Six Nations: round two takeaways

Iain Morrison picks out some of the main talking points from the weekend's action, with Scotland shooting themselves in the foot ... again

Maxime Lucu of France during the his team's contentious Six Nations win over Scotland at Murrayfield. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Maxime Lucu of France during the his team's contentious Six Nations win over Scotland at Murrayfield. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. Try, try, try again

The ball probably did get grounded on the try line, eventually, as pretty much all the pictures seem to show … but was it a try? No. Very obviously not because the referee did not award it and the referee is the final judge in these matters. Did he make a mistake? It’s possible, but referees do that sometimes, as do we all. His original decision was “no try” because the ball was held up and Nic Berry was perfectly placed, just a few feet away, to arrive at that conclusion. Gregor Townsend has focused on this incident relentlessly because it distracts from the bigger picture of how Scotland, for the second time in quick succession, played appallingly badly in the second half. In fact, they pretty much stopped playing altogether, all ambition drained away. It seemed like they were happy to defend their three and then six point lead, rather than aggressively add to it. In case you think me biased, Scotland were close to their absolute best in the opening 30 minutes, dogged in defence and magicking up a try out of thin air, oodles of ambition and some brilliant handling. After the break Scotland were desperate, happy to kick possession away, countless times, for no obvious reward.


Six Nations: Scotland v France: Scotland player ratings

Six Nations: Scotland v France reaction: “Referee couldn’t have made any other decision” – Fabien Galthié

Six Nations: Scotland v France live blog …


2. Scotland kicking themselves

I say “countless times” but in fact I did count them, or rather I jumped online where some stats gnome had done the counting for me and made a much better fist of it. There were 85 kicks from hand at Murrayfield from both sides, divided almost evenly between the two teams (Scotland 44, France 41) and evenly divided between box kicks and longer kicks for territory. That is a lot of kicks. For reasons of comparison, the number of kicks in the opening game of the tournament, that France versus Ireland cracker, was just 55. England versus Wales at Twickenham on Saturday produced 65 and we know England kicks a lot. At one point Tomas Ramos and Finn Russell looked happy enough punting the ball to each other all afternoon. At another point Nigel Owens on commentary suggested it was all kick tennis. It certainly felt like it. It was horribly dull to watch and, I imagine, not much fun to play in. Rugby needs to spread the gospel but Murrayfield and Twickenham both hosted dreadful games, salvaged somewhat by the drama at the death, while the ‘contest’ in Dublin was hopelessly one-sided. The Six Nations is supposed to be the pinnacle of the game in Europe but this weekend delivered little by way of excellence or excitement.

3. Gatland chews wasp

You would not know it from his bulldog-chewing-a-wasp demeanour but Warren Gatland is probably the second most satisfied coach in Europe, after Andy Farrell obviously, despite his team being winless after two rounds of action. A young, unfancied side, even my Welsh pals struggled to know or name, has risen to the challenge led by a 21-year-old lock who looks like he may still be teething. Wales pushed Scotland all the way in Cardiff and then did the same to England in their own backyard where only a late yellow card/penalty saved the home side from defeat. Gatland’s poker face is complete, he gives nothing away, but he did admit to being proud of his young team who, he claimed, would be very good in years to come. He may be right. But Gatland must now be rueing his choice of starting half-backs for the Scotland game. Tomos Williams and Ioan Lloyd have been outstanding for Wales in the last 120 odd minutes of rugby since they were introduced around the halfway mark on that opening weekend. Together they would surely have done something to prevent Scotland racing into a 27-0 point lead.

 

 

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4. Stephen Varney, gobby stopper

It didn’t affect the final score but the voluble little Italian/Welsh scrummy made a brilliant tackle on Ireland hooker Dan Sheehan to stop a certain score and never mind that Italy still lost by five tries to 0. Midway through the second half Sheehan was on the left flank and he had both time and space to build up a very decent head of steam. Undeterred, the covering Varney somehow halted the Irish hooker midstride to the astonishment of everyone in the Aviva Stadium, not least Sheehan himself, who appeared to knock the ball on, just shy of the line, although it was missed by the match officials. Varney’s heroics were indicative of Italy’s defensive efforts on Sunday afternoon in Dublin, with the possible exception of James Lowe’s somewhat easy score. Italy played pretty well and still leaked five tries while scoring nil points. Ireland, it pains me to concede, are in a league of their own in Europe.

