Imperious England blow Scotland away
After the lethargic performance against Italy in the previous round, England were going to respond with a far improved cohesive team performance and so it proved as they blew Scotland away with a display full of speed, creativity and pack power to win by forty points. Fraser Brown on another day could have seen red for a dangerous tackle on Eliot Daly but the yellow card issued gave England even more time and space in the three quarters to create havoc.
Joseph was a revelation in this fixture and has put his name firmly in the thoughts of Warren Gatland and Lions management. The pace and speed off the line was sublime and was not too much for a Scotland three quarters who were struggling to make the right defensive reads such was the line running options offered by the hosts. The England back three of Brown, Nowell and Watson were primed throughout and it did not help that Scotland were having to contend with injuries to the likes of Mark Bennett. The reshuffle in the back line was always going to create England line breaks and several tries were down to unfamiliarity in positions and communication breakdown.
England’s pack reveled as they dismantled Scotland’s front five with ease. The scrum was a no contest and England struck decisively in this set piece early doors. The line out was solid and Scotland floundered deep in their own territory evident in Finn Russell’s panicked game management in the opening period. His nervy passing out wide so close to his own line only emphasized the unease in the Scottish ranks. They had no response to England and as soon as they scored a couple of well worked tries, they were back under their own posts again as England with Joseph and Farrell orchestrating affairs scored tries with ease. Forty point beat down is unfortunately an accurate assessment of the game. England held on the aces.
The back line were sharp but the performance of Maro Itoje was world class. The Saracens player is an athletic freak; his speed, agility and work rate is sensational. His superb catch from a Scottish restart in the opening period exhibited all his attributes. To think that Billy Vunipola was called off the bench in the second half, the scoreline could have being more horrific.
England under Eddie Jones have improved; on the basis of this display, their level of game has improved. There is a question mark on consistency during this tournament but we will know more on England when they travel to Dublin to face Ireland to finish out this campaign. They are worthy winners. No significant weak link and England have juggled their squad in this tournament which will be useful to Jones in building more squad depth.
Scotland should bounce back against the hapless Italians. Three wins in this tournament would be an excellent return. They were taught a lesson yesterday by England who pinpointed a couple of areas which Scotland will need to improve upon. Their ability to try and hold out was not to be yesterday but it is a good learning curve for this group of players.
France beat Italy as expected
Can we be brutally frank. Watching Italy at the moment should come with a warning to television viewers to expect a train wreck. Sergio Parisse tried his hardest yesterday with an early try for the hosts but Italy lost the pack battle midway through the opening period and France without hitting the gears secured the bonus point with ease. It is always tough to see Parisse with this Italian team; he is the standout, his ball carries and work rate should be inspirational to his colleagues but unfortunately his colleagues are not at the level required.
The ten position is a serious weak point; no genuine reliable goal kicker in the ranks and yet again Italy left points behind in a prospectively promising opening quarter. McLean potentially should switch to ten as his contributions at three quarters have being mediocre at best. McLean is a good footballer which begs the question why he is not putting up his hand for goal kicking duties. It shows to me a distinct lack of leadership and accountability among some of the Italian playing staff.
The management staff can conjure so much like not committing players in the ruck but that is only masking serious issues in the breakdown area. The defensive out wide is a source of easy game line yards for any opposition. France profited on this in various stages as well as running through rucks and finding massive gaps in the Italian defense. Fickou at centre was sublime; the Toulouse player is peaking at the right time. His opening try oozed class, looked effortless but his speed and movement were to the fore.
France at set piece by and large controlled affairs. Yes, Italy did score three tries during the contest but a distinct lack of concentration was evident as France immediately gained big territorial gains to launch attacks deep into the Azzuri twenty-two. Another brutal beat down for Italy.
Italy are a massive long term project. O’Shea and management are under no illusions of the severity of the task and so it begins the search to blood new players and look at SH options who could potentially help the side (cynical approach) but that is what is required at this point.
Georgia on my mind..
Georgia debate continues to rage on. How a country who can get 55,000 fans to watch their national team in a second tier rugby test match cannot get into the RBS 6 Nations is a disgrace. World Rugby needs to act immediately. Georgia need to be provided with the opportunity to play at the top level. Three international (only Samoa) last year is unacceptable. Time to act.
Wales win highlights several Ireland issues
The more I think about this game, I think the more that this game should be the reality check for everyone associated with Ireland Rugby. Wales were the better side on the night and deservedly won the contest. Three tries to nil closes the book on that argument as Ireland were incredibly one dimensional with their attacking lines.
The aerial box kicks, the use of Henshaw as the battering ram, zero line runner support all in full view. This has being the hallmarks of this Ireland campaign and seems to happen more when the team are under increased pressure to win a contest by the media, pundits and fans alike. Look at those characteristics and look at some of the recent disappointing performances and results in the last two seasons. Argentina RWC Quarter Final. England and France away last season. Scotland away in the opening period. Ireland become easy to read and opponents do not have to do much work in defensive reads during contests. New Zealand in Chicago, the team played with abandonment. The pressure was somewhat off and the team delivered with an exhilarating display; creatively on show, solid game management decisions executed. Just a thought but one that has being a theme of this Ireland side in recent years.
The game plan has served Ireland well but it needs to be refined. Our back line running plays involve crash ball; get to ground in contact and go again. I feel sorry for Henshaw at twelve; he is a superb footballer but given his role in the side, he is under utilized. Earls and Zebo genuinely were the only players who looked dangerous with ball in hand; their games are based on instinct something that this side at times is devoid of. Drilled to the minute detail, no flexibility to adapt when required.
The Ireland pack was a big disappointment. Toner had an off day. The lineout misfired horribly. Toner was exposed in clear-out and his ball carries lacked any platform for Ireland to launch attacks. No genuine third option in the line until O’Mahoney was introduced. The back row with all their ball carrying prowess lacked balance; Tipuric had the proverbial field day in the breakdown where the subsequent rucks were not officiated (much to the annoyance of Ireland). The half-back dependency issue reared its head on Friday night.
Murray is the single point of failure when it comes to the scrum half role. Murray’s player welfare has to be called out; shoulder injury apparent and Ireland management continued to have the Munster player out on the pitch potentially inflicting further damage to the player. Erasmus back in Munster must have being dismayed. Kieran Marmion was undermined on Friday night by Ireland management; cannot do the player any good in terms of confidence. The same could be said for John Ryan and Niall Scannell who were unused during the test match. Furlong was ferocious for the entire contest but should have being replaced in the third quarter. Best was having an indifferent evening; lineout was poor but his work rate yet again could not be faulted. Scannell surely should have come on to freshen up options in the pack battle. Why have these players on the bench if you are not going to play them? Twenty-three man game and the lack of management confidence in the squad was shocking from the outside. Bowe’s cameo as well will do little to arrest the comments on this squad selection.
The decision to replace Stander was also a baffling decision. The game line yard statistics do not lie. Stander’s numbers were impressive and were ahead of SOB and Heaslip. O’Brien in particular struggled to make an impact. When it came to the big decision in the back row, Schmidt went with what he knows best; the Leinster option. Schmidt surely now has to be scrutinized more by the Dublin media after this cameo. There has being an acceptance that team selections are on point but after last weekend, questions do need to be asked. Interesting pregame notes surely from the Ireland camp this week; otherwise the Irish Rugby media need to have a look at themselves.