Best of the Weekend: Ireland send O’Driscoll off in style

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Ireland lift the Six Nations trophy, England and Wales cut loose

Brian O’Driscoll rightfully stole the headlines on Saturday, but Ireland’s overall performance in Paris should not go unappreciated, as the men in green hung on to grab a very impressive 22-20 victory against the French, and take home the Six Nations trophy. Andrew Trimble and Jonathan Sexton both played sublimely, and scored deserved tries, whilst the leadership and experience of O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell proved invaluable in the dying minutes, as the visitors defended with a resilience they can only wish they had shown last autumn against New Zealand. France performed equally well too, perhaps doing just enough to save Philippe Saint-André’s job, but ultimately Ireland’s greater composure shone through, and they were able to pick up a rare win in Paris, sending O’Driscoll off in glorious fashion.

England arrived in Rome knowing that the odds were stacked against them erasing Ireland’s considerable points difference advantage, but they certainly came close, as they recorded their highest points tally in Rome since 2000, beating Italy 52-11. Mike Brown was once more in sensational form, picking up two tries and constantly threatening the Italian defence with his dangerous running, whilst Owen Farrell distributed well and made 100% of his kicks for the second consecutive week. Putting Italy to the sword wraps up another successful Six Nations campaign for England, who have now lost just one game in the Six Nations in each of the last three years, and although the Grand Slam continues to elude them, they will head to New Zealand this summer in high spirits and ready to shock the All Blacks.

Wales did their best to put a disappointing and inconsistent Six Nations behind them, ending their campaign with a 51-3 victory over Scotland at the Millennium Stadium. Scotland were extremely lacklustre, and played 60 minutes of the game with just 14 men, after a moment of ill-discipline resulted in a red card for Stuart Hogg. George North and Jamie Roberts both collected braces as the Welsh back line played their biggest role in the 2014 campaign, and generally linked-up extremely well all game long. The result had little bearing on the Six Nations table, but does give Wales a much-needed confidence boost ahead of their tour to South Africa, whilst Scotland will be counting the days till incoming coach Vern Cotter arrives.

Hurricanes thrill, Lions roar, Brumbies resolute

The Hurricanes stole the headlines in Super Rugby, as they tore apart a bereft looking Cheetahs side, 60-27, in Wellington. The game really encapsulated the highs and lows of Super Rugby, as both sides displayed some scintillating and clinical attacking rugby, but were also guilty of extremely sloppy defending at times, both of which contributed to a scoring rate of over a point a minute. Fly-half Beauden Barrett particularly impressed with a personal points haul of 23, but all of the Hurricanes’ backs deserve credit for a highly cohesive and efficient performance.

The Lions continued their impressive start to the Super Rugby season, picking up their third win in five games, beating a star-studded Blues team 39-36, in Johannesburg, with Marnitz Boshoff accounting for a pivotal 24 points. Another compelling match saw the Brumbies beat the Waratahs 28-23 in Canberra, and as a result, leapfrog their rivals to the top of the Australian conference. Jesse Mogg and Nic White led a dynamic Brumbies performance, and although tries from Michael Hooper and Israel Folau almost sparked a Waratah comeback, the Brumbies defended manfully to hold on to a potentially priceless win.

Exeter end 143 years of waiting

The Exeter Chiefs concluded a vintage weekend of rugby by securing their first major trophy in the club’s history, as they beat Northampton Saints 15-8 in the final of the LV Cup. Chris Whitehead and Dean Mumm both crossed the try line for Exeter, but it was their unrelenting defence which ultimately won them the game, as they repulsed attack after attack from the Saints. Samu Manoa managed to pull back a try for Northampton, but it was too little too late, as the Chiefs added the first piece of silverware from the club season to their trophy room. Ulster and he Scarlets were also in action over the weekend, as the Irish side cruised to a 26-13 victory at Ravenhill, ensuring they keep pace with Leinster and Munster at the top of the RaboDirect Pro12.

Israel Folau picks up the Try of the Week for his effort against the Brumbies. The Waratah broke tackle after tackle, before turning on the afterburners and beating the last defender on the outside. What’s even more impressive? Folau did it with such consummate ease, that it never looked like he was doing anything more than jogging through the Brumbies’ defence. Jamie Roberts’ second try for Wales, which was the product of a brilliant teamwork and went the length of the Millennium Stadium, came very close to stealing it.

This was never in doubt. Brian O’Driscoll is the Hero of the Week. It’s impossible to sum up what he’s given to rugby in one short paragraph, but he undoubtedly now joins international rugby’s pantheon of greats. His accolades are endless, but the commitment and passion he never failed to show whilst playing for Ireland, regardless of opposition, are the greatest qualities of perhaps the greatest player to ever play the game. Farewell Brian, international rugby will miss you.

