Six takeaways from the final round of the 2023 Six Nations

Iain Morrison believes Scottish rugby fans should be rioting in the streets over plight of the national under-20s team

Blair Kinghorn scored a hat-trick for Scotland against Italy but it was almost certainly the team's worst performance of the championship. Image: © Craig Watson www.craigwatson.co.uk
Blair Kinghorn scored a hat-trick for Scotland against Italy but it was almost certainly the team's worst performance of the championship. Image: © Craig Watson www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. Scotland underwhelms.

Scotland saved their worst till last, no? Following the second of Blair Kinghorn’s tries on 43 minutes with the score at 19-6, I turned to the person beside me and said “that’s that”. As a fan in the stand I am allowed to do so. Unfortunately almost every Scotland player also appeared to say the same to themselves, if quietly, and they were very nearly proven wrong by a tenacious if strictly limited Italy team. Italy’s backline completely overplayed the out-the-back pass that is wonderfully easy to read and only got themselves back into contention when they started mixing it up with some short runners and, most importantly, when they kicked the ball in behind the Scotland defence having lured the winger into the line. Finally we got a glimpse of what Scotland’s backs will look like when Finn Russell retires with rumours that that may occur immediately after the RWC. Unlike Johnny Sexton who tried Racing and then returned home where Leinster carefully managed his game time, the Scot has left Racing for another lucrative move to Bath who will want their money’s worth. He will also have a Larry Garson style cartoon pinned to the back of his shirt … “Hit me HARD”. I don’t know whether he will retire from Test rugby post RWC but I don’t expect to see Finn on the international field when he is 37-years-old.


U20s 6N: Scotland blown away by Italy’s third quarter blitz

Gregor Townsend begins talks with Scottish Rugby about his future

Scotland v Italy: Scotland player ratings


2. Blair Kinghorn is not Finn Russell (and vice versa).

The leggy fly-half got himself a hat-trick of tries but still didn’t walk away with the MOM award which is a little unusual. The reason is that Kinghorn has yet to find ways to unlock a determined defence, except by himself obviously, and I am not sure we can call Italy’s defence “determined” since they conceded an average of four tries per game. It is difficult to remember either of the twin centres, Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu, doing anything of note in attack against Italy although they have been wonderfully incisive outside Russell. Kinghorn is not the creative force of his rival Russell but he is an excellent strike runner and he could even be Scotland’s best full-back. However, if Townsend wants him to play at 10 for Scotland, even occasionally, Kinghorn needs to play there every weekend for Edinburgh and Edinburgh have just signed Ben Healy, who desperately needs game time at ten.


3. Away advantage.

For the first time in the history of the Championship, all three away teams won on two occasions, the first and the fourth rounds of matches since you ask. Overall. away teams won on eight occasions, home teams on just seven. Going into the final weekend the score read 8-4 but the stronger sides, Ireland, France and Scotland, all had home advantage in the final round and all three came through with varying degrees of stress. Two years ago, when the same teams were playing the same opposition at the same venues, there were also eight winners away from home. In 2021, Wales put 40 points on England in Cardiff and beat Ireland at the same venue. Two years is a long time in sport.


4. Congratulations …

… go to Ireland for completing the Grand Slam, only their fourth ever, which is something of a surprise given their provinces have been ripping up the turf since the turn of the millennium. Congratulations also to England for finding some fight and for hanging around on the field in Dublin to celebrate Ireland’s success when it would have been easier to shake hands and disappear down the tunnel. And congratulations again to the Ireland 20s squad who went one better than their seniors and won back to back Grand Slams. The future looks very bright for the men in green going forward with this conveyor belt of talent. Brighter than Scotland for sure, as their 20s squad won just the one match, conceded a record 82-7 score to Ireland and ended the campaign on a low after going down to Italy by 17-40 on Sunday afternoon at Scotstoun Stadium after playing quite well. This is the single most pressing issue facing Scottish rugby right now and we should be rioting about the lack of action from Murrayfield. We have to put in place a pathway for young players that enables them to compete with our European rivals on an even footing. The question of whether Gregor Townsend retains his coaching position with the senior team is utterly irrelevant in comparison to the wellbeing of our age-grade teams. The national squad can import players, plug gaps and hope that another Finn Russell is out there somewhere but the nation will never enjoy sustained success without a proper pathway for young players. I would link executive remuneration directly to our U20s results and if that doesn’t make them jump nothing will.



5. Jaco Peyper.

I have a soft spot for the Saffa referee ever since I spent a sunny afternoon in his company by a hotel pool in Fiji some years back. I also named my dog after him although I am uncertain as to whether this would be taken as a compliment should he ever find out? However, Peyper has not always shown good judgement, being photographed with Welsh fans, smiling and imitating the sharp elbow that saw him flash red at France’s Sebastien Vahaamahina, in the RWC’19 quarter-final. He may also have failed to apply a smidgen of common sense with regard to Freddie Stewart’s red card. Yes, the conditions for a red were probably met, but it seemed to me that the big Englishman was simply protecting himself, instinctively using his arm to shield his abdomen from Hugo Keenan on the charge. I am not sure Ireland would have complained had Peyper flashed yellow instead of red or even just awarded a penalty? Did we get through this entire Championship without cards obviously determining the outcome of any individual match? It’s impossible to say with any certainty when dealing with a counterfactual but England’s U20s got a red and a yellow in their defeat to Ireland on Sunday evening which may have made a difference.


