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.
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.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 59)
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.