Best of the Weekend: England & Ireland prosper in the Six Nations


England stay in the hunt, Ireland move into pole position

Twickenham played host to perhaps the most highly-anticipated game of the 2014 Six Nations, and although England’s winning score line of 29-18 suggests the game was competitive, it was one of the more one-sided fixtures of the championship. English indiscipline at the breakdown allowed Wales to keep it close, with Leigh Halfpenny’s boot accounting for all 18 of Wales’ points, but the home side were by far the more proficient side.

Danny Care and Luther Burrell both continued their recent good form with a try apiece, whilst Mike Brown laid down his strongest statement yet to be considered the player of the tournament, as he beat seven defenders on his way to making 156 metres from 18 carries. The engine room pairing of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes were both also in stellar form, and now can surely be considered as one of the premiere combinations in world rugby.

Along with Halfpenny, Jake Ball, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau can hold their heads high for Wales, but the visitors’ lack of energy and cohesion cost them dearly at Twickenham, and their remaining fixture with Scotland now holds no more meaning than being a potential confidence booster (or destroyer) ahead of their summer tour to South Africa.

Ireland kept their bid for the title on track with a comprehensive 46-7 victory over Italy at the Aviva Stadium. The match marked Brian O’Driscoll’s final game for Ireland in Dublin, and the talismanic centre bid farewell in emphatic fashion, setting up two of Ireland’s seven tries, and playing with the class that has so often separated him from mere rugby mortals over the years. It was an impressive all-round performance from the Irish, who now enjoy a significant advantage in points difference over their rivals, and a loss (or draw) in Paris in the final round is all that can now realistically deny them the title.

Scotland were left dejected after they fell to a 19-17 defeat at the hands of France, though you would struggle to find a single person in Murrayfield who would describe the French as worthy winners. The home side showed some nice attacking incision in the backs, and were justly rewarded with tries for Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour, but an intercept try for Yoann Huget and a late Jean-Marc Doussain penalty were enough to give the visitors a slender victory. The win keeps France in the hunt for the championship, and sets up a thrilling encounter with Ireland in the final round.

Shootout between Reds & Cheetahs, Force surprise the Rebels

Super Rugby offered up its usual compliment of high-octane action, but no game had spectators glued to their seats like the Reds 43-33 victory over the Cheetahs at Suncorp Stadium. The match set off at an electric pace, with four tries being scored in the opening 11 minutes, as both teams raced into a 17-17 tie. The Reds greater composure soon showed however, and try apiece for Chris Feauai-Sautia and James Hanson ensured that the Reds took a 29-20 lead into the interval, and although both defences tightened up in the second half, the momentum was enough to for the Australian side to control the second 40 relatively comfortably and seal the win.

The Crusaders picked up their first win of the season as they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against the Stormers, winning 14-13 in Christchurch, but the Hurricanes’ early season misery continued, as they fell to a 29-21 defeat at home to the Brumbies. Western Force stole a lot of headlines with their first win of the season, as they thumped the Melbourne Rebels, 32-7 in Perth, and they had actually led 32-0 at the interval, before dropping their intensity in the second half.

Northampton and Exeter move into LV final

The LV Cup semi-finals were the sum of the domestic club rugby action this weekend, but both games offered up enticing clashes. The Northampton Saints were the first team to book their place in the final, beating Saracens 26-7 at Franklin’s Gardens, thanks in large to a hat-trick from centre George Pisi. The Saints, who fielded a number of first XV players, were just too strong for Saracens, and although the visitors kept it close in the first half, the home side’s class showed in the second, as they scored 20 unanswered points. The Exeter Chiefs booked a place alongside Northampton in the final, as they beat Bath 22-19 at The Rec, ending their winless streak against the home side, which stretched all the way back to 1978. A brace from Luke Arscott was pivotal to Exeter’s success, and they’ll now contend with Northampton for the LV Cup at Sandy Park next weekend.

Zach Kibirige broke Super Rugby’s recent stranglehold on Try of the Week after his superb solo effort against Wales U20s. He was helped by some poor Welsh tackling, but the winger beat six men through a combination of footwork, power and pace on his way to the try line, and fully deserves this accolade. A good team try from the Stormers, which was scored by Damian de Allende, ran it very close.

