 minute mark with two reserve props in the front-row! Secondly, Italy fielded a 6ft 4ins winger in Marco Scalabrin. He scored against France having done the same against Ireland on the opening weekend, and wouldn’t look out of place in the senior side. Italy’s starting props, since you ask, were Federico Pisani and a beast of a tighthead called Marcos Gallorini. Remember those names. The young Scots play them next and will need all the Weetabix they can eat between now and then.


4. Bonne Chance La France

It’s a good job that France has luck on their side because nothing else is going right for ‘Les Blues’ at the moment. Never have so many talented players looked so completely out of sorts. Whatever magic Galthie had when leading his troops to the Grand Slam just two short years ago has gone with the wind. Yes, France were reduced to 14 men thanks to Jonathan Danty’s yellow card being upgraded to a red but playing shorthanded often galvinises a side. Look what 14 man England did against Argentina in the World Cup and you would back a 14 man French team, at its best, to beat Italy at full strength nine times out of 10. The coach will step down, surely, at the end of the season and you wonder what that means for defensive guru Shaun Edwards who seems to have lost his mojo? Has that World Cup exit holed the fragile French psyche below the water line or is everyone in blue simply pining for the talismanic Antoine Dupont who, incidentally, helped France to a bronze medal in the Vancouver SVNS (as we are obliged to call it now).



5.  Referees. Sorry.

Christophe Ridley blew the game in Lille and had the Englishman refereed the Scotland v France game a couple of weeks back I suspect that Gregor Townsend’s team would have won. The English referee awarded a try to France that was similar to the Scots’ one that was disallowed in that the French player was short to begin with before dragging the ball over the line. Ridley is a good referee, I am not arguing his merits, simply pointing out the bleeding obvious, every referee is different and teams have to manage that on top of everything else that goes on. Ridley is quick and decisive but he perhaps erred amongst the pandemonium at the end of the match. He probably should have given Paolo Garbisi another chance to kick that late penalty because the French replacement prop, Sébastien Taofifénua, the smaller of the two brothers can you believe, charged Garbisi, if only for a few metres, which is not allowed. That incident occurred after one of his teammates (I didn’t catch the number) also charged Garbisi as the Italian fly-half was replacing the ball onto the kicking tee. That too is forbidden and only added further pressure on the kicker. Another referee might have allowed Garbisi to re-take the penalty, not that it helps Italy now, but why have laws if your match officials won’t uphold them?


6. End of the Robbo era

Dr James Robson has been in and around Scottish rugby for so long that he treated me back in the days of black and white television. He steps down at the end of the season and Saturday marked his final home game. There were great pictures of him on the players’ shoulders waving the Calcutta Cup. A great guy, ‘Robbo’ would slip me some ibuprofen when I turned up with a hangover for a Sunday squad session, a not uncommon event back in the amateur era. In 1994 I broke my leg at Cardiff. Well, to be exact Phil Davies broke my leg for me, but accidentally he assured me. I hobbled off the field and groaned for a bit on the sidelines. Who, I asked Robbo, was taking my place in the backrow? “Doddie,” he replied. The big man was a world class lock but not quite so proficient in the third-row. “I’ll try and run it off,” I replied. I failed, obviously. And in case you are thinking that I am boasting about being a very brave soldier, I am pretty sure that Ian ‘Mouse’ McLauchlan played most of a Test match with a broken fibula in the days before replacements were allowed. I will ask him on Saturday at the 40th anniversary dinner of Islay Rugby Club.


Six Nations: Gregor Townsend says Scotland preparation is damaged by English clubs’ release policy

About Iain Morrison 142 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.

28 Comments

  1. With regard to point two an awful England is a huge laughing matter and why on earth does “European Rugby in general and the Six Nations in particular needs its two big beasts, France and England, to be firing live rounds”? What’s wrong with other countries being able to fire live rounds? Ireland have been firing more live rounds for far longer than England anyway.

    As others have pointed out England have some very talented players and as soon as they have the sense to appoint a talented coach their fire will become live again.

