Six takeaways from round four of the 2023 Six Nations

Iain Morrison laments an opportunity missed for Scotland as well as paying tribute to some rising stars and returning outcasts

Jack Conan celebrates his try for Ireland at Murrayfield on Sunday which killed off Scots hopes of a famous win. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Jack Conan celebrates his try for Ireland at Murrayfield on Sunday which killed off Scots hopes of a famous win. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. Scotland run out of gas. Again.

Last November Gregor Townsend’s team kept pace with New Zealand for maybe 60 minutes before the Kiwis pulled ahead after the bench brought fresh energy to the task in hand. On Sunday against Ireland it was more like a 50 minute performance. The point is that if Townsend’s side can’t beat an Ireland team that lost three key forwards in the opening half hour and their second hooker eight minutes into the second half then they never will. Although disappointing from a Scottish perspective it was good to see the speed and skill of Mack Hansen trump the power game of Duhan van der Merwe. The big Saffa was found wanting in the aerial battle and jammed in twice to allow Hansen just enough room to sneak over in the corner himself in the first half and then send Jack Conan one in the second half. The fact that Cian Healy filled in seamlessly at hooker is irrelevant now that scrummies feed the ball into the lock’s feet. The fact that Josh van der Flier got a free pass at the sidelines is a shocker. I knew his first throw had to be aimed at the front of the lineout because it was the only safe call for a part timer undertaking a task that requires surgeon-like skills. There are Inuits in Greenland who knew that his first throw was going to the front jumper. The only people blissfully unaware of this fact were standing on the field sporting blue. If Scotland can’t beat Ireland on home soil with all their injury woes what chance do we have in RWC’ 23?


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2. Scotland 20s humbled.

I tuned in a few minutes late to the Scotland versus Ireland 20s game on Friday night and the visitors had already scored two converted tries. The game was over almost before it had started. I watched about 30 minutes but turned over to the England versus France 20s match because I was far too angry to keep watching Scotland’s 20s getting thumped. Let’s be clear, Ireland’s age-grade sides are good but the reason they are good is that they emerge from an excellent system that challenges them all the way, so when selected at U20 level they are ready for it and some are already on the fringes of professional rugby. Evan O’Connell (Big Paulie’s nephew) was in Munster’s match-day squad aged 18. There is no intrinsic reason Scotland’s age-grade players should be inferior. They are where they are because the system they have come through is not fit for purpose and here we are, 27 years into the professional era, still flailing around trying to sort it. Jim Mallinder was appointed head of high performance rugby in August of 2019. How long does he want/need to make a positive impact on age grade rugby?


3. I did not see that coming!

If you lie down and put your ear to the floor boards you should be able to hear a strange, unworldly sound emanating from a long way away. That will be Eddie Jones sitting in Australia laughing so hard that his face is about to fall off. My lawyer would like to stress that this is not an actual claim, just a hypothesis for discussion, but if Jones was an Wallaby double agent sent to demoralise and demotivate the English rugby squad he could hardly have done a better job. Remember this is the same England team that could face Australia in the World Cup quarter-finals in the increasingly unlikely event that they qualify. England are in a pool with Japan and Argentina so anything could happen. France’s brilliant victory does put Scotland’s scrappy Twickenham win in some perspective. Junior was at the match. When England were awarded a late penalty he and his pals facetiously shouted “take the points!” Asked what reaction he got from the English crowd he replied … laughter. The poor fans hadn’t many other options. And, yes, before you remind me, this is the same England team that I predicted would finish second.



4. France were brilliant … and still don’t look like World Cup winners to me.

I know, I know. They were in unstoppable form, when all the working pieces fell perfectly into place in an explosion of power and panache. If you wonder where he got his soft hands, lock Thibaud Flament used to play fly-half, all 6’ 8” of him, for Loughborough University fifth XV. But the World Cup doesn’t usually go to sides who are absolutely unplayable for one game. Instead, the World Cup rewards consistency of performance over occasional brilliance. France have already played badly in this Six Nations, twice, against Italy on the opening weekend and against Scotland in the third round. They could have lost either match. The World Cup allows for one hiccup in the pool stages but otherwise it doesn’t accommodate any off days and France still take far too many ‘sickies’. Victory at the World Cup requires a minimum of three consecutive victories at the knockout stages and potentially six successive wins on the bounce should France lose the opener to New Zealand!  I genuinely hope they win but I am not confident of it.


5. Recall an outcast, win a Test.

Huw Jones was recalled from the international wilderness at the start of this championship for his first Test since 2021 and he has been a revelation with three tries to his name and counting. He is his old self in attack, picking lines that Pythagoras didn’t know existed, and he has tightened up his defence. He is not the only old stager to have mounted up for another canter around the block Big Leggy style. 34-year-old Wales scrummy Rhys Webb made his first Test start for six years in Rome against Italy, he earned an assist for two of their tries and won the man-of-the-match award. He was excellent, just as he was all those years ago when he quit Wales (without the required number of caps) to take up with French giants Toulon, effectively ruling himself out of the equation. My point is that he has been back in Wales playing for the Ospreys since 2020. Did no one think him worth a look in the last three years and who else out there in the international wilderness might surprise us if handed a second chance? Answers below please but can I get the ball rolling with Stuart McInally who can at least hit the bull more often than not.