Suitably, the Heroes of the Week are the England U20s, for their superb 67-7 dismantling of their Welsh counterparts. Just last summer these two sides, albeit with some considerable turnover, contested the Junior World Championship final, in a tightly-contested battle. On Friday night, the two teams were in entirely different leagues. Western Force deserve an honourable mention for their superb 32-7 victory over the Melbourne Rebels, which could help kick start their Super Rugby season.

The Melbourne Rebels are the Villains of the Week. After a highly impressive win over the Cheetahs in their first game of the 2014 Super Rugby season, they travelled to Perth to take on the Force, but may as well not have bothered, such was the listlessness of their performance. They were outplayed by a very average Western Force side from beginning to end, and talks of a resurgence in Melbourne after their opening win, may have been somewhat premature.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

48 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: England & Ireland prosper in the Six Nations

  1. Wow – thats one hell of a try by the England U20 wing. Not one that any of the Wales players will remember too fondly though!

  2. I’m going to indulge myself and post this on this thread as well seeing as this one is fresh – I’ve seen a few comments accusing me of being quiet after the game – I was in the pub.

    Wales were beaten by the better team but despite some assertions to the contrary I see no reason to see this as a permanent corner turned for us. We lost to the resurgent home team – haplessly defended the quick tap (unforgivable) and as expected gave away a score from the lineout. England took their chances, we didn’t take ours, and we did have them – we made as many line breaks as England I see from the stats – I know, I dismiss stats but I had to have a look as my recollection (a little hazy!) and the England fans I was with (my block was exclusively English so they had a brilliant time) what that we saw some competitive play; Cuthbert/North/Roberts making some dangerous runs that coulda/shoulda/woulda ended up with scores, but they didn’t, so that’s poor execution and that’s our fault for not being good enough to win. I don’t know, I feel the need to say it because I’ve heard Wales described as rubbish, crap, found out, over the hill, useless against “good” teams, etc. when it didn’t seem that bad to me, it just seemed we didn’t play well and England did and when you have two well matched teams that’s the difference. We also decided to make some crappy kicks to the player of the tourny (daft) and just didn’t seem to play with enough oomph, enough crazy abandon to win a game like this, and England did. I think we can play better with more or less the same players but some are reaching the end of the road – Gethin and Priestland for definite, the former I say very sadly. Ball has been a good find for us and will turn into a regular player I think. So some tweaks needed and, importantly, we need the develop the ability to a) execute the gameplan better b) have some scope to change it a little on the pitch.

    To counter one of the almost inevitable accusations I can hear – none of the above indicates I think “Wales lost it”, on the contrary, “England won it”.

    1. One last thing – I’m confused by the dismissal of Wales’ scores as “just 1/2p keeping Wales in it” or “English indiscipline giving Wales some consolation” etc. Last I looked pens were a valid part of the game and are often awarded because the defending team is infringing i.e. pressure is being applied. England had 5 pins, we had 6. Valid scores all. Those who want to discount Wales penalties might have to reconsider the results of some big, big games that went England’s way despite them scoring less tries than the loser. As for it being specifically 1/2p – he’s the kicker so he tends to be the one that scores the pens. To flip the logic around, and show how absurd it is, I could say that if England hadn’t been “lucky” to have Farrel kicking then they’d have lost despite scoring the only tries of the match which is a nonsense thing to say. It’s like saying a team is lucky to have players who can pass or catch.

      1. Its a good point about penalties coming from pressure Brighty.

        However, of the penalties kicked, one of them was for Lawes trying to keep on running despite having a welsh tackler hanging onto him -not really Welsh attacking pressure. One was from Hartley taking Faletau out in the air and given Faletau jumped into the tackle, I’m not sure he had much option, and a couple were almost on half- way, which is not really equivalent to giving away a penalty to stop a try or due to sustained pressure in the 22

        Of course they are valid scores because the points are on the board, however a couple were unlucky or silly and a couple would never have been scored without a kicker of the sheer quality of Ha’penny (and there aren’t many of those around)

        1. Agreed Pablito, I think that often goes both ways in a match though. It balances out in the end?

          I was mystified by the collision in the air penalty, we should not have had that one, don’t agree with the Fale one. I know that was contentious but to me it looked like he was jumping for the ball. And yes, 1/2p scored them but then that’s partly why we pick him, because he can do that. Some of Farell’s kicks were also long range tough ones.

