2023 Guinness Six Nations Round 4 Reflections

A weekend where Wales secured a much needed win in Rome, France broke the record books at Twickenham while Ireland faced down an injury crisis to maintain their Grand Slam push at Murrayfield. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on another weekend of talking points from the Guinness Six Nations tournament.

Wales secured a crucial win over Italy in Rome. Rhys Webb was the standout for Wales. His game management, creativity and kick game were too much for Italy in this test match.

Webb with two try assists. His sniping run to setup Faletau for the bonus point try showing excellent game reading from the scrum half who surely should be the first choice scrum half for Wales going forward.

A pleasing performance from Wales. The pack delivered a solid platform from which Webb and Williams created scoring opportunities particularly in that opening half.

A win that will boost morale massively within the Welsh squad and management. The pressure is off the side this weekend. It will be interesting to see how they express themselves against France in Paris.

While Wales prepare for their tournament fixture finale with positivity, Italy’s mindset going into their final fixture against Scotland will be a close watch.

Kieran Crowley stuck a massively frustrated figure in the stand and on the pitch during and post the game in Rome.

This was an opportunity for Italy to win a test match in the Guinness Six Nations but they were their own architects to their downfall.

The first two tries are coaching killers. The back field defensive setup for Rio Dyer’s opening try is so poor. Pierre Bruno hesitancy to deal with the Welsh kick exposed.

The Liam Williams try sees several Italian players attempt but miss their tackles on the full back. The third try is a correct call; Welsh maul deliberately taken down and penalty try awarded.

The fourth try is another coaching killer. After Conor Murray exposed Italy around the ruck area in round three, you would have presumed Italy would have tightened up on their defense around the ruck area. Rhys Webb like Conor Murray said thank you very much for the Welsh bonus point try.

Kieran Crowley can complain all he wants about the officiating but Italy butchered try scoring opportunities in each half. A twelve point loss gets more magnified with each glaring try spurned.

The decision making was appalling on a number of occasions. The players must take ownership for this. A pass outside instead of going it alone close in has been a trait of Italy’s attacking misfires.

The attacking coaches can only do so much, it is down to the players to execute when opportunities arise. A massively deflating loss here. Crowley looked like a head coach under pressure postgame.

France came to the party last weekend. The quality shown from second row, back row, half-backs, three quarters and back three units oozed class and England did not have any answers.

Flament continues to evolve into a world class second row operators. His speed for a second row is sensational. Danty provided physicality with and without the ball in the three quarters.

Penaud, Dumortier and Ramos basked in the Twickenham turf given the space created by their colleagues. Dupont again imperious along with Ntamack at half-back.

France were dynamic in everything that they did last weekend. Their use of the kick in behind was clever. The pack’s intelligence to probe for weak points in the England pack was noteworthy. It setup attacking platform where the back row unit of Cros, Ollivon and Alldritt were sensational.

Cros personally adds so much to this French side in terms of physicality, work rate and breakdown work. A marquee win and sets up the side at home against Wales. Roll on RWC 2023 and momentum gathers pace for Le Bleu.

This loss for England will be a blessing long term. The fundamental issues in skill set, team selection, game plan and player conditioning were fully exposed last weekend.

England’s attacking play was so conservative and drab. The kick game lacked any clarity and gave France and their back three sufficient space to express themselves.

The England support runners primary role was for breakdown duties and not for attacking offloads. Don’t blame Marcus Smith as he looked to take the game to France right until the very end.

This is a collective England management and team issue. The back row unit was ruthlessly exposed. Willis negated. Ludlam tried hard but zero impact.

Dombrandt was completely exhausted in the third quarter but no change came. France sensed that and Penaud was unleashed on the wing against the Harlequins number eight.

Jack Willis’ charge down in the second half summed up England perfectly. The lack of speed and creativity in attack from England to create from this opportunity was so poor. No-one who received the ball wanted it. France comfortably dealt with the threat posed.

England will regroup and react in a positive manner this weekend. Certain players are facing the end of their test match rugby careers if their performance levels continue like against France.

Manu Tuilagi looks certain to come back into the starting lineup. Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola are required to steady the ship. The front row unit competed admirably last weekend and the England front five personally commands massive respect ahead of this test match in Dublin.

A win in Murrayfield for Ireland but it was the manner in which the side coped with several injuries during this test match that stood out.

The hooker situation and how Josh van der Flier and Cian Healy took on the responsibility of that position really shows incredible maturity and skill set versatility from each player. Each lineout won by Ireland in that second half broke Scotland hearts inch by inch.

The injury list for Ireland heading into the England fixture will be a close watch. Ringrose and Henderson are confirmed as absent for this weekend’s finale. Kelleher must be considered as also out given the shoulder issues experienced yesterday. Doris, Sheehan will be assessed this week.

This tournament has seen Ireland needing to run through their depth chart at tighthead, scrum-half and three quarters. We will see the hooker depth chart tested this weekend.

Who comes in to hit the ground running? Herring, Stewart, Heffernan, Scannell all will be vying for a squad call up. It is an intriguing watch.

The story yesterday was how Ireland overcame adversity and how the front row led by example. Porter played the full game. Healy at hooker excellent and then Furlong produced a stirring performance which was then complemented by a quality cameo from Tom O’Toole off the bench.

The direct running lines of Ireland won this test match which exposed Scotland defensively out wide. It paid handsomely on the three tries scored by the impressive Hansen, Lowe and Conan. Jack Conan at eight was excellent. 100+ metres on the ground. A super performance.

This is a 6N campaign where Andy Farrell and management have seen their squad depth tested massively. It bodes well for September in France. England this weekend from a pack perspective will be a massive battle and Ireland’s ability to overcome this challenge will be a key factor in the result.

Scotland’s Triple Crown ambitions dashed midway through the third quarter. Gregor Townsend can cite ‘work in progress’ but this was an incredible opportunity to beat Ireland yesterday given the injury issues sustained by Ireland throughout this contest.

The opening half saw several positive moments for Scotland. Russell, Tuipulotu and Jones attacking axis in complete synchronisation and causing Ireland defensive issues. Jones’ try was well worked. Scotland controlled territory in that opening half particularly.

However, there were attacking misfires with players going into contact instead of passing out wide. Lineout coughed up possession as well. Different officiating crews would have taken action on deliberate kill the ball in both halves.

The ability of Ireland to expose Duhan van der Merwe for the Hansen and Conan tries should be duly noted. The Scottish winger biting inside for both tries and leaving space for Ireland to score. It is an area that Scotland must address heading into the RWC 2023.

There is a lot to admire in Scotland’s attacking play with Finn Russell at the controls but when teams attack with directness and power, they struggle defensively. France used the same tactic in round three and tries were conceded.

The Italian game should secure a victory but this Ireland loss will be a disappointing one to take. Grant Gilchrist and Richie Gray were big losses for Scotland yesterday from the front five. Squad depth chart in the second row positions were exposed yesterday. A big opportunity to beat Ireland spurned.

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