Best Of The Weekend: Ireland Halt Record Breakers Again

Johnny Sexton

Irish spoil the party once again

Dublin was the setting for yet another fallen Grand Slam dream for England. The hosts discovered the verve and energy they used to dispatch New Zealand last year, ending England’s run at exactly the same number. It was the carbon copy of the way England’s teams had gone down on the last weekend in 2001 and 2011 to the same opposition when chasing a whitewash.

Strangely, the visitors lacked any sort of intensity, even off the bench. Even more strange when they were the ones with it all to play for. Ireland had built a 10-3 lead, courtesy of an Iain Henderson try and five points from Jonny Sexton’s boot. Ireland were winning every statistic, and could probably have been further ahead. Errors were creeping into England’s game and they couldn’t get anywhere near the line. In the second half, they clawed a little back, with Owen Farrell adding another two penalties to Sexton’s one. They had a chance to reduce the defect to one point, but opted to go for the corner. The kick was too far away from the Irish line to trouble them, the line out was lost and Ireland forced the men in white back. They slowly marched upfield in a final assault, but Mike Brown knocked on and hopes were lost.

Were England deserving winners of the title? Definitely. No team was close to matching the consistency. Were they worthy of the Slam? Certainly not. They had ridden their luck too often, and Ireland made them pay in that last game. As for Ireland, another stark reminder of how good they could be. They just need to replicate that in every single game.

Bizarre finish ends in French victory

It wasn’t the prettiest of games, yet could be one of the most talked about of the tournament. France and Wales were effectively playing off for a place in the top half, whilst the loser would likely finish fifth. Not the most intense of battles, you would think. Most of the game wasn’t……

Leigh Halfpenny had kicked six penalties to give Wales an 18-13 lead over their hosts, who had scored the game’s only try through Remi Lamerat, with the clock in the red. However, France were camped on the Welsh line and threatening the try that would make the game theirs. Wayne Barnes gave penalty after penalty, yellow-carding Samson Lee (who, somehow, later re-entered the fray). The Welsh defence was holding out, but the inability to do this without keeping their discipline kept putting them under more pressure. Scrums occurred and reoccurred. The French engineered a way to get their first choice tight head back on. The Welsh were fielding players out of position. George North was apparently bitten. The Dragons were creaking. Twenty minutes after the game was due to finish……. Try. Converted. 20-18. Game.

Ignoring the controversy, France will be delighted to be in the upper echelons after so long lingering down the bottom of the table. Guy Noves looks like he has stabilised, and is starting to progress, the French. On the other hand, Wales need Gatland’s sabbatical to end. Quickly. The fifth place finish was probably a fair reflection of their tournament.

Scotland’s four tries not enough to escape bottom half

Vern Cotter’s send-off ultimately ended in another season of underachievement. Yes, they kept Italy off the board and scored four tries to secure a bonus point in their 29-0 win, but the objective was to finish in the top half. Other results didn’t go their way, and the hammering by England last week came back to haunt them once more as they failed to overhaul the points difference needed to achieve their target.

The first half was error strewn from both sides, primarily due to the weather, with kicking dominating the ideas in the decisions makers’ heads. The hosts kicked themselves 3-0 ahead and followed that with a Finn Russell try. Substitute, Matt Scott, claimed another, which, coupled with Carlo Canna’s three missed penalties, meant they went in 15 points to the good. At the resumption, the Italians hammered the Scottish line, drawing a yellow card for John Barclay, but a lack of killer instinct led to zero points. Scotland made them pay, with scores for Tim Visser and Tommy Seymour putting gloss on and giving the fans real reason to cheer.

Cotter has left the side in good stead, and Townsend will need to capitalise on that. Next year, third place is bare minimum. As for Italy, Connor O’Shea has a task on his hands. If we look at the good bits from all their games, they have enough there to put in a complete performance. The trouble is blending it together and giving them the confidence to win.

Red Roses get Grand Slam

England’s women were crowned champions with a 34-7 demolition of Ireland in the decider. The result also meant they got the Grand Slam that eluded the men. Scotland won a second game of the competition when they beat the Italians 14-12, leaping into an impressive fourth place. Wales were well beaten by France 39-19.

Mercer leads U20s to tournament whitewash

Zach Mercer’s England secured a second Slam for teams wearing a rose. They squeezed past Ireland 14-10. France and Scotland also has wins, against Wales (40-20) and Italy (38-17) respectively.