          1. Would like to see the Fale one again, to me it looked like Hartley was set to take the tackle and as Faletau took the pass he jumped into him.

            Accept I may be wrong on that. ‘Bout the only one of the penalites Hartley gave away that I won’t blame him for…

            1. Oh and “Dai Bach Steve Jones Tonypandy Llewellyn Gruffydd Walsh” can just be called “Steve Walsh” again :)

              1. He was beginning to worry that he hadn’t made an appearance on the big screen so he had to step in for something to keep his hair product sponsors happy!!!!

      2. Do completely agree everything you’ve said here. England were excellent yesterday, Wales I would say were distinctly average for the most part, and poor in others.

        I think the issue for Wales yesterday was questions raised over their game plan. They have a fantastic side who should be better than they have been this 6 nations tournamount, and the questions keeps arising IMO. What do Wales do if Roberts (and others) don’t get them over the gain line?

        Yesterday we defended very well (one break aside) against Roberts. Twelvetrees in particular was brilliant. Wales has typically been excellent off second phase ball after these players make in-roads and they get qucik front foot ball. Wales lack the half backs to control, or win, a test match where they don’t get loads of front foot ball.

        Is that a long term concern for Wales? Or something they can fix easily?

        I would say they have the personnel for fix this easily, but maybe not a coach that wants to?

      3. I agree with what you’re saying about the penalties Brighty. I think the England game showed how vital Halfpenny is to this Wales team. I’m not sure other kickers in world rugby would have nailed all the kicks he did. He also covers SO much for North and Cuthbert, who I don’t think kicked at all (other than North’s kick with Lydiate outside him). Plus his tackle on Burrell which whilst not being technically sound was hugely effective.

        Hopefully for Wales he will only miss one game for them, but I’m intrigued to see how much Wales will miss him against Scotland.

    2. Brighty I agree that the reports of Wales’ demise are somewhat exaggerated. Home advantage, revenge for last year plus lions fatigue were no doubt a factor.

      BUT I think Wales fans and management would be foolish to write this off as a one off. Since the 2012 GS Wales’ performances have been very inconsistent and it’s hard to point to any real progress from the men in red. 2013 was not a vintage Wales season despite the 6n win. Plus despite the factors I mentioned above this was virtually a full strength Wales team against a weakened England team, but you wouldn’t have known it.

      Now I imagine Wales will see a lot of improvement if Biggar replaced Priestland. But it seems to me that Wales need more strength in depth in key positions such as Centre and fullback.

      1. Yep, agree with all of that Benjit. We all know we can’t simply dismiss this as a bad day at the office – we didn’t play well and that’s a combination of things – some good players didn’t play well but some players need to be changed and some tactical change is needed.

        Halfbacks is a problem – Biggar could improve things but not enough. Webb is still new so could be a good option for the future. I am dissapointed we didn’t have the luxury of trying out the young Scarlet’s scrum halves, Patchell and that 10 at Leics for various reasons. Behind them we have some very young options e.g. Sam Davies. Centres have some depth coming through – Corey Allan and Owen Williams at the Blues for starters and Ashley Beck can still have some good matches. Wings we have Jordan Williams and the unfortunately injury prone Dirkson. At full back we should be looking at the O’s Fussel as an option.

        We have things we can do, things we need to do, so I agree we need to do them. Freshen it up, remove the idea that anyone’s cap is safe and concentrate on getting better. We’ve been far, far worse than this in the pro era so we’re not panicking (yet).

    1. Trevor I couldn’t give a stuff what you think. I’m not saying Kiwis as despite your assertion I’m pretty sure you don’t speak for all of the millions of them. It’s not a popularity/rating contest, it’s a winning matches contest. We have 3 GSs and 4 6Ns titles in the last 10 years, more than any other NH team. We’ve won those and no amount of cliche hateful interjections from you will take that smile off my face.

