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.
– 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