6. Magic moments.

At the risk of coming over all Perry Como on you, here are my personal highlights from the 2023 Six Nations:

  1. Duhan running 55 metres at Twickenham to score the solo try of the tournament leaving umpteen white bodies flailing in his wake. “I giggle when I watch it,” he has since said. Me too.
  2. Scotland beating a Wales side coached by Warren Gatland. Better late than never.
  3. Almost any moment when France hit their stride at Twickenham to dismantle England but especially that set scrum which rocked England backwards and may have kyboshed Steve Borthwick’s hopes of ever repairing his reputation.
  4. Finn Russell being Finn Russell, especially against France when he went full Jekyll and Hyde but also against England when he was uniformly on song. That offload to Kyle Steyn against Wales was a work of art.
  5. Antoine Dupont man-handling Mack Hansen into touch when the Irish winger was almost celebrating the try that didn’t happen.
  6. Hansen’s honesty when asked how he would celebrate Ireland’s Grand Slam success: “Drink, drink, drink, drink …”
  7. Gregory Alldritt getting subbed early because of that red card against Scotland only to bounce back with a blistering performance against England and again against Wales.
  8. Huw Jones back to his best and looking like a Lion in waiting.
  9. Ollie Lawrence winning MOM against Italy on his recall to the England side.

 

My Team of the Tournament –

15. Tomas Ramos (France) – runner up:Hugo Keenan

 

14. Damian Penaud (France) – runner up: James Lowe

13. Huw Jones (Scotland) – runner up: Gael Fickou

12. Jonathan Danty (France) – runner up: Sione Tuipulotu

11. Mack Hansen (Ireland) – runner up: Duhan van der Merwe

 

10. Finn Russell (Scotland) – runner up: Johnny Sexton

9. Antoine Dupont (France) – runner up: Ben White

 

1. Pierre Schoeman (Scotland) – runner up: Cyril Baille

2. Dan Sheehan (Ireland) – runner up: Julien Marchand

3. Simone Ferrari (Italy) – runner up: Zander Fagerson

4. Thibaud Flament (France) – runner up: Ollie Chessum

5. James Ryan (Ireland) – runner up: Richie Gray

6. Sebastien Negri (Italy) – runner up: Anthony Jelonch

7. Josh van der Flier (Ireland) – runner up: Francois Cros

8. Caelan Doris (Ireland) – runner up: Gregory Alldritt


And, finally, one for the future …

Spare a thought for Ireland’s Jack Crowley who played exactly 2 minutes of the Six Nations tournament according to the official stats. This is the shortest game time of any player in this year’s Championship. One website gives him three minutes which may not seem a big change but it represents a 50% increase in his Six Nations game time so not entirely insignificant. Crowley is a 23-year-old Munsterman who already had two caps and one start, against Australia in November, to his name before the tournament kicked off. He is one of the reasons that Ben Healy signed with Edinburgh and Scotland. He couldn’t get past Crowley. Ireland have an embarrassment of riches at ten, the two Byrne brothers Ross and Harry and Ciaran Frawley at Leinster (the latter is eligible for Australia), Billy Burns at Ulster and Sam Prendergast who has impressed for the all conquering U20’s side, but the long term replacement for the irreplaceable Johnny Sexton is likely to be the man who got two, or maybe three, minutes of game time against Italy in a blink-and-you-miss-him cameo. Remember the name because we may be talking about his brief Six Nations debut in ten years time.


U20s 6N: Scotland blown away by Italy’s third quarter blitz

About Iain Morrison 148 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.

19 Comments

  1. The argument that we got worse as the tournament processed is a bit simplistic and over-comforting. It suggests that we could’ve beaten anyone if we turned up for 80 mins.

    An outcome of winning 2 games in a row is that opposition teams take us more seriously and adapt their game to match, aswell as their mental approach. To win consistently you need to have another layer of resilience that we just don’t have. We can’t just tell ourselves that “on our day” we’re a match for anyone. That is a long term recipe for failure.

  2. Spot on review, Iain. With you on the Finn Russell dilemma which is also the challenge for those emigrating to play French rugby. Pounds of flesh asked by clubs for their investment! Add to the likelyhood that Bath will still be rooted to the foot of the table and “Get Russell” the directive to every opposing player!

  3. The seventh takeaway/things we learnt
    Duhan can side step.
    Duhan can actually dive for the line too.
    Who would have guessed, he kept that well hidden until this 6 nations.
    🙂

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  4. Standing back from it all our forwards did no more than
    hold their own in most matches – we need to find a way
    of dominating other packs and giving quicker ball to our
    backs . Richie Gray and Z Fagerson did well however .
    We missed opportunities by inaccurate line out throwing at key moments and I think our wingers defend too narrow – hence the Irish tries .
    7 out of 10 overall

  5. Fair comment I think …. we got poorer as the tournament went on, but we lost some key players … Darcy before the start, RG and GG v France, which really impacted the line out, and possibly scrum, front row replacements struggled v France, was Finn injured second half v Ireland (our golden triangle seemed to falter) and then of course no FR v Italy and forced to use BK at 10 rather than an excellent replacement for Hoggy.

