Six takeaways from round two of the Six Nations

Iain Morrison wonders whether Finn Russell is the best player in the world right now?

Finn Russell had a hand in four of Scotland's five tries against Wales. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Finn Russell had a hand in four of Scotland's five tries against Wales. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. Scotland open with two wins; a first for the Six Nations.

Before the Welsh encounter on Saturday, my missus said that it was Scotland’s most important match since the RWC’19 … and she may have had a point. Another loss to an ordinary Welsh team would have drowned this Scotland squad in doubt, instead a record breaking victory means that Scotland will take the ‘big mo’ with them when they fly to France. It wasn’t a perfect performance, the first half was decidedly scratchy, but Scotland ended so far on top of Wales that they looked like scoring almost at will. The attack remains scalpel sharp; Scotland scored four points per entry into the 22 against Wales. After the Calcutta Cup I suggested that four tries with 30 percent possession was an aberration but Scotland managed five with 40 percent of possession against Wales! Something special is happening, at least in attack, although the Scots conceded a soft maul try to Wales so big men in France, Ireland and Italy will all be rubbing their hands in anticipation.


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2. Is Finn Russell the best player on the planet?

Honestly, I’m not sure, except to say, after two rounds of the Six Nations, it is a perfectly valid question to ask? Scotland has never produced World Rugby’s Player of the Year and, as far as I can recall, we have only ever had one candidate … Mike Blair … back in 2008. He lost out to Shane Williams. Russell makes plenty of mistakes but then a fly-half makes a lot more decisions than most of the players on the pitch, and Russell blows both hotter and colder than most of his rivals. Like Scotland, Russell was a little ordinary in the first 40 but everything seemed to click into place after the break when he completely ran the show. He had a direct hand in four of Scotland’s five tries, all of them in that dominant second 40. His work in defence, as his coach pointed out, was exemplary and he kicked pretty well. After the Ireland versus France game I would have given the Player of the Tournament to Caelan Doris there and then; the best player in the best team in the tournament. After the Scotland versus Wales game I am minded to wait this one out.

3.  Ireland’s forwards are brutally efficient but, whisper it, a tiny bit dull to watch.

Ireland get the ball and Ireland hold onto the ball and they bash you into submission until someone scores a try. And they are number one in the world. Ireland use forward runners relentlessly. It works for them but is it not a little inefficient given the huge amounts of effort and countless energy-sapping phases that go into constructing each score? Let’s see if they raise their horizons a little going forward. Ireland has bagged eight tries in this tournament but four have come from forwards smashing their way over the line and one came from an interception, so only three of Ireland’s tries have owed much to creativity and, even then, Hugo Keenan’s belter came from a forward pass, James Lowe’s foot is clearly in touch and Garry Ringrose’s late effort against France still required several missed tackles. Saturday’s match was a classic because of the intensity of the play, not because Ireland played much rugby. They do what they need to do and they do it exceptionally well. In contrast, all of Scotland’s biggest weapons are found in the backs who have claimed seven of their nine tries. You have to wonder what Ireland might achieve with Finn Russell at ten? Follow the Lions on tour to Australia in 2025 to find out.

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4. Biggar should know better.

The match was just 12 minutes old when Wales’ young winger Rio Dyer fielded a Scotland kick just inside his own 22 metre line and threw a pass to a backpedaling Dan Biggar. The pass wasn’t terrible, Biggar should have secured it, but it could have been a little better judged. So could Biggar’s reaction. In front of 67,000 people at Murrayfield and goodness knows how many millions on television, Biggar (33-years-old with 100+ caps for Wales and the British & Irish Lions and one time Welsh skipper) rips Dyer (23 and six caps) a new one. Not once but twice because he goes back for a second bite. The winger looks like he wants Murrayfield’s turf to swallow him up there and then. Little wonder that Dyer’s confidence is shot to pieces and he allows Biggar’s pass, just before the break, to slip between his legs and into touch when he might have scored. Much has changed since my playing days but I imagine that witnessing the opposition bitch at each other still puts a broad smile on your face.

5. Congratulations to Scotland 20s.

The young ones did well to hold their nerve and beat Wales by a single point at Scotstoun in atrocious conditions. It wasn’t a classic but that isn’t really the point. When you have lost 15 games on the bounce the result is what matters and Scotland won a game they looked like losing. You hope that the injection of confidence will allow the 20s to go from strength to strength but sadly I suspect otherwise because all the structural problems holding back the youngsters are still in place; most notably a lack of competitive matches at age-grade.