      1. Well said brighty. For my part I completely agree with you.
        Yesterday, we (England) were good and Wales had a bad day. But sometimes good teams just have bad days- it’s crazy the rubbish being thrown around about how Wales are a terrible side. Just the same as last year for England or Scotland two weeks ago. I am still more nervous to face Wales than Oz in the pools next year. Though I would say it is time for a change of props. Jones and Jenkins I think are past their best. James brutalised Wilson in the first scrum after he came on!

        (However I am overjoyed about the result!)

        And less trolling please trevor

        1. Completely agree with pretty much all of the above. England good day, Wales bad day. What I am most pleased about as an England fan is that we are having more good days than bad days. And we are both creating tryscoring oportunites and taking them (though not yet all of them).

          I am not even sure it was the tactical choices of wales that were the problem. I kept saying during the first 60mins “thank god they started with Preistland, not Biggar.” Preistlands kicking was aweful. Too deep to contest, but not deep enough for position. The chasing was often poor, but the depth on the kicks meant he was just handing ball to a back 3 who are playing with confidence.

          As for penalties: of course they are valid scores. The only one I thought was vaguely contension was the Hartley tackle on Faletau. But even that was arguably tot he letter of the law. There were several penalties I think England should not have conceeded, but then there were a few easy turnover that Wales gifted us. You win some, you lose some.

  3. Brighty,
    for what it’s worth, I don’t understand why people are beating up Wales. It’s somehow as if it’s not good enough to be better on the day, you have to beat a bad side. I’m frustrated at the black and white nature of the commentary, and find it irritating.

    Personally, I think AWJ, Hibbard, Ball and Faletau all had perfectly decent games, while Lydiate showed more dynamism than I think he’s shown since the 2011 slam, and Warburton was a class act and pretty much singlehandedly won the breakdown battle.

    England pretty much kept the Welsh backs bottled up, but Roberts, RD2 and North all had decent games spoiled by poor moments of judgement. I think Priestland is getting a lot of blame for what wasn’t his gameplan – I think the Welsh ‘no lineout’ plan was something of an error and when they saw the England plan which involved running from deep and countering at every opportunity should’ve changed, but not sure that’s Preiestland’s place.

    I’d say wales are what they’ve been for a couple of years – that’s hairs breadth away from being worldbeaters. And that hair’s breadth is halfback and depth. Depth is tough, and top class halfbacks are hard to find. If wales had Stephen Jones at his best I think that might be enough. but with an inexperienced #9 or Phillips (who is a great individual player but no ‘petite general).

    anyway, I’m English and proud as punch, but England’s plan and execution were better, not a better team 1-15.

    1. “It’s somehow as if it’s not good enough to be better on the day, you have to beat a bad side” Spot on there.

      Despite a great day out yesterday, and a wonderful welcome from the English fans sitting all around me in Twickenham*, there were a few tools after the match for whom it seemed the win wasn’t enough. They rounded on me and wanted me to admit that Wales are crap, have always been crap, we can’t play rugby, we were lucky last year (and I guess, by extension, the year before), etc. I mean, even if that were true (opinions vary) who’s going to get a fan of any team to go “yeah, you’re right, I don’t know what we were thinking, we should jack in this rugby lark as we’ll never amount to anything…”.

      *was good to be with a few English footy fans yesterday who couldn’t have been nicer and were just amazed that we were all sitting together and not kicking off. I know we all experience this a lot but it is still nice when it happens.

      I agree with your assessment of the teams. Depth is a problem we have to learn to live with as we’ll never truly overcome that – not enough players which partly (but can’t all be blamed on) not enough people. There is a worrying trend in South Wales right now in decline in participation and more worryingly some trad rugby schools turning towards the footy dark side.

      1. Shame about the tools Brighty, its regrettable but there are always one or two morons in every crowd

        Rugby tends to do ok with its fans but w*nk*rs have an ability to infiltrate every facet of day to day life

      2. Can I also add my voice to the apologists for some of the aweful England fans. It is just embarassing.

    2. McMurphy, I tend to disagree with you about Wales, and generally disagree with where Wales are going.

      They have been a hair’s breadth away from being World-beaters, but I do believe that they are starting to move further away from this.