Romania crowned Rugby Europe champions

Romania were crowned champions of Europe as they beat Georgia 8-7 in confusing circumstances. The result (a big shock in itself) left organisers confused, as Georgia had the better points difference as they finished level on points. However, things have since been clarified and the team that wins the head to head finishes higher, meaning Romania break Georgia’s stranglehold on the competition. Spain also stayed on course for a World Cup berth with a 30-0 win over Georgia and Russia caned Germany 52-25 to jump above them into fourth.

Tigers claim first silverware in 4 years

Leicester Tigers dusted themselves off after a fairly shambolic season and actually won some silverware to salvage pride. Whilst their Premiership and particularly their European form has left something to be desired, they have looked a different team in the Anglo-Welsh cup. They battled their way to a tense 16-12 win against Exeter, which should galvanise them as they push for a playoff place.

Waratahs still struggling

Waratahs early season woes continued as they sank to a 12-28 loss at home to Australian rivals Brumbies. An improving Sunwolves outfit had a creditable 34-21 loss to the Bulls in South Africa. Hurricanes and Jaguares both continued their excellent starts with the former crushing Highlanders 41-15 and the latter cruising to a 41-14 over Cheetahs. Lions dumped 44 points on Reds, conceding 14. Sharks spluttered to a 19-17 win over Kings and Crusaders beat Blues 33-24, whilst Chiefs downed Rebels 27-14.

La Rochelle stay top

La Rochelle strengthened their grip on top spot in France with a 36-17 win over Brive. Nearest challengers, Clermont, crushed Pau 65-13. Struggling Grenoble managed a 23-all draw against Toulon, whilst Bayonne edged Bordeaux 24-20 and Toulouse eased past Lyon 42-26.

Try of the weekend

As it’s the final round of the 6 Nations, I will limit my choices to that (and I won’t trawl through the pile of tries that Super Rugby seems to produce whilst I’m sat on a train). I don’t pick this one due to quality, and there may be many people who disagree with the circumstances through which it arose, however I will pick Damien Chouly’s try. To be camped on the line for 20 minutes and not lose your cool is incredibly impressive. The concentration it must have taken to eliminate any errors when you are in the hundredth minute of an international rugby match isn’t something to be taken lightly, especially when you are against a defence as renowned as the Welsh one. Spectacular? No. But very impressive.

Hero of the weekend

Peter O’Mahony showed England how you need to play in the biggest of games. He was a nuisance, a powerhouse and an inspiration. Everything his opposition should have been. All this when he was drafted in to start shortly before kick-off.

Villain of the weekend

Anyone and everyone involved in the debacle at the end of the Wales v France game. I won’t point fingers (mainly because there were so many parties), but something clearly went wrong. Interest and a talking point, but not how a rugby match should be. As Rob Howley said, it did bring the integrity of the game into question.

Discussion Points

– What does each of the Six Nations teams need to improve on?
– How do you rate each team’s championship?
– Who were the star players?
– Which U20s stars could feature for their respective countries in the coming seasons?
– Will Tigers’ silverware propel their push into the top four?

By Joe Large

24 thoughts on “Best Of The Weekend: Ireland Halt Record Breakers Again

  1. Congrats to England for the Championship
    They were the most consistent side throughout the completion very little between the teams in this 6 N
    Congrats to Ireland for preventing the GS
    and protecting their Tier 1 ranking for for the WC . Ireland brought their A game
    Played with intensity , courage and skill to
    make every Irishman proud
    I love the 6N best Rugby competition
    in the world

  2. Hero of the Weekend – Wayne Barnes for keeping his head when all around (and further afield) were losing theirs. A very, very difficult position for a ref.

    1. I feel sorry for WB, all things considered he didn’t have a bad game.
      He had to listen the French teams doctor, I don’t want rugby to ever put the game ahead of a potential medical issue. Perhaps the answer is to have independent medical teams, this would prevent players from being kept on or taken off for tactical not medical reasons.
      You could argue he should have given France a penalty try at some point in that extra time but with Wales not repeatedly committing the same offence its a very tough call. He still would’ve had every Welsh man after his head for making that decision.
      Perhaps the only case of poor reffing was not giving JD a yellow for a deliberate knock on, yet Vakatawa got sin binned for the same offence.

      1. I agree. I think all things considered he did well. Maybe the clock should have been stopped whilst the subs were being made but no-one would have thought it would go on so long that Sampson Lee would return.