Stuart Hogg is the Villain of the Week for his red card against Wales. Replays showed his late collision with Dan Biggar to be deliberate and dangerous, and although the game had no real championship implications, he put his side in a hole for the remaining 60 minutes of the match.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

21 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Ireland send O’Driscoll off in style

  1. Well done Ireland. Fully deserved. Didn’t think I’d see a side butcher overlaps worse than England but take a bow France. Whilst their commitment was there their execution was appalling.

    I hope the England team are not in high spirits. Whilst there has been a massive improvement in our game they must surely reflect that they have been runners up 3 years running. Surely no one is happy with that.

    Difficult to assess anything from the Wales/ Scotland match. I know they were down to 14 but that capitulation was pathetic. Can’t see Cotter turning this around before the World cup. Imagine he’ll work exclusively on their defence and make them hard to beat.

    1. Completely disagree with that. I hope the England camp are happy with a brilliant 6 Nations campaign. They will know that it was not perfect, but the progress is undeniable.

      We won all of our home games, against two excellent sides, and lost only by the narrowest of margins away to a French side which played very well that day.

      We can only control our own matches, and if I’d been shown our results pre-tournament, I’d definitely have bitten your hand off!

      Add into that the positive style of rugby this England side are beginning to play, and things look even more positive.

      1. And I’m going to sit directly between you.

        Losing a 6N on points different to a team you beat (and should have beaten by more) must be used as a major motivator for next year. That horrible feeling of watching a match when it’s out of your hands shouldn’t be forgotten in a hurry! I hope they don’t reflect on the bounce of the ball in Paris, but focus on the opportunities they didn’t put away in the other games.

        But a first triple crown for an embarrassingly long period of time is cause for celebration and the progress on the pitch is a huge step forward. If you picked a hypothetical Lions XV now there would be a load of English guys you didn’t even make the tour last year that are now starters, it’s massive progress. Most encouraging is coaching seems to be one of the biggest factors in the improvement. I was not optimistic about the first part of 2014 with all the players we were missing for 6N (and then having to go to NZ), but I’m really looking forward to the summer now and testing ourselves against the best!

      2. I think “brilliant campaign” is a bit OTT. We have improved markedly since the last campaign but are 2nd AGAIN due to our lack of killer instinct. It wasn’t just the France game, we left so many points on the field in every match. If only we were as clinical as Ireland. One chance against us- score. Three checnes agains France – 3 tries. This side has shown some real potential and for that they shold not be happy with 2nd.

        1. Brilliant was probably the wrong choice of adjective, but it was very positive.

          Whilst second place again was a bit annoying, I can honestly say I don’t mind too much. I will probably get judged for saying it but I’d much rather we were doing well in AIs than 6 nations championships. I’m aware we aren’t smashing SH sides, but my main point is whilst the 6 nations is an exciting tournament, to me, it isn’t the yard stick to success.

          This England side is developing really nicely, we have a good game plan now than offers genuine attacking rugby, a pack that has cemented its place in the world class bracket, and coaches that have learnt from past mistakes.

          Currently this England side under SL only have South Africa that they are yet to beat. Considering we drew away in SA, and the World Cup is at home, I’m starting to feel pretty good about our chances.

        2. I think you need to go back and watch the Ireland game. While England had their chances, so did Ireland. I remember being frustrated a number of times by us butchering opportunities.

          I think England edged that game but only just. They were hanging on at the end if I remember correctly but their excellent defence held out and the referee didnt see a penalty in the scrum.

          That is rugby, Ireland could easily have won. They didnt but they did enough to win the torunament. I think it will be the same two next year as well.

          1. Pretty much agree with that. I would say England, particularly first half, had the upper hand quite considerably. I think England were good value for the win, but Ireland certainly could have won the game and I don’t think anyone has said otherwise?

            I actually think Ireland will struggle to maintain this. With the D’Arcy/ BOD access diminishing, and no real obvious replacements, this will become an area of weakness to them. Marshall has look ok but inconsistent, and there seems to be no obvious 13 replacement. Ireland have a very good pack, and a great half back pairing, but I wonder where who will be in the centres come the summer?

            1. The options are there but the question is can they make the grade. I think inside centre is actually an area of strength. It is impossible to replace BOD but we have a few wannabes who will give it a go.

              Inside centre- Gordon D’arcy (says he will make the WC but I would prefer he quit now), Luke Marshall, Stuart Olding (brilliant player)

              Outside centre- Jared Payne (nationalised this year and most likely option), Henshaw (connaught player aged 20, watch him shred toulouse earlier this year) and Darren Cave (the perennially overlooked player, unfortunate to have been born in BOD era).

              There is also the option of playing Tommy Bowe at outside centre which he is more than capable of doing.

              The important thing is to get some semblance of a regular partnership before the world cup. I would think Marshall and Payne from Ulster.