5. Galthie’s beer goggles

Were you in the Grassmarket on Saturday evening? Were you specifically in Edinburgh’s Black Bull on Saturday evening? If so, you will have bumped into a large bunch of large French rugby players including their coach Fabian Galthie and his designer glasses/beer goggles which have a career of their own, possibly more successful than the man sporting them. The French team went ‘on the toon’ on Saturday night, meeting their fans, chatting to strangers, drinking beers, talking bollocks. In other words doing all those things we love most about rugby. I can’t help but admire them for it. The team have been under the cosh back home ever since that shellacking from Ireland and, after a scarcely deserved win at Murrayfield, they probably felt that they deserved a sharpener or two. Moreover they have a down weekend coming up so the timing was appropriate and it is always nice to see coaches treating their players like adults rather than naughty school kids.

 

 

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6. Portugal ripe to be upset

What was the greatest upset in the history of international rugby? Many will point to Japan’s victory over South Africa back in RWC’15, but even that David versus Goliath upset was overshadowed last weekend in the Rugby European Championship, the second tier tournament, which is ripe for a makeover … with ditching that clunky name first on any agenda. Last weekend plucky Belgium beat Portugal by 10-6; the same Portugal side that beat Fiji in RWC’23!  It happened in front of a full house (just shy of 13,000 people) in Mons and came about largely thanks to the close quarters defence of the Belgian forwards as they held their line intact, restricting Portugal to two penalties. So 29th ranked Belgium beat Portugal who were then in 13th spot, a whopping 16 places above their hosts. This is the equivalent, in rankings numbers, of Scotland losing to Germany. (And no, I agree, let’s not put it to the test.) Back in 2015, Japan were ranked 13th in the world, the Springboks in third place. So Japan ‘only’ punched out a team ten places above them. Surely Belgium have just delivered the greatest upset in international rugby … unless you know better?

P.S. Portugal made amends by beating Poland 54-7 this weekend.

 

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Six Nations: Scotland v France report: heartbreak for hosts

About Iain Morrison 133 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.

16 Comments

  1. Point 1. At risk of being accused of Pedantry, I can’t square the circle of Iain Morrison saying that Berry ‘was in a perfect position’ had he been he would have seen the ball grounded, as it undoubtedly was. Easy to say in hindsight but he stayed in his original position and didn’t avail himself of the opportunity of moving to his left when he would have had the angle that everybody offers up as evidence of grounding.
    Point 2. To Kick or not to Kick, that is the question, without going back through the ‘torment’ for a third time, I seem to recall in commentary the question of kicking and statistics were mentioned and the general opinion resulted in ‘kicking was beneficial’ in as much as it was a method of keeping the opposition where you want them: not that it works every time, but there is a school of thought that offers it up as a positive.
    That’s not to say that I endorse it.
    Point 5. Not much to say other than thankfully the photograph of Galthié smiling [the photographer has his pension wrapped up there a photo of Galthié smiling is as rare as Hens Teeth] is no longer predominant on the OSL Home page. You have to admire the courage of touring the Pubs with the real possibility of the Borders and Lothian Police nicking the French en masse for Theft.
    My thoughts: Russell deals well with the Referee, Patterson excellent debut, England next and a must win, their luck has to run out sometime the RWC draw and then let’s be honest the easiest opposition in the first two games, although I would be very wary of Italy in Rome, very wary.
    Last but not least the French Scrum Half, just before half time his Antics, remarkably similar to a Stallion attempting to mount a Mare, all over the back of White and tugging he jersey and more: how on earth did Berry allow that without some form of Penalty, you could hear clearly he warned Luco who totally ignored him.
    Remember Max Boyce berating Irish Referee’s; Australians have surpassed them.