      They are not a bad side, but I do worry that they are standing still at the moment whilst other teams are moving forward (although not France – obviously).

      I am not saying this to provoke, simply that this is how I see Wales at the moment. I believe that the World Cup will be a problem for them, unless they start investing in newer players now, and visiting some varieties in their patterns of play. I do not think that several experienced players will be better in 18 months than they are now, and I do not see players coming through (Ball and that Samson fella excepted). We (and Brighty) agree on their “depth” issue.

      Lydiate, Roberts, Halfpenny, Davies all playing in France will not help them.

      I don’t believe they were all that great against France (despite the excellent scoreline), nor against Italy. Ireland and England games are clear to all I think. I do not think that Scotland will win next week, but I do think that they (the Scots) will travel with some confidence.

      I may be wrong, but I think that Wales need to change direction to start moving forward again.

      1. Blub,
        Fair call. I wasn’t trying to say that all was rosy in Wales, more that this result didn’t make them a bad team. I think we do agree on how Wales have stood still in the past 2 years while other teams have advanced… I think the Welsh ‘failure’ (and given their record it’s a relative term) is in not developing alternative halfbacks, more than anything else, but good halfback play is so crucial it separates good teams from great ones.

        I was more reacting to the ‘Wales are now rubbish’ claptrap. I’d prefer to be in England’s shoes for now and for the next few years.

  4. I would add game plan as a problem. It didn’t work yesterday and in my opinion made the Welsh team worse than they actually are. I think that Gatland does need to have a serious think about how he wants the team to play.

    The other point that I would make is that – Brighty, don’t underestimate how much last years pummelling of our team caused emotional scars for the supporters. We were destroyed all ends up by the better team last year and a great many English fans were more desperate for this win than any of the others including Ireland. I am not going to apologise for being ecstatic at the result. This might lead to a bit of overenthusiasm in the comments, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a number of Welsh commentators were equally overenthusiastic last year! Unlike yourself, they haven’t said much thus far.

    1. Staggy, enthusiasm is great and I would not begrudge anyone being absolutely, ear splittingly, dancing in the streets ecstatic at that result. Especially at home. And all over this blog. The victor should enjoy the moment, the loser should feel bad. If someone needs to get all footy-style and turn that into attack rather than delight in their teams performance then crack on I suppose. I know you don’t, and I know you can now give me the “29-18” as much as I gave you the “30-3” over the last 12 months! :-)

      1. Yes obviously wasn’t going to mention the score ever again, but now you mention it………………! ;-)

        As to the other point, I fully accept that there is a line which should not be crossed (are you listening Trevor40), but I am saying that some of the comments about Wales are the result of over enthusiasm by commentators and reporters, and whereas they are probably over reacting to the way Wales played, I can understand this.

        1. As an aside did anyone see my favourite Englishman’s tweet after the game?

          “It’s official Wales are sh**”

          Gotta love the motormouth.

            1. Don’t worry, nobody Welsh I know thinks Austin Healey speaks for the English. He is on a planet of his own.

      2. I won’t be going on about 29-18 for the next 12 months …. these thing have a habit of coming back to bite!

          1. I think that statistic is the only sliver of hope that France have next weekend.

            Did you see France are now up to 5th in the IRB rankings? Ha ha, mental arithmetic in the truest sense.

    2. I hear what everyone is saying about gameplan my reticence to wholeheartedly agree is a concern of throwing the baby out .. before Gats we were woeful. One glorious title/GS in the pro era, following by immediate WC and 6Ns ignominy. Gats brought us some sustained 6Ns success and a great WC run ( great from the perspective of a team who have done badly at WCs before some wag starts telling me that it’s a typical problem of NH mindsets to be happy with semi finals…). This year we could end up winning all of our home games and finish below the probably 1 and 2 placed teams. We had a horror show against Ireland, against England we did not play well and England did play well so we lost that one. I’m not convinced by some of the assessments of us being mullered but it’s up the victors to decide that one.