6. One to remember.

Watching France beat England at U20 level on Friday was an eye opener. In the French midfield was Emilien Gailleton, a teenager who just happens to be the top try-scorer in the Top 14 with nine touchdowns to his name. Moreover, he plays for Pau, second bottom in the table with just six wins to their name, and most of his games are at centre although he is equally happy on the wing. Remember the name, you will hear it again.


And in other news …

Since rugby’s next big thing (aka USA Eagles) won’t be at RWC’23, it was nice to see their nearest rivals for the NBT title get a big boost. In Super Rugby, Fiji’s Drua team beat the mighty Crusaders by one single point in front of a raucous home crowd. That is not to say that Fiji will beat the All Blacks when/if they next meet but it does augur well for the future of Fijian rugby and, especially, putting in place a pathway whereby the best young talent stays on the islands and remains available to the national team.

Elsewhere, since the Six Nations started Uruguay beat South Africa at rugby. Yes, really. It happened in the Los Angeles World Rugby sevens tournament when the South Americans triumphed by 12-5.

Do you remember the All Blacks famous ‘no dickheads’ dictum? Well Ardie Savea, comfortably their best player over the last two years, signed a slit throat gesture at an opposition player after being carded in Super Rugby. He apologised and got a one week ban. Do you think the All Blacks will drop their best player? No, me neither, and I don’t think they should but can they taper back the sanctimonious bullshit please. They have the same number of dickheads as every other team. Except ours. Of course.

And finally, Georgia play Portugal in the final of the Rugby Europe Championship, Europe’s other Six Nations tourney. The game takes place next Sunday, at the Stadio Cívitas Nuevo Vivero in Badajoat, Spain, at 7pm local time, just in case the three Saturday games don’t sate your appetite for the game.


Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell ruled out of Italy match

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.

29 Comments

  1. on point 1 and the lineout I suggest Mr Morrison bought into the nonsense Warburton was spouting.
    Cummings contested Van Der Flyer’s first throw. It was a good throw and a bit off centre, so O’Mahoney who is rather good in the lineout won it. Cummings contested every throw to the front; won or disrupted 2, 2 were overthrown, a couple excellent throws and a couple seriously squint. Watch the match again and see

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    • Not so, Sceptic – Cummings should have moved right to the front in order to properly unsettle VDF in his unaccustomed lineout throwing-in duties.

      But there we are, not everyone has the experience or knowledge, especially in the heat of the action, to understand how seriously such a challenge can disrupt a lineout thrower-in. Just one of the “things”!

      • Absolute poppycock, Peptic. Disrupting “jumper” at the very front can (if necessary) be lifted from behind. Clearly, you lack experience in such areas.

      • au contraire Ein Stein. Face reality. VDF made a damned good fist (mainly, bar the 2 over throws and the 2 we nicked……) but up against one of the best lineout operators in the world (O’Mahoney) using 2 lifters – one lifter for Cummings wasn’t delivering anything. In the real world

    • I bet!

      To be fair it’s generally good being a Scotland one too.

      Just a few frustrations here and there.

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  2. ” Stuart McInally who can at least hit the bull more often than not.”

    Not sure what rugby you’ve watched – but Stuart is as yippy as Brown. Turner finally getting his act together, but time for Ashman to become backup, McInally and Brown time has passed.

  3. Thank you Iain for the best laugh I have had this week: “There are Inuits in Greenland who knew that his first throw was going to the front jumper.”
    How we need a sense of humour. More please

  4. The Irish are not the world number one for nothing – and we could not match their intensity for 80 minutes. I’ll wager probably no one could and I’ll be interested to see how the southern hemisphere nations fare against them this autumn. They also have strength in depth in just about every position and their conveyor belt constantly churns out new talent – hence the 80-points humiliation dished to our U20s. That is the real difference between us. If Jones was laughing at the French game, I expect him to be absolutely piddling himself come Dublin. We are worth our five spot in the world rankings by the way and our game in Paris was an absolute let-off for the home side. Plenty to build on, but let us make sure that we do.

  5. If France had faced England on the 1st weekend do you think they would’ve won by 40 points?
    France had a tough game v Italy on the 1st weekend who were then beaten comfortably by England the following weekend.
    France built up to their performance last weekend and England built down to theirs.

  6. Look at the difference Gibson Park made injecting pace for Ireland in the second half, why not George Horne for us? Given we drop off against the best teams in the second half as identified in the article, Horne would certainly raise the tempo. I have never quite understood why he hasn’t been given more of an opportunity.

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    • I can only assume Townsend doesn’t like him, as he didn’t get any time in the pitch in the Argentina tests in the summer either.

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  7. Looks like the bookies don’t expect an upset at the weekend.
    Scotland 1/10
    France 1/25
    Ireland 1/10

    A win on Saturday and getting 3rd is progress. The stats on the 6N site are quite favourable for Scotland. Only 5 knock ons in 4 games. As a Layman we do appear to have improved, but hard to gauge with England and Wales being so poor. Still a way away from competing with Ireland.