  2. Italy robbed; France charged the penalty and Italy should have been able to re-take it. France get out of jail thanks to ref against Scotland AND Italy….not good optics

    20
    1
  3. The point has been made that Scotland won with something to spare without really playing terribly well. The fact is that we’ve now had three matches in the Six Nations without playing terribly well in any of them – not for for eighty minutes -and that is not a good habit to get into. The Italians will push us all the way in Rome and we need to be switched n from the first blast of the whistle and stay that way for the duration VDM was outstanding and of course gets all the headlines, but for my money Finn was every bit as good. As for England not playing well, I have none of the sympathy in all of the world. Couldn’t believe how far in front of the kicker their players were from the halfway restarts and yet the ref paid not a blind bit of attention. That isn’t a blitz, it is illegal and officials need to crack down on it. After all, there is nothing else that they need to be looking out for at that particular moment in time. Every team does it, but the English pack were just taking the proverbial. Finally, depriving us of our players in between matches for no reason other than spite didn’t help them either. The biter bit.

    16
    1
    • Re offside at kick off , yes they were and one in particular led directly to Itoje getting the ball and a try , v poor refereeing

  4. Just been listening to the post game Rugby special podcast on BBC radio.
    Finn got a 4 minute interview, Jamie George 15 minute. Most discussions in the media, broadcast and newspapers has been analysing how n bad England were, with Sotland getting hardly a mention.

    9
    1
    • The report in the Irish Times was similar today, focusing on how bad England were rather than anything Scotland might have done. Mind you I think they lie a lot of their material from the Guardian, so it’s hardly surprising.

      5
      1
  5. Point 6 is the priority comment offering thanks to exemplary service to Scottish Rugby by Doctor James Robson, and what a remarkable photograph at the top of this article that is a picture to enlarge and Frame, I hope the SRU have a VIP seat awaiting him, although he probably would prefer the touchline bench.
    Did anyone else notice DvdM’s second Try, the fact that he was not only keeping up with the linesman, I actually think he looked a shade faster, good luck with retirement it’s often harder work than the day job.

    Point 1. Yes he is a winger’s winger, if you get my drift, I particularly like the way he backs himself and particularly liked the look of concentration at the try-line that was obvious in his 2nd Try that is very much a sprinters attitude.
    With regard to the English first try the rot started with White being too far to the right covering the blind side.

    Point 2. Awful England, as I suggested in one of the other articles I think England like France think the best way is get the biggest B’s possible and bludgeon their way to the line, whereas if you look at our combinations they are far more complimentary Darcy and DvdM Tui and Huw. Italy showed great tenacity and kept the behemoths of France at bay and they will be hurting and desperate to get a win in Rome when we visit.

    Point 3. I don’t quite agree with the assessment that Italy are not seeing benefits in their Senior side from their Youth system, they looked to have improved a lot and can’t be taken lightly as suggested above.

    Point 4. The old adage that France don’t travel well could well include within France they don’t like leaving Paris on the display on Sunday.
    As for having to say Vancouver SVNS ignore it write down Sevens.

    Point 5. Consistency that is the requirement, but how difficult is that as World Rugby have with a myriad of changes to the Laws required officials to make decisions that are arguably opinion rather than fact what do you expect. You can observe if the lines-out is straight or the put in to the scrum, it is harder to work out the dark arts, the truth is I suggest the toss of a coin as to who did what and with which and to whom.
    Regarding charging the conversion, I agree the Referee should have said stop the clock cautioned the French about the Law [not that they ever listen to anything whether its Rugby or Farming] and let the kick be taken again.
    I think both Scotland and Italy have justifiable complaints to be put down on the Ref assessment card.

  6. Point 6 is the priority comment offering thanks to exemplary service to Scottish Rugby by Doctor James Robson, and what a remarkable photograph at the top of this article that is a picture to enlarge and Frame, I hope the SRU have a VIP seat awaiting him, although he probably would prefer the touchline bench.
    Did anyone else notice DvdM’s second Try, the fact that he was not only keeping up with the linesman, I actually think he looked a shade faster, good luck with retirement it’s often harder work than the day job.