        Each time the scrum stopped he gave a reason why it couldn’t be a penalty try, and when the 4th official raised something he stopped the game to make sure everything was alright before proceeding.

        As you say, there is no way he could have intervened and made Antonio play on. Imagine if he was concussed and something happened to worsen his condition, WB would be done for. Independent medics might be the answer but with no accountability for results of a team, they would be judged even more harshly than referees if a call was considered wrong.

        As you say, the one point I would make is that JD should’ve gone. It was a carbon copy of Vakatawa’s.

        1. The other thing is after 10 or so penalties conceeded by Wales 5m from their line he should have binned another Welsh player before the end

          1. I heard Barnes over the mic, right at the end, saying (I’m paraphrasing) if the game continues, Dan Biggar’s going to get a yellow.

    2. Barnes didn’t have the guts to award a pen try… after only 7 pings in a row was it? Usually it’s 3. Lost his nerve for a Hanging Judge Jeffreys type didn’t he? Tut, tut.

  3. I am a geek so couldn’t help myself totting up all of the individual player stats on SuperBru to come up with a Lions team based purely on the overall highest SuperBru points scorers in each position played. I chose by position i.e. top full back, top left winger, top right winger, top outside centre, top inside centre, top loose head, top tight head etc. which is why the likes of Brown, Halfpenny (taking kicking points away), Ringrose et al miss out. It makes interesting reading:

    1). J. McGrath
    2). K. Owens
    3). T. Furlong
    4). J. Launchbury
    5). C. Lawes
    6). C J. Stander
    7). H. Watson
    8). N. Hughes
    9). D. Care
    10). O. Farrell
    11). L. Williams
    12). A. Dunbar
    13). J. Joseph
    14). G. North
    15). S. Hogg

    16). R. Ford
    17). J. Marler
    18). D. Cole
    19). M. Itoje
    20). S. O’Brien
    21). R. Webb
    22). F. Russell
    23). K. Earls

    So, that’s x9 English, x5 Irish, x5 Scottish and x4 Welsh which (in my mind) quite accurately reflects that standing of the overall teams by the end of the competition.

    That being said, this doesn’t reflect what I would actually pick as our best Lions x15 and so perhaps shows the disparity between stats and performance / form.

  4. My impression watching the game live was that England’s entire gameplan revolved around smashing the bejesus out of Jonny Sexton, with little regard to whether that could be done legally or not. And when the bugger kept getting up, there didn’t seem to be much of a Plan B. I found that both disappointing and surprising.
    Still, as good a time as any to notch up a loss, with all the edification that comes with it.

  5. Clive Woodward got knocked down on several occasions on his ascent to the top but got up again having learnt the right lessons. I’m sure EJ will too!
    He needs to look at new players NOW and the Argentina tour provides the perfect opportunity.
    Sam Underhill needs a look at IMO at 7 now that he is England eligible!
    Mike Haley needs a trial at 15 and Daly (not a natural wing) needs a go at 15 also. Sir Clive mentioned Christian Wade in the Mail on Sunday – definitely a natural winger who scores tries for fun (I’ve said play him for two years)
    J George for a permanent berth at hooker and give the captaincy to someone else – Farrell or even Kruis!
    Sinkler too for some full 80 minute run outs instead of Cole.
    England need a bit more dynamism and those players do it.

  6. Yeoman like, workman like by England. Not a big diff in the scoreline & I wouldn’t have bet my CD collection on Ireland if the match had been played @ HQ, but EJ was out thought & his team out fought by Joe Schmidt & his team. England lost almost all the stats & were also surprisingly, worryingly? shunted up front, out jumped @ line out & beaten @ the breakdown. Perhaps like some wag here opined about NZ, England have a sus fr row, lack line out depth, have never replaced Neil Back @ 7 or Will greenwood in mid field? England have plenty of players alright, but when held up front they had no plan B. Billy was ineffectual with R1, Itoje who?, George Ford keeps kicking it out on the full & Farrell only kicks goals. Also JJ, who played like a dream v Scotland, went to sleep last Saturday. The ‘finishers’ were, er, finished instead of finishing. Perhaps EJ thought that by yapping about being No.1 would automatically propel his team to that posi? Well, he’ll need to address his playing guys out of posi & get some creativity into his back line methinks. Has some time, but he’s now riding the crest of a popped bubble.