  2. My points from round 2 – Match officials have too much influence on the outcome.
    Any thoughts on a Scottish Grand Slam are now gone.
    Any thoughts on the championship are equally gone.
    Yes we can blame our team for not being ruthless enough but undoubtedly the officials have to shoulder some of the blame.
    o Keefe penalising is with his dubious 2nd yellow card and 16 penalties in a row, ignoring any Welsh infringements and denying us a bonus point try at the death killed our chances of taking the championship on points, Nic Berry’s no try verdict has ruined our opportunity for the slam.
    Wales won the tournament in 2021 , despite being mediocre. They were helped along the way by 2 dubious try’s against England and beating Scotland, France and Ireland whilst they were reduced in number following red cards. We never seem to get the rub of the green, it’s the Scotland way.
    Perhaps sounding like sour grapes but championships are often won by the slimmest of margins , even during 1984 and 1990 our slam winning teams only just got over the line , a refereeing decision like the ones we’ve had would’ve killed those chances too.
    Can’t fault Finn Russell’s attitude when he says we have to take the result out of the officials hands but in practise very hard when you have an O Keefe killing you at the breakdown stealing all momentum.

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  3. The half time performance drop off looks like a mental frailty.
    I think it would make a difference if Scotland had a player like Alun Wyn Jones who made demands of the players around him.
    I can’t think of a Scotland player like that since the days of David Sole.

    • Re captain and leading I have grave reservations about GT.
      Finn R and Rory D are very good players and maybe captains leaders.
      I’d like to see Crosbie getting a wee bit luck and captain the Summer tour to USA and Canada.
      Al Kellock was a great captain when I used to go and watch Glasgow, Todd Blackadder was a leader of men at Edinburgh

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  4. Ramblngs,

    What on earth has happened to Scotland after 1/2 time, in Wales after the VDM try Scotland retreated into their shells and almost let a callow poor Welsh team win and v a shell-shocked France decided to play a game of no risk kick tennis when they were there for the taking.
    Easy to blame GT but the co/vice-captains/ leaders must be culpable too.
    No 50-22s?
    Still not taking the points?

    I’d have have GT sacked after Japan, however in his defence he has improved and Scotland have had some famous wins, however ,for me, there’s something missing, something no right.
    Hope Graham, Nel, Kinghorn, Steyn get some game-time this weekend.

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    • I’m not sure the kick tennis was Finn’s fault though.

      If you are the last man and a right-footed kicker receiving the ball 10 yards from the right touchline with an opponent 10 yards in front of you who is onside as soon as you have moved 5 metres, what else can you do?

      You can try and run and risk getting caught in your own 22. You can try and create a better angle to kick to touch and risk getting caught in your own 22. You can kick straight to touch and give up 25-30 yards and a launch platform. Or you can kick it back long and hope to, at worst, get a better angle for the next kick.

      I’m sure we’d have been hearing all about it if he had taken any of these other options and it had cost us points.

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      • Another good point, I certainly think Russell is better with the Ref than Ritchie was, I don’t think the shared Captaincy is the way however, Russell Captain and Darge Pack Leader/vice captain, Co Captain is a bit of a cop out. just a thought and as ever…

  5. Well said Ian on the conclusion at Murrayfield. The first half performance by Scotland was exemplary with the French at times threatening to implode as they used to regularly in times past. Failing to add the penalty at the end of the half, in retrospect, was decisive. A different Scotland team took the field in the second half intent on playing the French at their tactical kicking game and defending their lead. Doing so took the home support out of the equation and handed the initiative to the visitors whose game strategy is built on field position and attacking off turnovers.
    By focusing on the officials at the death Townsend has avoided scrutiny on why the team failed to build on their first half dominance.

    • Defending a lead of 6 points so early in the game (as though it’s a 12 or even 8-point lead) when you already have the initiative and one score puts you behind again, is madness and IMO, weak leadership / decision-making. It’s like an old firm team sitting back against Partick thistle when they are 0.5 goals up. One score and you’re behind. Why did we suddenly decide that was a good tactic against the French with their backline?

      I’ve seen it said we were “managing the game well” or playing “maturely”? No – it was idiotic, and was proved to be so by the very fact that, naturally, there happened to be a single mistake and a good piece of play by France, which let them in. Who do we think we are, the Italian Catennachio masters of the 1960’s? (sorry for all the football references!).

      Our strengths are in attack, and on saturday, we bizarrely made the decision not to attack and put the game to bed. I’ve said in another thread I blame this on leadership, and when we have a fudged captaincy set up with inexperienced co-captains (both fantastic players and integral to the team), including a Fly-Half who through his entire career has never captained anyone else for more than 1/2 games as that’s not really how you leverage his strengths, then that sort of passive indecision is probably not unexpected. For that, I blame toony for putting that on them, and also for not solving our clear leadership / decision-making / composure issues over the 7+ years he’s been in charge – it’s our constant failing, manifesting in so many different ways.