    Point 1. Yes he is a winger’s winger, if you get my drift, I particularly like the way he backs himself and particularly liked the look of concentration at the try-line that was obvious in his 2nd Try that is very much a sprinters attitude.
    With regard to the English first try the rot started with White being too far to the right covering the blind side.

    Point 2. Awful England, as I suggested in one of the other articles I think England like France think the best way is get the biggest B’s possible and bludgeon their way to the line, whereas if you look at our combinations they are far more complimentary Darcy and DvdM Tui and Huw. Italy showed great tenacity and kept the behemoths of France at bay and they will be hurting and desperate to get a win in Rome when we visit.

    Point 3. I don’t quite agree with the assessment that Italy are not seeing benefits in their Senior side from their Youth system, they looked to have improved a lot and can’t be taken lightly as suggested above.

    Point 4. The old adage that France don’t travel well could well include within France they don’t like leaving Paris on the display on Sunday.
    As for having to say Vancouver SVNS ignore it write down Sevens.

    Point 5. Consistency that is the requirement, but how difficult is that as World Rugby have with a myriad of changes to the Laws required officials to make decisions that are arguably opinion rather than fact what do you expect. You can observe if the lines-out is straight or the put in to the scrum, it is harder to work out the dark arts, the truth is I suggest the toss of a coin as to who did what and with which and to whom.
    Regarding charging the conversion, I agree the Referee should have said stop the clock cautioned the French about the Law [not that they ever listen to anything whether its Rugby or Farming] and let the kick be taken again.
    I think both Scotland and Italy have justifiable complaints to be put down on the Ref assessment card.

  7. Re France , I listened to BOD on Irish TV the other day say France look like a team of brilliant individuals with no cohesion or team plan, unlike Ireland where every player has bought into the plan and can execute other players moves or they really could just be missing Dupont really badly.
    I think Scotland having two players in VDM and Graham both of whom are 24 plus try scorers for Scotland is a comment on where the team are at the moment, lets all enjoy it while those guys are there.
    Being a ref is getting tougher every day , with Barnes being driven from the sport and decisions being more important and the intimidation of the crowd getting worse. Some times maybe we need to remember it’s just a game, heretical though that may be.
    Finally any thoughts the Italy game is a given , in Rome I think we can forget, this will be a tough one, and it will be interesting to see the Benetton vs warriors on Saturday as a guide.

    11
  8. Should we lose Duhan to injury or suspension in steps a fit again Darcy Graham. 24 tries in 39 games. Simples. We’re well supplied in the back 3. Kinghorn, Smith, Patterson, Rowe, Steyn. Nae problem

    1
    1
  9. pray tell Mr Morrison, when every tier 1 country bar none has selected a player or players on residence, and withing WR regulations, what is the ethical question regarding Duhan Van der Merwe?

    We are all free to agree or disagree with the regs, and I respect that you may disagree with them. Raising non existent “ethical” questions is something else. What is it?

    22
    2
    • Septic.. Mr Morrison is just looking to generate interest in the article, i very much doubt he cares.

      Ignore it, and don’t comment every time it comes up, and he will stop with the inappropriate comments towards our residency players.

      8
      8
    • The “ethics” of a dual-passport holder representing his new home over his birth home?
      I mean, apart from the fact it’s in the eligibility rules, SA had given up on him, he couldn’t get resigned in France or signed in SA due to his hip injury. Edinburgh took a chance on him, helped him through his injury rehab and helped him get back into the game. He’s now lived in Scotland for most of his pro-career, pays taxes in Scotland, has a British passport, and has decided to repay the country that gave him a second chance by representing them. Where’s the “ethics” in that?

      31
      1
    • To quote the OED “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity” and that covers whether World Rugby allowing have boots will travel dual Jersey players is ethical because as it states, the conducting of an activity and WR in many peoples opinion have attempted to help the South Pacific Islanders at the same time as allowing Jersey hopping of discarded players.
      All they had to do was say this was not allowable within Top Tier Nations but as usual WR didn’t think it through.
      With regard to the residency aspect it can not be avoided in the day and age of professional players and as such if a Journalist or Commentator wants to point out a fact, there is nothing that can be done other than stop reading that individuals articles.
      Personally I appreciate all the contributors to the Offside Line even the controversial ones.