      We have that SH team problem but again, we get so close. Multiple marginal defeats to Aus with some catastrophic capitulations to NZ. A miss is as good as a mile but when you’ve been 100 miles off for most of the years previous you do start to think the plan has some merit when it brings you within a mile.

      So overall I’m not convinced the plan is unfit, I think it can be improved in both execution and nuance. Bring more to it, but don’t throw it out completely. That’s what I think anyway.

      1. Even though I am and england fan, I agree. Apart from Preistland yesterday (he has at times been superb, but not for a while now), the only change I would make is to put less emphasis on gameplan. All teams have a gameplan. but the good players know when to add a bit of variety and when to stick to the plan.

        The other area that is a possible problem for Wales is one of their strengths, namely the rush defence. some of the best back lines (Australia, NZ, yesterday England at times) get outside it and then Wales can find themselves in trouble. Again a case of tweeking it, not chucking it.

        1. It doesn’t help that Cuthbert’s defence is fairly suspect. But then we are familiar with that after Ashton. At least Cuthbert can finish.

      2. Brighty do you think that is maybe the problem?
        Because of 2003 (im not going on a glory rant) England and English fans will only be truly happy when beating the southern hemisphere for 3 years in a row. But maybe the attitude of the Welsh fans, media and potentially team is, right if we can finally beat bloody australia I’ll be finally happy.

        I really wanted Wales to lose on Sunday, not only because I am an England fan but because (unless youre playing against Fiji or Samoa) I am a Northern hemisphere fan and I don’t want to see a Wales team who can eek out a win against Italy I want to see a Wales team who are punishing the Aus pack and playing easy ball etc.
        Therefore , I wanted you to lose because whilst not overplaying the situation I think that in the current system (and current players) Wales have reached a peak. From experience with England it is a lot easier to rethink and build on after reaching that level (post 1999) rather than stop the rot and turn around a decline (2004-2012). I don’t think throwing out the bathwater is the key, maybe pouring it out through a sieve that lets all ideas of playing a power game and all players getting past their time through. Don’t get me wrong I like Wales’ power game, it can be effective but I’d be a lot more worried by a Wales playing a clever game with the power game to fall back on than a Wales team playing the power game with nothing to fall back on. (apart from seeing how accurately they can kick the ball at the opposing back 3)

        1. Grundy – interesting point. I think that the Welsh game plan is very similar to the old England 9 man rugby game plan. You will keep most games tight and win your fair share, but when it goes wrong, for whatever reason, there is no plan B, for the players to be able to adapt to the situation on the field. To my mind it’s too limited a game plan for the backs that Wales have. When they actually started running at England they started causing problems that just hadn’t been there earlier in the game.

          In contrast SL has England playing a higher risk game and is reaping the rewards. England will lose a few when perhaps we shouldn’t but we will also win some that we shouldn’t. It’s almost as if the English and Welsh game plans from 7 years ago have reversed. Gatland is obviously a bright chap – he wouldn’t have got where he is today if not, so he needs to rethink strategy in my opinion.

  5. Brighty, I forgot to mention about the English winger who butchered a clear two on one……….! Fortunately Wales take all of the good players and leave the rubbish behind…………!

    Sorry really couldn’t help myself!

    1. Ha, it’s like I said Staggy, that English league has coached all of the skill out of him…! :-)

      1. If he was playing for Worcester you may have a point, but not with Alex King.

        …….So maybe he’s lost a bit of confidence in those one-on-one situations as he’s not been as effective facing better domestic opposition each week ;)

        1. The only consolation from the boys going to the Top 14 is that as bad as it is for Wales, it’s worse for France so hopefully there will be somebody else propping up the table.

  6. I’m genuinely surprised that England won. I thought Wales were going to hit their stride like last year after starting the tournament unfit. I don’t think the game plan is the problem for Wales because a team needs fit players to execute it. Gatland plays unfit players and it’s unrealistic to think that those players will always perform despite the unfitness.

    I think Gatland is the problem. I don’t think he is the coach to take them to the next level.

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