6. The Six Nations need their big guns firing live ammo.

England undoubtedly benefited from the inclusion of a gainline specialist in their side in the robust form of Bath’s Ollie Lawrence. Infamously the same man managed just one touch against Scotland in the Six Nations two years ago before being subbed off after 68 minutes. One English paper rated him 3/10 that day. Ouch! So it was nice to see the centre deservedly win the man of the match award on Sunday. England looked infinitely better with him at 12 and should kick on from here. I would pick Marcus Smith ahead of Owen Farrell and add Joe Marchant at 13 to replicate the Harlequins attack as near as dammit, but I don’t imagine Steve Borthwick ever will. And finally it was great to see two competitive breakaways back in the Six Nations after spending far too long with the physios because it seemed for a while that Jack Willis and Jake Polledri would never again grace an international field. Willis in particular looks the bizzo and will surely keep the number seven shirt for the foreseeable future. Welcome back fellas.


Robin Hislop returns to Edinburgh on a two-year deal

About Iain Morrison 147 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.

15 Comments

  1. Finally playing with backs who are all comfortable and adept at attacking, Tuipulotu getting better with every game, Kinghorn showing his potential in his proper position.
    R.Gray
    Think having 3 big strong physical laddies in the back row helps too.
    Finn Russell.
    France will be under pressure and will know the threat Russell poses.
    Very interesting

  2. Iain – good, thought-provoking stuff. However, I appear to be the only one who thought, after the first replay, that Lowe’s try was also a forward pass. You have only to look at the stripes on the grass, where the pass was delivered from, and where Lowe received it. I do not understand how both the touch judge & TMO missed it. Have a look!!

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  3. >a tiny bit dull to watch

    Right? Wales too. Ireland are definitely a ‘well oiled machine’ that play by the book. Perhaps someone who makes off the cuff and seemingly unpredictable choices like Russell is exactly the kind of thing needed.

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  4. I don’t know if Russell is the best player in the world. I do believe he is the most exiting to watch and the one who will inspire kids to play most.

    Rugby as a spectator sport should be enjoyed. Players should enjoy playing. Finn always plays with a smile on his face and I know some don’t like that, but I’d far rather that than watch the girning whinging faces of Bigger, Sexton and Farrell

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    • Bang on, yes winning is important but I’d rather watch the rugby we have been served up since Vern Cotter came on the scene to the dire fare offered to us prior to that. It puts a smile on us older players faces. 🐻

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    • I was a big fan of Farrell tbf.
      Saw one game in about 2004 where he got his smashed I think v Leeds, had it taped up and carried on playing like a demon…..

      Oh, you mean his son?

      Yeah, alright, I get ya…..

  5. Special mention for Dupont’s incredible tackle on the Irish winger to prevent a try. OK, he had just thrown the ball away so maybe felt he had to make ammends, but it was an impressive effort.

    I called Manbun’s foot in touch at the time and I wasn’t even wearing my specs. Weren’t the refs sponsored by Specsavers for a while?

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  6. I know we all get fed up with coaches saying such things, but 3 performances really is key from here. France will probably come flying at us early on “if” we can stay in the game and “if” the ref follows new guidelines and keeps delays to a minimum, we might just give them a scare. Ireland at home will be even tougher and whatever happens there, Italy is as much of a must win as it ever was / is, just for slightly different reasons. Finally though, we appear to have a team all on the same page and moving forward, its more fun this way for sure.

  7. Dyer is a promising young player and he saved an almost certain try in he first half, although I wonder if Darcey might have eluded him had he been in the same position to score. Biggar is a bitterly frustrated man, because his once great powers have waned with age. As for Ireland, don’t judge them till you beat them lest it sounds like sour grapes. I know what he means, but even still. They are top of the pile right now and experts at crushing the life out of opponents with their grinding play. But they have flashes of brilliance too.

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  8. U20s is a really important result and I hope they can find another win in the championship. It is alarming watching the rapid process Italy age grades have made and promises a tougher senior championship in years ahead.

    We can travel to France with a little hope and if we get a result there, Murrayfield will be bouncing to see us take on the best side in the world. I expect we’ll finish the championship in 3rd but this is a great opportunity and I don’t think this team will die wondering.

    • The factor that struck me most from the snippets of the first two rounds is the bulk of some of the French and Italian players, of the remaining sides to play Ireland seem to be the more of a match as regard physical stature.
      I think it will be difficult for them in Paris, but with the last two fixtures at home, who knows I suppose the best chance is Italy.

    • Italy have thoroughly professionalised their age grades, we hadn’t.

      I think more of this group play s6 orin academies down south than previous years.

      At that age the confidence and conditioning of playing regular top level rugby must make a big difference.

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