    Ireland are a hard watch but they’re very good at their jobs.

  8. On the money with points One to Six, in particular the IRFU system for youth players progressing to an International status, no need to mention a recent result.
    The problem the SRU have to implement what appears an excellent system is, it isn’t a ‘cut and paste’ operation in order to replicate it in Scotland. Ireland had a readymade system of provinces and their 4 professional +‘A’ teams and feeder Clubs have an historic and natural structure, you can say ‘I represent’, old fashioned perhaps but the young lad from Coleraine would feel he had achieved something more with the ‘Card’ from Ulster.
    Scotland only have the two professional sides no ‘A’ teams [at present] and abandoned the old District’s for the imposition of the inappropriately named Super6 loosing sight of the fact that emerging players need to play on a regular basis with experienced players of all age groups and not in a faux league that has little to identify it.
    It seems they have an idea to cobble in Glasgow and Edinburgh ‘A’ onto the S6 in some fashion, surely a mismatch waiting to happen. I don’t think that’s a consistency or system that offers up continuity of performance or continuity of playing week in week out with your club.
    To me it seems to be another ill thought out ‘we have to be seen to be doing something’ and the resultant ‘Pound-Shop’ back of a Ciggy packet result.

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    • The irish system isn’t immediately transferable, so true.

      That Irish squad was predominantly Leinster (16 of 23). Their U23 squad had 13 of 23 from Leinster. The Leinster system relies on private schools around Dublin.
      I think we want to reduce reliance of private schools, not increase it

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      • Personally I don’t care if the Jersey is filled by Private or Public Schools, I don’t even care if they have been to the Bar-L providing they have redeemed their ways providing they qualify for the Jersey, and by preference not by residency, for our own sense of pride if nothing else the players should emanate from our Clubs, our Grassroots and guided within a competent system offered up by the SRU.
        Other opinions are available.

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  9. First on my “recall” list would be D’Arcy Rae. Ok, only has one cap I think but propping regularly in the English Prem and the cupboard is bare at TH. Surprised that Hunter-Hill hasn’t been considered more after being involved in a couple of 6N/tour squads. I understand the shouts for Maitland but not sure he still has the same sharpness and would be quite a retro move when the likes of Ollie Smith are around. I was one calling for Hutchinson a while back but Tuipulotu has really impressed as a 12 and can also cover 13 so maybe not such a desperate need. Plus Johnson has put in some good stuff for Glasgow alongside McDowall.
    A very fringe call here and probably more about club than country but Jaco VDW really has fallen out of favour. Maybe not a fully fledged international 10 but a useful player to have around and we don’t have the depth to ignore “possibles”.

    • Maitland has been excellent for Saracens this season.

      Giving Ben Healy a start is a big call.

      It would not surprise me if Townsend picks Kinghorn at 10 and Maitland at fullback.

  10. 4. France were brilliant … and still don’t look like World Cup winners to me.
    To me they do

  11. Easy to say Duhan was awful in defence but the Irish forwards are very good at sucking defenders in.

    We don’t pick Duhy for his defence.

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  12. Scotland aren’t as smart a team as Ireland generally but on Sat I think this was exacerbated by emotion.
    They lost their composure a few times, gave away silly penalties and didn’t do things like kick for touch and contest lineouts when Ireland had a flanker throwing in etc etc.

    The Irish wind me up and Im only a fan.
    I wonder if they wind the team up too. I suspect they might.

  13. Recall an outcast – Sean Maitland for the liability that’s VDM. Safer under a high ball, strong in defence, can beat a defender on the outside and doesn’t wander across the pitch trying to run over stronger opponents.

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    • Madness(and i’m a big fan of Maitland)

      Duhan has single handedly won us games. His positives outweigh his negatives (on average) big time.

      Thats not to say he was not awful in defence against Ireland, but Ireland had clearly a game plan to strike out wide against both wingers and they are the No1 side in the world for a reason. It may not just be his fault alone (which a chunk of it is) but a flaw in the defensive game-plan.

      My wilderness recall would be Rory Hutchinson, in part due to his versatility. He has never let the team down in the limited opportunities given.. sadly out of sight means out of mind the majority of public. He would make a much better 23rd man than Harris to my mind.

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      • Truthfully you would be a better pick than Harris with an oil tanker attached to you !! (Correct about Hutchison tho) Duhan has cost more than he has scored tho this tournament so he needs a hard word….won’t happen GT is too attached to some eg Price over Horne

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      • One word in your post points you towards everything that’s wrong with Scotland. If its not Russell singlehandedly today it’s VDM or Hogg. Everyone else cannon fodder , no more expected of them but charge into the gap after 1 from 3. Key change….Gregor out and bring in Ciaran Crowley.

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      • Totally agree, can cover every position from 10 to 15 , whilst his defence can be a bit iffy this is more than compensated for by his brilliant hands and awareness of space. He should be in any World Cup squad simply because of his versatility of the bench.

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