      How many times do we hear about something that went wrong in the previous game, and that’s what we’re going to solve in the next game? Only for another issue to pop up (discipline / lineout / decision-making / switching off for long periods / being “ruthless” / kicking strategy etc take your pick) in the next game, and then THAT becomes the thing we need to focus on for the next game and so on. It’s rugby whack-a-mole.

      If we solve the overall issue of strong leadership, decisive game plans on how to win test matches and hard-nosed decision-making assurance within the team, we will have far less of these innovative reasons for suddenly losing games we should otherwise be winning by small margins. Won’t suddenly make us beat ireland, but we’d have a bonus point vs Wales and another 3 match points against France in our Tally right now and we’d be in clear 2nd place with England next up.

      And yes – the ref should still have awarded the bloody try and we should have won anyway! But we can’t rely on that, and we can’t waste any more energy greetin about the things we can’t control, when we aren’t even controlling the things that are fully in our power to control.

    • Defending a lead of 6 points so early in the game (as though it’s a 12 or even 8-point lead) when you already have the initiative and one score puts you behind again, is madness and IMO, weak leadership / decision-making. It’s like an old firm team sitting back against Partick thistle when they are 0.5 goals up. One score and you’re behind. Why did we suddenly decide that was a good tactic against the French with their backline?

      I’ve seen it said we were “managing the game well” or playing “maturely”? No – it was idiotic, and was proved to be so by the very fact that, naturally, there happened to be a single mistake and a good piece of play by France, which let them in. Who do we think we are, the Italian Catennachio masters of the 1960’s? (sorry for all the football references!).

      Our strengths are in attack, and on saturday, we bizarrely made the decision not to attack and put the game to bed. I’ve said in another thread I blame this on leadership, and when we have a fudged captaincy set up with inexperienced co-captains (both fantastic players and integral to the team), including a Fly-Half who through his entire career has never captained anyone else for more than 1/2 games as that’s not really how you leverage his strengths, then that sort of passive indecision is probably not unexpected. For that, I blame toony for putting that on them, and also for not solving our clear leadership / decision-making / composure issues over the 7+ years he’s been in charge – it’s our constant failing, manifesting in so many different ways.

      How many times do we hear about something that went wrong in the previous game, and that’s what we’re going to solve in the next game? Only for another issue to pop up (discipline / lineout / decision-making / switching off for long periods / being “ruthless” / kicking strategy etc take your pick) in the next game, and then THAT becomes the thing we need to focus on for the next game and so on. It’s rugby whack-a-mole.

      If we solve the overall issue of strong leadership, decisive game plans on how to win test matches and hard-nosed decision-making assurance within the team, we will have far less of these innovative reasons for suddenly losing games we should otherwise be winning by small margins. Won’t suddenly make us beat ireland, but we’d have a bonus point vs Wales and another 3 match points against France in our Tally right now and we’d be in clear 2nd place with England next up.

      And yes – the ref should still have awarded the bloody try and we should have won anyway! But we can’t rely on that, and we can’t waste any more energy greetin about the things we can’t control, when we aren’t even controlling the things that are fully in our power to control.

  6. There’s something to be said here, in both the end of the Wales and France matches, there was an overlap on which we didn’t take. On both instances, we’d have had more points at the end of the round.

    • Understandable not to go wide last week as a turnover/interception could have resulted in the game being lost. Keeping possession until time was up was the primary concern to ensure the win.

      Different yesterday. Nothing to lose except a losing BP and if we hark back to the famous win in Paris we did stay patient until the space opened up to score wide – and we were playing with a man short at the end of that game.

      The fact that the ball was initially placed on top of a boot yesterday indicates to me that it was far too risky to go for the line at that point, knowing that being held up would be the end of the game. (I do wonder whether a fresh scrum half would have made a difference in that final attack.)

      All that said, it does not excuse the decision by the officials which was about the most cowardly thing I have ever witnessed on a rugby field since Red Rum Joubert fled the pitch at Twickenham.

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  7. Just wanted to say as someone who used to loosely follow an amateur club, played in my younger days – the coverage here is second to none, also the comments are interesting to see.

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