      5
      1
    • Agreed, all the Duhan is South African stuff is pretty boring now, all the more so since no-one mentions Englands Welsh try scorer, their USA born back row (Underhill) their NZ Maori capped flanker Roots etc etc
      There are rules that govern eligibility, everyone on the field fulfils them, let’s now leave it there until the rules are changed.

  10. Re England, to coin a quote from one of their own, “A noisy man is always in the right.” With their gargantuan playing pool, mass of media and sheer population, our Anglo neighbours dominate the airwaves when it comes to rugby opinion. An enormous wedge of people telling all and sundry that their league is the cynosure the rest of us can only aspire to is going to be heard, therefore believed, over the threadbare counter the Scotlands and Irelands (Virgin Media’s self-congratulatory panel a notable exception) can muster in response. Yet there’s little in the way of proof to support what followers and participants of and in English rugby say.
    There’s a lot of what Tom English says I do not agree with but I believe he is absolutely in the right expressing his view that the top tier in England is overrated. To me, they have players who are just not international level, Ollie Lawrence being a prime example. They can do a job for their clubs, sometimes at Champions Cup level, but evidently struggle with the step up to international level.

    • Whilsy I agree with comments about international rugby this season really illustrates the huge difference between the club and international game.I’ve watched a lot of Premiership rugby and Champions Cup involving French and English teams.The standard looked higher than usual and an array of very talented players which I thought would mean they’d be streets ahead of us in the 6n! Boy was I wrong as of course both France and England have been very poor.
      So shows the “test match animal” is very different-and our experienced side is now better able to problem-solve on the hoof.

      • Yeah, when you take a step back and look at it with a wide-lens perspective, consider the environment these guys are playing in. English players playing in the Premiership play, well, each other, week in week out. And imports who happen to ply their trade there. Our players are going up against Irish internationals, South African internationals, Welsh internationals and Italian internationals as their bread and butter. Ireland and South Africa, as we know, have much better players than England, Wales are probably on par with them and, judging by the most recent game at Twickenham, Italy aren’t far off where they’re at. In short, the URC is a higher standard than the English Premiership.

        5
        1
      • these days and for a few seasons past the top of the URC (ie Leinster) is way better than the top of the EP. The very bottom of the URC (Dragons, Scarlets)- Sharks and even Zebre are capable of better stuff than their lowly position indicates) isn’t as good as the bottom of the EP. The middle is a mix, but on their day the better 4 or 5 URC teams are more than capable of getting a result against any EP side

        3
        1
    • Following on from your second comment, Ealing gave Leicester Tigers a run for their money, 21 – 29 with Leicester scoring almost at the last moment so I believe, yet the RFU have disallowed their promotion to the Premiership on several occasions on the basis of requirement for 10,001 capacity. Even though Bath for ages could only have 8,000 capacity owing to it being Council owned.

      • And as we know, Lenister horsed Leicester,away from home too. Northampton seem to be the exception rather than the rule this year but I suspect they might be a ‘tournament team’ with a bit of momentum behind them. They’re actually a good example to cite related to what Ardent was saying around the difference between club and international level. Freeman and Furbank both look the part for Northampton but, nicely taken try by the latter aside, looked out of their depth on Saturday. Granted, they are inexperienced. Glasgow took too long to get going when they played at Scotstoun but looked as though they were figuring them out – they simply ran outta time. Yeah i’d say that’s a fair assessment re comparing the leagues Septic.

        1
        1
    • I would suggest that Ollie Lawrence benefits greatly playing outside Finn Russell.
      If you’ve watched Bath this season, he runs great lines to pick up passes from Finn.
      He just needs a good 10.

      • Imagine saying George Ford isn’t a good 10. Lawrence was poor on Saturday because he’d been rushed back by a coach who has realised he doesn’t have a great deal of options for his 12. That being said, he was still pretty useful for the first 20 minutes when England were in the ascendency. He was nowhere near match sharp and faded quickly, then was left on for the entire game because there was literally no one else who could come on for him.

Comments are closed.