1. Les Blues’ blues
Sorry but France don’t look like World Champions in waiting and it pains me to say so because the international game desperately needs a new country to prevail at the big one and they are the best bet. For the second time in three games, Les Bleus have raced into a commanding lead only to get a severe case of the collywobbles as the clock wound down. With the odd exception this side doesn’t look remotely capable of playing high intensity rugby for 80 minutes although they will have time before the September start to put that right. Leave aside for a moment the idiocy of Mohamed Haouas, the first person in the history of the Championship to collect two red cards (and why didn’t Ben White get hauled off for an HIA because everyone witnessed him getting his bell rung?) and look instead at Fabien Galthie. The former scrummy is slowly morphing into Zoolander in the stand but ignore the shades, concentrate on his subs. We are in the 68th minute of the match, a stubborn Scotland have clawed their way back into contention and lie just four points adrift. This is the crucial stage where the game will be won and lost and, remember, a second successive defeat for France is calamitous for their World Cup hopes. What does Galthie do? Replace his key playmaker Romain Ntamack with Mathieu Jalibert. It is not the most rousing vote of confidence in France’s second most important player.
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2. Golden Age of Six Nations.
We are witnessing a Golden Age of Six Nations rugby. This is partly thanks to Italy who have made themselves a joy to watch and if their defence catches up with the giant strides made in attack they will become contenders. In each of the three weekends’ of action to date we have enjoyed at least one humdinger; England v Scotland on the opening Saturday, Ireland v France the following weekend and France v Scotland most recently. The Italy v Ireland game wasn’t bad either with the host nation just four points shy of the best team in the world well inside the final quarter. With the possible exception of Wales, who may yet come good, you feel that every team in the competition could beat every other team with a following wind and a little luck, which is exactly what you want.
3. Scotland has taken an important step
Long suffering Scotland fans wondered if it would ever happen but their team have finally upped the ante this season in a way that we simply didn’t imagine possible after that rather tame defeat against Australia in November. They bossed the second best team in the world in their own backyard, grabbing the lion’s share of territory and possession and would have won with something to spare if they had not allowed France to race into a 19 point lead. I don’t agree with Gregor Townsend’s assertion that “we made enough chances to win that match”. Chances don’t win matches, points do, and France scored enough of them to triumph. While Scotland’s spirit and skill in fighting their way back into Sunday’s nail biter was exemplary, this was the first time this Championship that they have faced a world class defence and that much vaunted attack struggled just a little. Three tries in Paris sounds like a decent return but three tries from 22 entries into the opposition red zone is a little less impressive. Scotland have been posting brilliant figures of over 4 points per entry into the oppo red zone but that figure fell to 1.99 on Sunday with 17 handling errors offering a clue as to why? And I still think Scotland might well have won had that line-out gone to hand!
4. Whence Owen Farrell?
England v Wales was hard work for everyone, players, spectators and officials alike. Wales tackled themselves to a standstill, desperate to end a miserable week with a win that would have silenced the critics … at least for the moment. That they stayed so close to a side that was obviously and ominously superior to them says a lot about their spirit. The fact that England were unable to shake off Wales until late in the game says heaps about England’s chronic lack of confidence. It may take Steve Borthwick the entire tournament and more just to undo the damage inflicted on these players by the last regime. We will know more when they play France at Twickenham a week on Saturday but England’s slow recovery, in addition to a soft draw, should see them through to the World Cup semi-finals. And am I alone in wondering what Owen Farrell is doing at ten, apart from gumming up the works? He did some good things on Saturday, with some deft touches, but the occasional case of smart handling on the gain-line such as the inside pass to Max Malins to set up the first try, only highlights the relative paucity of them. He isn’t even kicking off the tee very well with his current Championship stats at 44.3 percent. Marcus Smith would ignite England’s exciting back line … and convert a few more to boot?
5. If Bundee Aki is Ireland’s second choice 13?
Ireland have had strength for some time now and they have now developed serious depth as well. The performances of Ulster prop Tom O’Toole has been astonishing given that he would not even be in the squad if Tadhg Furlong were fit and functioning. When Andy Farrell is able to replace Peter O’Mahony with Jack Conan you know Ireland’s forwards are well set. The exception to this rule is Bundee Aki who looked as slow as molasses in the thirteen shirt after Garry Ringrose injured himself. He didn’t play badly, took his try well and made his tackles, but you have to think that South Africa, England and especially Scotland would target him relentlessly in a crucial defensive position which needs both time in the saddle and sheer speed to do it properly. It may be that Robbie Henshaw (also injured) would slot into the thirteen shirt if he was available but perhaps Farrell should take a second look at Munster’s Antoine Frisch just in case?