              Ireland also have O’ Brien, Ferris, Zebo, Bowe, Dan Touhy, Felix Jones and Robin Copeland to come into consideration once again.

              So I can’t deny that England have learnt alot this comp and do look very menacing, Ireland also have capacity for improvement. Both camps have a lot to look forward to.

            2. The options are there but the question is can they make the grade. I think inside centre is actually an area of strength. It is impossible to replace BOD but we have a few wannabes who will give it a go.

              Inside centre- Gordon D’arcy (says he will make the WC but I would prefer he quit now), Luke Marshall, Stuart Olding (brilliant player)

              Outside centre- Jared Payne (nationalised this year and most likely option), Henshaw (connaught player aged 20, watch him shred toulouse earlier this year) and Darren Cave (the perennially overlooked player, unfortunate to have been born in BOD era).

              There is also the option of playing Tommy Bowe at outside centre which he is more than capable of doing.

              The important thing is to get some semblance of a regular partnership before the world cup. I would think Marshall and Payne from Ulster.

              Ireland also have O’ Brien, Ferris, Zebo, Bowe, Dan Touhy, Felix Jones and Robin Copeland to come into consideration once again.

              So I can’t deny that England have learnt alot this comp and do look very menacing, Ireland also have capacity for improvement. Both camps have a lot to look forward to.

    2. Agreed on Wales/Scotland, never would I have thought a cricket score against Scotland would leave me with just a mild grin rather than elation. We were well on our way to a decent sized win before Hogg went all mentalist; after he went it was just a harlem globe trotters type exhibition. It put a smile on my face as the offloading and use of space was fun to watch, but it’s such a shame it wasn’t a more meaningful victory.

      Well done Ireland – if you go to Paris and win then you’re often the team on top at the end and they did just that. If was a French fan though I’d be seething – two chances to take that game at the end, both butchered. Nightmare. Still, Ireland are top dogs in the NH now – do they have a summer tour? I feel bad for not knowing this – are they off to Aus? It’s a shame that they’re not the ones off to NZ as I’d like to see the best of the NH take on the best of the SH this year.

        1. …. Where they’ve lost every game.

          6N champions Vs best side in the world is more a statement of fact. Best side in NH is more subjective as England are well ahead in the rankings.

          1. I will fully admit I had my trolling hat on there! Hopefully it came across as more ribbing than vile trolling.

            My point is, to carry on from the other thread where Staggy mentioned England’s quality this year, is that I’m reading a lot (not just here) of stuff about how England got “the most” out of this years tournament. 2 days after Ireland win the title and there is loads about how “England are the most improved” or “England have the most to look forward to now” or “Eng v NZ is the pick of the summer tours”. It’s like Inverdale on repeat. Ireland won. They’re the top dogs and should be acknowledged as such.

            If I was to follow the same tack I’d say that this year is brilliant for Wales because we’ve had the complacency knocked out of us, Gatland was this weekend quoted as acknowledging the coaching needs changing/freshening up, that a lot of the issues this year were down to the coaches. So we’ve learned that lesson now and we’re in a better place really from losing … which is all BS of course but it’s the sort of guff that Inverdale and some media outlets are coming out with when talking about England.

            1. Actually Brighty, I think that you are wrong. I think that England have got more out of this tournament than anyone else. We’ve found a world class 8, a balanced half back partnership, an attacking game for Farrell, an international centre, a world class FB who can score tries, some wings who can at least tackle and an attacking style of play. That’s not a bad result for a tournament!

              Ireland have found a world class 6, and a more even style of play, but not a huge amount more, Wales have discovered that a Lions hangover is reality, Scotland have discovered that they need a real manager, Italy have unearthed a backline and France have discovered that they can play, when the moon is in the right quarter, it is the year of the Frog and when they can be bothered, so I think that we are the most improved and we do have the most to look forward to. What will be the best summer tour is anyone’s guess though. We might take a hammering in game one and not recover – I have no idea. I am though more excited by the summer tour than I was before the tournament as I think that we have moved on from the 10 man rugby we were playing.

              1. The huge plus for Ireland is they are no longer less than the sum or their parts. They may not have unearthed many new players but to go from 5th last year to 1st this year with a coach that’s only been there for ~6 months is a massive achievement. They underperformed and were inconsistent for years under Kidney, the whole BOD thing is overshadowing what an incredible team achievement this is. I couldn’t argue England are taking more away from this than Ireland.

              2. Two things Staggy …

                I think it’s bad form to dwell on England 2 days after Ire have won the trophy. The Inverdale approach to rugby leaves me cold – the “anyway, let’s talk about England…”. I know you’re an England fan but this idea that England might not have won the championship but they won something else, the esoteric “development” award, just seems a little churlish to me. Ireland won the whole shebang.

