6 things we learned from the weekend’s rugby


1. England’s back row balance still not right

On the face of it, the English trio of Chris Robshaw, Billy Vunipola and James Haskell played pretty well as individuals and Billy Vunipola has rightfully come in for high praise for an outstanding effort at Number 8. But yet again, as a unit the England back row failed to deliver cohesion and more importantly, quick ball.

Robshaw played his usual part by tackling all that ran towards to him as a good blindside should but unfortunately so did Haskell. The tackle stats look great but whilst all of this was happening there wasn’t anyone consistently looking after the ball at the breakdown or attempting to disrupt the Scottish ball.

After the Australian’s criticism of his predecessor playing Robshaw as a ‘six and a half’ during the World Cup, Eddie Jones has done exactly that with Haskell. England lost too much ball when they had it in attack through poor control of the breakdown and although not all fault lies with the flankers do they have a major part to play.

Italy would be the perfect game for Jones to try Jack Clifford or Matt Kvesic at open side and let Haskell and Robshaw battle it out to start on the opposite flank.

2. Parisse is no Zinzan Brooke

Believe it or not but Sergio Parisse has actually been successful with drop goals for both Italy and Stade Francais against Scotland and The Ospreys respectively, but his effort in the last seconds of the game at the Stade de France was quite frankly woeful. That said, there was only one successful attempt all weekend, so maybe the art of dropping a goal is deserting kickers.

George Ford, Finn Russell and Rhys Priestland were all guilty of woeful attempts but for Russell and Scotland it was at a crucial stage of the match. It was the last kick of the first half and would have handed Scotland a valuable half-time lead.

Drop goals are usually quick and easy ways of gaining three points and clearly a tactic that all teams are looking to use but the execution in the first round of matches was less than desirable.

3. CJ Stander looks good in any green

Born and raised in South Africa, CJ Stander is no stranger to wearing a green international shirt after representing and captaining the Springbok under-20 team but on Sunday he looked every bit a proud Irishman with his Man of the Match performance against Wales on debut in Dublin.

The Munster back row, who qualifies to play for Ireland on residency grounds, was signed in 2012 for the Limerick based side as a project player and what a project he has proven to be.

He has fallen into the captaincy at Munster due to Peter O’Mahony’s injuries but it has only added to his case to play for Ireland this year as he has been a shining light in a dark period for the Munster men.

Stander barrelled his way into any Welsh defender with ball in hand and smashed his way into every contact situation whole heartedly. At the age of 25 you have to believe that he is young enough to be a star of not only this Six Nations but many to come as well.

4. Eight straight defeats

With the hype that has been surrounding Scotland since their valiant efforts at the World Cup leading up to this tournament, an expectant Murrayfield crowd were let down on Saturday after a very typical Six Nations performance from the home team.

The style of their defeat was all too familiar. The first half was full of effort and good turnover ball, the use of which was insipid to say the least. England defended in narrow channels and a better team would have noticed and more importantly exploited the wider channels to stretch the defence.

As Eddie Jones said in his post-match press conference, Scotland score 69% of their points in the first 30 minutes so if you are ahead by then, the chances are that you will win. Of Scotland’s eight straight defeats in the Six Nations, they have only scored in the second half four times for a total of 22 points.

Scotland need to play for longer than thirty minutes in this Championship if they are to avoid the ignominy of yet another wooden spoon.

5. We need to stop asking ‘Which French side will turn up?’

There may be new man in charge and some new personnel in the playing ranks but Guy Noves’ side didn’t look all that different from previous French sides.

They conceded 19 turnovers in total and that was the main reason for such a disjointed and frustrating game to watch. This has become the norm for the men across the channel as they become less and less feared.

The fascination of having a goal kicking nine has its own charm but surely in match where you chase ruck after ruck and fire out 69 passes, most of which are from the floor the last thing you would want to do is kick at goal? It seemed that way for Sebastien Bezy at the weekend as his first three kicks failed to bisect the uprights and Jules Plisson had to step in to steady the ship including one monster kick for a valuable three points that put France into the lead.

Noves has raised a few eyebrows with his selection policy and it will be interesting to see his reaction to this performance and just how many more he will raise next week.

6. Not as Biggar loss as first feared

When Wales were 13-0 down and their first choice fly-half was sat in the stands after limping from the field you would have forgiven most fans for thinking that there was no way out of the hole that they were in. But Rhys Priestland entered the fray to slowly but surely steer the Welsh ship back on course.

Priestland’s lack of game time at Bath was something that worried the Welsh coaching staff coming into this tournament, but the former Scarlet proved the doubters wrong with a performance full of maturity and poise.

It wasn’t full of attacking flair but that wasn’t what the men in red required. He didn’t chase the game, but brought his big runners onto the ball on the gain line which invariably led to kickable penalties that brought the scores level.

Andy Daniel
Follow Andy on Twitter (@scrum5ive)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

10 thoughts on “6 things we learned from the weekend’s rugby

  1. Think it’s a bit harsh to say Ford’s DG attempt was woeful, it could have been aimed slightly farther to the right and in the end faded just past the left hand upright, one the fly half should have nailed at that range and with a reasonable amount of time, but to say it was woeful suggests that he missed by miles which simply wasn’t the case. To my mind it was symptomatic of Ford’s overall problem at the moment, too much thought, not enough instinct, i have no idea what the communcation was like on field, but he was clearly in the pocket for maybe as many as five phases before the attempt evenutally comes, not sure why, but possibly had too much time to think about it, rather than going for it as soon as the decision to take the three was first made.

