RBS 6 Nations Reflections

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The good, the bad and the sheer ugly

The classic rout

Happy Valentine’s Day to one and all, hope everyone is feeling loved and appreciated today which is a contrast to the Italian management and squad who were vilified by their local scribes after Ireland comprehensive rout of the hosts in Rome last Saturday.

Statements such as ‘we do not belong in the RBS 6 Nations’ were the theme of the pieces, perhaps bourne out of frustration where professional rugby clubs are threading water at the bottom of the Pro 12 while the national team continues to struggle for anyone of the caliber of Sergio Parisse to game manage and launch game line breaks.

Ireland produced a professional performance in Rome. Their slow start of Murrayfield was not repeated as the Italians were under the cosh from the restart. The Italian set piece then started to deteriorate particularly the lineout and Ireland were gifted excellent field position. 81 tackles made in the first thirty minutes was an ominous sign for the hosts and it was no surprise that Ireland made their dominance count with a flurry of tries started by Keith Earls.

The bonus point (first in the tournament’s history) was secured before the interval and Stander was having one of those performances where it will be pretty next on impossible not to bring the South African / Annacotty resident to the Lions tour. Jackson had an assured performance at ten; orchestrated his back line superbly and his kicking off the tee was immaculate. Cian Healy produced a most encouraging cameo in the front row; his scrummaging was solid and tigerish in the open play, good competition with McGrath has developed for the number one jersey. The back row unit improved considerably; nullified Parisse and Favaro and were dominant throughout.

Gilroy’s cameo was a nod to management for introducing the speedster against a tiring Italian outfit. His hat-trick was clinically finished and will aid his development in the national team; his aerial skills looked good to boot. Kearney’s absence will be a blow in terms of squad depth but there is sufficient coverage in Zebo and O’Halloran for the French test. A satisfying second match performance from Ireland.

The second half was a procession. Italy have to be credited for their tries, good play from the front five to build momentum in the maul but there was little else for Conor O’Shea to be enthused about. The issues for the Azzuri were obvious and glaring. No leadership in the back line as Henshaw and Ringrose had the proverbial field day reading Italian attacking plays and making huge yards with ball carries.

Ringrose’s performance was encouraging; much more decisive in defensive duties and his ability to create space from nothing was evident in his try. The Italian three quarters were being ripped to shreds in the final quarter. The Italian pack at set piece lacked cohesion and precision to seriously threaten Ireland who pretty much scored at will. A difficult job on paper for Conor O’Shea looks mission impossible on the basis of this cameo.

With no genuine homegrown Italian talent coming through the ranks, RBS 6 Nations organizers will have to revisit the question of Italy’s participation in the tournament. An easy touch is not what this tournament needs or wants. The empty seats at the Olympic Stadium were striking; the locals are not prepared to watch this drivel anymore. Georgia surely have to be considered a genuine replacement for Italy if results such as this continue in this season’s tournament.

Coaching 101: Don’t change a winning unit

Rob Howley and Welsh management will need to reflect on this loss for sometime. Their decision to withdraw personnel who were playing stellar games in a pregame determined fashion backfired horribly. Moriarty’s substitution was particularly baffling; the number eight was having a superb afternoon. His physicality and ball carrying were to the fore, providing a platform for Wales.

The substitution saw the introduction of Faletau to the proceedings who also had a superb game but the decision to retain the services of Warburton stuck out like a sore thumb. There is someone not quite right with Warburton at present; the loss of captaincy is a blow but his general back row performances for club and country this season have being underwhelming. He was not very prominent in the breakdown exchanges.

Wales will rue the fact that they let the superb test match slip away. They had several opportunities to create a necessary buffer in the opening period but inaccuracy in the red zone was crucial. Halfpenny and Williams were superb in the back line with their running lines. Liam Williams’ running line for the opening Wales try was sublime. A key moment of the game and one that Wales deserved based on their second quarter showing.

You have to admire England for their refusal to panic and play to their game plan. Farrell’s leadership to the fore in the last quarter, driving the side on and was ably assisted by the likes of Teo, Haskell and Hughes who put in a serious shift. The game winning try will be viewed by England as reward for their constant probing in the last quarter, for Wales it was a disaster.

The attempted kick from Jonathan Davies lacked direction and conviction, kick the ball into touch, reset defensively and face up for another two minutes of England onslaught. The kick was caught in the middle of the park and a swift exchange of passes saw the ball with Eliot Daly whose pace burned Alex Cuthbert on the wing. The attempt of Cuthbert to make any tackle was embarrassing for the player; he was schooled by Daly. Farrell’s subsequent conversion was lights out brilliant and put the game out of Wales’ reach.

Penny for the thoughts of Warren Gatland on that try would be interesting. Whether the New Zealander would have being stuck with the premeditated substitutions is a question for another day? Wales will need to regroup but it will be difficult given the manner of the defeat. There is a championship still to be won and a pivotal fixture with Scotland now awaits.

France scrap past Scotland

An intriguing contest. Scotland produced exciting moments of play from their player of the tournament Stuart Hogg. They also showed weakness particularly in the scrum and the squad depth at nine was highlighted once Laidlaw was forced to retire due to injury. His kicking off the tee in particular underpinned by the bizarre conversion miss from Finn Russell. The defensive maul at times was ragged and the officiating crew pinged Scotland for offside at various stages. Scotland were competitive but at key times, game management was a little off which is fatal when you play away in Paris.

France for their intent to run the ball at any given occasion coughed up a lot of opportunities for Scotland to gain a platform in the contest. Kicks out in the full, crossing and unforced ball handling errors and errand passes plighted a performance which enthused the locals in attendance. Noves game plan is clear, asking his players to express themselves on the pitch but the absence of the likes of Fofana was key. His pace and game line gain ability would have an additional element which Scotland would have struggled to contain.

What worked for France? The front five were dominant in set piece. Their scrum was far superior to their opponents, setting up attacking platforms. The opening try was classic France, quick hand, awareness of space to the fore. Their physicality will pose Ireland a serious threat in two weeks time. Their pack is incredibly big and strong. The scrum battle will be intriguing at the Aviva Stadium. The question is whether France can improve their attacking and defensive cohesion to produce a full eighty minute performance. The defensive performance of France on the wings at times left a lot to be desired. Hogg enjoyed plenty of space to make easy game line yards. An interesting weekend and one that whets the appetite for round three.