                As for your point – that’s all subjective. I could list a stack for Wales

                – new scrumhalf is a find
                – new tighthead is a find
                – coaching needs freshening up
                – Adam Jones is approaching retirement, glad we found this out this year and not next
                – Liam Williams is a much better fullback than he is a wing – 1/2p on wing, LW at fullback?
                – Biggar is def the better of the Priestland/Biggar axis. Discussion closed.
                – Need to get those young 10s into the international setup asap
                – Jamie Roberts – never, ever kick the ball again
                – Sam is a better 7 than Tipuric when both on top form

                but it’s all naval gazing after the fact stuff cos we lost 2 matches so we were not in the running for the thing. I’d also argue with some of your points

                – wings -> May made me and the English fans all around me laugh/scream in equal measure at Twickenham. Eating up all the yards on offer like a selfish schoolboy. Pointless.
                – Farrell attacking game? I didn’t see it. I saw him stand up better, hit the corners better.

                Anyway, this is all just conjecture but is part way to me saying that I disagree that England earned/learnt/takeaway the most from that tournament. They take what they need in order to come 1st next year and not 2nd, but so will all of the other teams.

                1. “new scrumhalf is a find
                  Biggar is def the better of the Priestland/Biggar axis. Discussion closed”

                  Are you sure Gatland has seen the light here? Or will it be Phillips and Priestland at the first opportunity.

                2. Well obviously I will apologise for being English and looking at the tournament from my national perspective, which incidently is the only one that I have!

                  Ireland worthy winners – played some fantastic rugby in this tournament. Still am absolutely convinced that England took more out of this 6N than anyone else. Would have liked to have won, but the future looks bright. Remember we started this tournament with 3 of our back four with only one cap between them. Got some answers to a few questions. More remain. If we can solve those we can get better. Ireland were pretty much the finished article this year with a coach finally allowing the players to achieve what they should have done for the last decade really.

                  So anyway I don’t accept my comments are bad form, and I’m not convinced that Ireland or Wales learnt more than England this 6N.

                3. I agree with Staggy. Not sure what Wales have learnt. Will have to wait until the “lions fatigue” is proved or otherwise. Given their form in summer tours and AIs will probably not know about Wales until next 6n.

                  Ireland. Best side (just), but undoubtedly the best side, deserved winners. But goin forward what have they learnt? Will POC, Best, and D’Arcy be able to maintain their tempo of performances given they are getting on a bit. Add the loss of BOD and that is a core part of this side. Witness the rapid decline of AJ and Jenkins this year to show that sometimes age and fitness catches up with you without warnign sometimes. Schmidt is a canny coach, and the 6N win gives his some breathing space to experiment whilst not facing call to be sacked. But he has some serious repair and contingency work to do.

                  England look a different side, both physically and mentally to last year. And if they keep playing at high tempo maybe they’ll get better at finshing their chances.

            2. Ireland found their bearings!

              Might sound odd but I think Ireland have learned to get to and through a campaign without being decimated by injury. Last year it was freakish how they got injured. GPS Viper pod.

              DDD

  2. As ever Ireland do it the hard way against it has to he said a vastly improved French side. But a fitting end to a marvellous career. BOD will be missed. Let’s hope he has enough in the tank to get Leinster over the line in the HCup though I doubt he’s looking forward to meeting Basteraud again!! It was a decent 6 nations in my mind. England & Ireland can look forward to the World Cup with genuine hope. Lancaster has done a great job with England who are getting better & better all the time. The summer tour to New Zealand will be interesting. Equally Ireland have displayed a consistency which has been lacking since 2009. The squad is growing with guys on the outside now knowing what they have to do to play international rugby. There is of course a BOD sized hole to fill. But we have to trust Schmidt to plug the gap. For now we will enjoy the win & celebrate the career of Brian O Driscoll.

  3. Well done Ireland. a thorouhly deserved title. They’ve been the most consistent team in the tournament, without (as far as I can remember) a single bad game, or even bad period. That type of consistency is hard to find, and although they lost against England, it wasn’t because Ireland were bad that day. It’s hard to know what happens with Ireland next year, becuase I can’t imagine D’arcy makes the RWC, so an all new midfield is a tough ask to repeat, but everywhere else that’s a quality squad.

    Contrasting that with England, who had a dreaful start and end against France and failed to take advantage of superiority against Scotland and (arguably) Wales, and I can’t quiblle for a moment with the result.

    But England are looking like a team with a plan, and each year the squad and style have been building. to lose on points difference, and beat the champions is a pretty good result. They showed structure, strength in depth, a developing style and I’m really optimistic. But unless England can scalp 2 of NZ, SA and Aus between now and the next 6nations then we will remain a 2nd tier side. 4 tests against NZ in the next year is going to show a whole lot, plus SA and aus in the autumn… ulp (and throw samoa in there too). that’s a seriously testing schedule.

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