  2. Pretty good analysis of the situation/s.

    England did what England do, in fact everybody did what they do and I saw very little development in any team. This is understandable due to changes in coaching staff, England/France, and injuries for Ireland. Teams such as Scotland and Wales should be worried as they were the settled sides then they should have been more fluid than the others.

    I am keen to see what happens during the campaign, especially for England. However I am so against picking guys out of position, I understand that there were a lot of injuries in certain positions but Farrell needs to fight for the 10 shirt. Even if they are better than Kvesic or Devoto or whoever. I want to see people compete in their respective positions, I am really tired of people saying/writing “he can do a job there” before a match.

    Same positions still concern England, 7 and 12, England need to look at some options in the next match. I think EJ wil.

    Bring it on

    1. Ronnie

      Spot on. Eddie Lancaster, er sorry, Freudian slip there, but I forgive myself on this one as JONES talked the talk, but in reality there was little change from the prev regime.

      Playing Farrell out of posi as with Haskell, is more of the same ol’. It seemed to me that EJ was more intent on protecting his corner by way of achieving the win v Scotland as much as anything else. Needs to be bolder.

      He ought to have played Cip & De Voto together & started Kvesic @ 7. Clifford to have subbed him if K hadn’t worked.

      Besides, the Scots killed themselves with turnovers (18), c. doubling England’s, although England had around 55 v 45% territory & possession. Teams can win with these negative stats, but not with so many turnovers. And Russell for the Lions? On THAT kicking blunder of the century? Forget it. And why was he grinning like a Cheshire cat afterwards?!

      England must improve their try scoring ability through the backs & be braver in having a crack @ the Italians otherwise it begs the ?; ‘Is Jones just another empty vessel’?

  3. ‘But Rhys Priestland entered the fray to slowly but surely steer the Welsh ship back on course’

    ‘the former Scarlet proved the doubters wrong with a performance full of maturity and poise.’

    If by that you mean he screwed up 2 drop goals and gave Ireland a platform to score their only try from when all he had to do was ground the ball.

    All in all a fantastic appearance by another of Gat’s ‘Chosen’

  4. “project player”

    If ever there is a phrase that sums up all that is wrong with the current residency rules, then this is it. Unions going out and targeting foreign players is surely an abuse of the residency qualification rules. I am not for one second saying all teams have to be made up of born and bred native residents, migration should be both expected and welcomed to a degree, and there should be a mechanism for those players who move initially for work, but want to make their adopted countries their home, but this is beyond the pale.

    If a tweak in the rules means losing out on players such as Hughes, Flutey, Freshwater, Fourie and Botha, then so be it. I’m sure Hughes will be a huge asset to England, but then so could Vunipola, Beaumont, Morgan and Clifford etc. I think we need to move away from fixed quantitative thresholds and maybe assess these individuals real desire to play for an adopted country. “Experiencing” test rugby, because you couldn’t make your native country’s squad is not a good enough reason. International representation should mean more than that.

    1. 100% Benjit. Cannot criticise any player or union that does it – they are the rules and to not do it would be asking for others to take an advantage ahead of you, but as an approach it makes me feel ill. A simple tweak to 5 years would seem to sort it for me. With the best options you’d be talking about them taking about half their potential career away with a 5 year limit so I think it would do a lot to separate those genuinely moving from the “projects”.

  5. I think that in general everyone is quite harsh on France.
    The notion that Noves being coach was going to instantly turn France into the glorious old French rugby team of legends is ridiculous. They have had a complete reshuffle, a long line of injuries, all of their rugby veterans have retired, more uncapped players than any other team and even a XIIs player making his debut… all that taken into consideration France did pretty well and scored the most tries of the weekend so maybe we should lay off of them a bit.

  6. Something else we learned – “which French team will turn up?” has now been superceded by “when will Wales start?” as a 6 nations trusim. Despite constant references to it we were, yet again, way off the pace and watching the game for the first 20. Perhaps some optimism is that the time is getting shorter – used to be a whole game, then it was the 1st half, now it’s the 1st 20 of the 1st half. By this rate we should be about ready to start a 6Ns in 2025.

    I’ve also learned that Wales being solid but standard is a nailed on harbinger of us spiralling off into irrelevant nothingness as the years progress and England being sucky is cause for real optimism because the new coach can only make things better once he has had time…. It’s the opposite of a bird in the hand. Interesting approach.

  7. The Irish really got stuck in @ the breakdown & cleared the Welsh out, particularly in the 1st 1/2. Hard to win a game when this is the situation.

    And a problem for both sides? They couldn’t penetrate in the backs.

    The defences held up well, but on this evidence, with ball in hand, they didn’t perform.

    Must get quicker ball, straightening their running lines, timing the pass by waiting ’til defenders are attracted to the carrier & utilise more innovation, such as wrap arounds, 2nd wave runners, wings, f/backs entering the line, esp in the oppo 1/2 or even better, their 22.

    And as Gordon T said; ‘Kicking is for karate’!

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