    1. You wouldn’t want to make a rash bet with those “Dunedin Sound” classics

      The better England have been doing the less you’ve had to say …. hopefully we can get back to winning ways soon ;)

      I would like us to play the ABs this autumn, not because I think we will topple them as #1, but because it will be beneficial to test ourselves against the best midway through the RWC cycle.

      1. Well, I’ve been off having hospital treatment which, I have to admit, was serious enough to distract me for a bit. Anyway, ‘yr team’ will likely get to play the AB’s quicker than Nov as England will surely pack out the Lions squad in June don’t you think?

        1. Wish you a speedy and full recovery. Yes my team will play the ABs in the summer, for the next ~4 months my team is the B+I Lions!

          Whilst there may be a strong English representation benchmarking ourselves (players and coaches) against the best this autumn is still something I’m looking forward to.

          1. Thnx. As we now know Nov is off for whatever the real reasons. However, as you also allude to, v ‘the ABs in the summer’, will now be the focus.

        2. Sorry to hear about your poor health Don.
          Its always nice to have a different point of view and for you to keep some of the more excitable fans grounded. Hope your feeling better now

    2. Yep England were poor. Yep beaten in almost all the stats yet astonishingly were beaten by less than a single score, away.

      Me thinks all this wailing and shadenfraude by the celts and antipodeans masks a genuine fear that this England team could go on to be world beaters. Ah well time will tell…

      1. Benjit… & then you woke up? Surely England have been riding for a fall for some time now. They scraped it v Fr, Wales threw it away, Italy made a mug of EJ, the Scots couldn’t defend, wouldn’t defend (yellow card, x3 injuries req a 1/2back 2 be a wing! etc). Ireland held them in the tight, loose, tackled them on the gain line & England simply didn’t have an answer. No good going backwards, without the ball or R1 when they did have possession (eh Billy?). As said, they lack innovation, invention with ball in hand epitomised by Care’s kicking it out nr the death when, he of all people, ought to have held on to POSSESSION @ all costs @ that stage of proceedings. England didn’t get lucky 18 times in a row, but they’ve been sailing close to the wind (EJ’s wind mostly) for a time now with a lack of ‘plan B’ & by fudging with out of posi players, incl Haskell (bet they’d have given an arm & a leg for Armitage – no pun int), Daly (got skinned on ‘D’), even Farrell (he who can do NO wrong) who is a manufactured 2nd 5. Need to to do better in June.

  7. Don P
    We Brits and the english especially are all big enough to accept losing. I think ‘grown ups’ might even be the term. When our team (rugby or football come to that) lose we don’t die in a ditch, spout invective or ‘throw all the proverbial toys out of the pram!’ The phrase KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON springs to mind! (something we do quite well and you perhaps don’t i surmise)

    Ref the rugby on Saturday. As EJ and Sir Clive have stated the England team is at the end the end of year 1 of a 4 year cycle.
    What it achieved in that time was:

    A. Phenomenal (a joint record equalling run of 18 wins, back to back championships and an Aussie 3-test whitewash. Your own AB coach praised EJ (because he’s a reasonable guy i suggest)
    B. With all the injuries EJ had this season the result has been even more amazing than last year in many ways.
    C. EJ has every chance of going on to develop the side and wallop the ABs in 2019. I sincerely hope he does especially after your childish rant !!!!!!!
    Looking forward to the future!

    1. I was simply echoing yr Chicago comments back to you Alex Dear. And I do apologise, but I almost fell asleep b4 I’d finished reading the 1st sentence of yr tirade. Didn’t realise I’d get 2 you quite so much, but were you trying to convince yrself, or me? Happy days!

  8. Sorry mate, Just under-reacting as usual and giving a calm articulate response.
    You need to give yourself a long hard stare in the mirror and ask yourself what your agenda/motive being on this blog is.
    Multiple Choice coming up.
    Is it :

    1. To piss every one off on here most especially anyone with English affiliations
    Or
    2. To aggrandise yourself by free and easy association with the ABs (currently the no 1 team) just because your a Kiwi.

    A wiser approach would be to not slag off the quality of rugby in the country you have chosen to live in for beneficial work reasons. Besides most kiwis i have met are always pro-British and refreshingly devoid of the very tedious, unattractive and boring anti- english chip so readily worn by the Aussies.

    I suspect the answer to the multiple choice is BOTH
    Looking forward to the future because its white!

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