6. Mike’s alright
I have always thought Mike Adamson is a better referee of 7s than 15s and I do wish he would smile from time to time. He isn’t nearly as grumpy as he looks on TV. Anyhoo, I thought he had a good game in Rome with one exception. When Ireland’s scrum-half Craig Casey kicked ahead and ran immediately into Italy’s lock forward Niccolo Cannone. It looked bad but it will always look bad when a little fella bounces off a big one. The point is that Cannone didn’t move and he is allowed to stand his ground. Adamson awarded a penalty but no card but he very obviously made a mistake. If Cannolle has moved to impede Casey it’s a straight yellow. If he hasn’t you play on. Now every little guy in every game that Adamson is reffing is going looking for big guys to run into because why wouldn’t you? Incidentally, Cannone’s young brother, number eight Lorenzo, looks like the real deal and at the age of 22 he has a lot of growing still to do.
Once again Iain Morrison has proved he is the most insightful of all Scottish rugby writers. Why he is not involved in the various TV panels on match days, is hard to understand. Keep it up, sir.
Hey, Iain – notwithstanding your piece at 4. the hot news is that AF has dropped Marcus Smith from the England training squad…. and re-introduced George Ford.
From a personal point of view I learnt [or think I did] this weekend that France are somewhat flattered in the Ranking, in my opinion. Consider, 7 point interception and look at their 2nd try a very suspect forward pass 2 out from them going over the line, I called it at the time and overhead replay doesn’t dissuade me, 19 points to 0 up at one stage and to be 22 – 7 up going in at half time, there’s an obvious weakness there somewhere, it can’t just be loosing Aldritt or playing their back up Prop, or am I guilty of not giving us enough credit for our efforts: that lines out could well have cost us a well deserved consolation bonus point and considering how we threatened in attack at times, who knows we might have just edged it we only needed a try converted or otherwise.
Italy held up well against France at home but see above, was the French weakness disguised by thinking they took their foot of the pedal? Italy took on an Irish team that had a few new faces and they are all there to come back against us in a couple of weeks time, perhaps our last home game will not be the Banana skin that the improvement in the Italian team has shown, fingers crossed.
The Georgian Referee was out of his depth, in so many aspects adamant about Gilchrist, a messy and badly timed attempt and his comment later that ‘I didn’t see a high degree of danger’ with regard the French Prop Haouas, a more than obvious infringement and one that the touch judge dug him out of the mess he nearly put himself in. I think he just thought how can I hand out 2 Reds in 5 minutes. Perhaps because you over judged the Gilchrist card as a Yellow by not taking into consideration Fagerson and the other French forward’s involvement in the matter, minimal perhaps but, for me it was more of a clumsy Yellow and the Jelonch reluctance to go off, was that to gain TMO attention.
On a retrospective point regarding Scotland v Wales the other week, the biggest win, margin? Innerleithen 1924 – 8 tries, [3 from Ian Smith] 4 converted and a pair of penalties against Wales who scored 2 converted tries, 3 points a try, 2 for the conversion and 3 points for a penalty in those days, as the advert says, you do the Maths.
1. The French are just being typically French…this is not something new. I’d agree though we do need an merging side to wrestle away the southern hemispheres stranglehold on the RWC.
2. It is great to see Italy play so well. But, as John Barclay so ably pointed out, why are the attacking in the way they are from so deep in their own territory? They need a kicking game as part of their repertoire. Then they will be feared.
3. We need some different options in attack. We are one of the best, statistically, in an oppositions 22 for this tournament in terms of points per visit. However, we are fallible in our execution when it matters most.
4. Both teams are going to have a poor tournament. Simple.
5. Ireland are dangerous. Even when they are up against it they are comfortable in chaos. Plus they will have some key lads back for the Murrayfield fixture.
6. Ref’s are struggling for consistency…look at the French game.
I saw an interesting stat on game time of French v Irish players. Essentially French guys have played twice as much rugby this season as Ireland in a very attritional league. No wonder they look jaded.
Ireland boss Andy Farrell is optimistic most of his sidelined stars will be fit and firing for a crunch Murrayfield showdown with title rivals Scotland. For getting more details about “Ireland boss Andy Farrell” click on given link.
Interested reflections Iain.
Point 3 – it’s all about fine margins and we are still seeking to master those. Some fabulous pieces of play and breathtaking moves with some stupid penalty or misplaced pass. The least said about that line out the better.
It is fascinating to observe the journey of Townsend as a coach. Maybe now he’s really grown into himself as a coach and found the right tactics and plan for the players he has available to him.