    Going forward key seems to be fixing the U20 feed … and stand off succession …. let’s hope Healy is a success for both Edinburgh and Scotland, but we need more.

    But we have to count this season a success, 3/5 must be the most we can hope for aside from some glorious year …. let’s hope it comes soon !

    World Cu, suspect we’re not getting out the group, but you never know !!!

  6. One of my finest moments was Haoaus getting sent off a minute after Gilchrist to revitalise our chances in Paris. I wish he could play against us every game! Yep, there is no doubt we got worse as the tournament progressed – again – and yet we were just 40 minutes against Ireland and one Fraser Brown throw-in away from having a very different tournament. We are fortunate that the Italians lack composure in the red zone and I counted no fewer than ten attempts by them to cross our line from five metres out or closer in the last two minutes. Kudos to the defence, but how does a credible international side allow itself to blow a 19-6 lead in the last quarter playing in front of its own supporters? The final 15 minutes were indeed as garbage as the final 10 seconds were glorious. Just look at all those faces in the crowd and thank our stars that we ended on a happy, typically swashbuckling note! World Cup? We have a mountain to climb, but as ever will strap on the crampons with eternal hope and prayer in our hearts.

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  7. The way the U20s have gone from being 5th in the world about 7 seasons ago to rarely winning a 6N game is shocking.
    I can’t believe our players have suddenly got really bad, there is something wrong in their development.

    It needs to be fixed ASAP. Being a losing side will carry through into the 2pro teams and national side very soon.

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    • I totally agree that sorting out the pathway for
      young players is the key issue in Scottish rugby an
      and why not hire Stephen Aboud if he has done it for
      Irish and Italian rugby . What is Mallinder doing ?

      • Could be a good moment to approach Aboud, who according to my sources is getting messed about by the high heidyins in Italy – the price of success, everyone wants to own it!

        As for Mallinder – who can tell….?

  8. Think the point about the Steward decision is that it shouldn’t necessarily have been deemed foul play at all, hence no card. Suppose even if you insisted it should be foul play why wasn’t motivation applies considering the tackled player (note: no tackle took place) was stopping to collect a ball. Surely that is a sudden change in head height which is what the mitigation is in place for? I thought the incident was very badly handled by the whole refereeing team.

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  9. I remain unconvinced of your argument that Steward was trying to protect his abdomen.
    He was running fully upright towards Keenan with no apparent move to commit himself to a below shoulder height tackle which would in itself have protected his abdomen.
    I believe the red card was justified.

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    • For me it was that the ball hit the floor making it more reasonable for Steward to carry on at pace, and then no real time to re-adjust. WHatever, some form of consistancy would e nice and I do hate seeing games ruined by cards ….

      And of course the following suspensions, not having GG for the final game had a very bad effect on out lineout …. we need more options.

  10. A good summary as per usual, however the vision of the ¾’s performance with a Russell retirement brought a bit of a chill down the spine.
    For the moment the dead horse that has been flogged is whether Townsend should stay or whether Kinghorn is a fly-half, can we just put that to one side for the moment.
    The primary objective, as is clearly suggested by the sub-heading is the structure and pathway from club to country, and whilst the defeats of the U20’s are clearly in the mind of those in Roseburn Street, especially for the benefit of age grade competition, it has to be improved.
    I don’t think it is wise to say that in retrospect not many progressed through the system in the past so this is par for the course, I’ve ‘folding money’ on the fact that that isn’t the attitude at Lansdowne Road or Stadio Olimpico or anywhere else for that matter.

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    • The mastermind of the Irish and Italian youth pathways, Stephen Aboud, is now no longer with the Italian union. Scotland should throw money at him to address our failing system.

      Not to mention that the Italians are unpicking some of the structures he put in place and his has been open about those not being the right decisions to make.

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      • Pfft give him Dodson’s pay packet and back date it if need be !! Give him absolute carte blanche and whatever budget he needs. Literally cant do worse than the current shambles. Its not just that they are losing every game, its that the margins of defeat are getting to be huge. Right now I don’t think we would want the u20s to be back in the RWC top tier. They might need some time playing weaker sides to get game time and have realistic competition rather thang being blown away every game.
        Re the Steward red, the ref massively missed a trick by not watching a full speed replay. In slow mo it looks like a stick on red, but in real time its very much less clear. I would still have bet on Ireland to see it out though, and worryingly for us I think they will learn from the wobbles they had early on against us and England.

      • Has that not been something Jim Mallender has been doing since he was appointed in August 2019?

    • Ps: Regarding Jaco Peyper and Red Card consistency. Go to U tube and key in TASanalytics there are a couple of articles showing just how inconsistent the refereeing is. Referees comments ‘I didn’t see an element of danger’ being the comical moment.

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