1. This is not soccer
These words have been immortalised in the rugby community by Nigel Owens, but this week they have been uttered by rugby fans everywhere. France’s Louis Picamoles has been axed from their squad following his sarcastic clap of referee Alain Rolland’s decision to sin bin him against Wales. The decision has been lauded by most fans, who rightly claim this kind of petulance has no place on the rugby pitch. But is it really the right call from France? With Nyanga and Fofana set to miss the rest of the tournament, France are now without their three most influential players for their tricky trip to Murrayfield. Also, Morgan Parra has been added to the squad, despite being red carded for a head-butt at the weekend – he now awaits a disciplinary hearing this week. Double standards much?
2. Down to the wire
Had France and Ireland won, it would essentially have been a two horse race for the title. As it is, there are four teams still in with an excellent chance of winning it this year. Ireland are still the favourites, given their superior points difference (+42 – England are on +21, Wales +6 and France +1), but do face that trip to the Stade de France on the final day, a ground where they have not won since the year 2000. The French, for their part, were so insipid in Cardiff that it perhaps wouldn’t be that surprising if they come unstuck against Scotland. So the winner of England and Wales at Twickenham will be in with a great chance of challenging for the title on the final weekend – as if this fixture needed any added spice.
3. Sensible substitutions – finally
After the France game, Stuart Lancaster came in for a lot of stick for bringing off his best players and arguably handing the momentum back to the French. Similarly, Scott Johnson has been lambasted in the media for some bizarre substitutions in recent weeks. So it was great to see, then, that they both seem to have learnt their lessons. Against Ireland, Davey Wilson was clearly not going to last the full 80 minutes, meaning Henry Thomas would have a job to do off the bench. There were doubts about whether he is ready for this level, but in throwing on Dave Attwood, an excellent scrummaging lock, and shifting Launchbury to the blindside at the same time, Lancaster gave Thomas plenty of ballast behind him to ensure the set piece remained solid. George Ford also stayed on the timber, absolutely the right call given the situation of the game. Scotland brought on Chris Cusiter and Dave Denton to up the tempo, while Geoff Cross steadied the set piece from the faltering Moray Low. Sensible decisions all round, and not a Ross Ford in sight.
4. Fullbacks firing
The home nations are incredibly spoilt for choice when it comes to the gatekeepers at the back. Leigh Halfpenny, star of the Lions tour and for so long the best the Northern Hemisphere has to offer at the back, is arguably sitting third in that chart at the moment. And whilst the Welshman has had a good championship so far, England’s Mike Brown has been one of the players of the tournament; ditto Ireland’s Rob Kearney. Stuart Hogg has shown glimpses of his immense potential, and has impressed most with his kicking game. In short, were there a Lions tour this summer, there would be a very tricky decision to be made.
5. Italy and Scotland prove their worth
We said it after the last round, and they proved it at the weekend – any talk of either of these two dropping out of the competition is complete rubbish. Saturday’s encounter in Rome was fascinating – particularly the second half, which saw three brilliant tries and the momentum swinging this way and that, and culminated in a brilliant drop goal winner from Duncan Weir. It wasn’t the highest quality game of the tournament, but it was certainly up there with the most entertaining. Scotland now head home to take on a France team plunged into disarray by injuries, poor performance and lack of player discipline – what price them stealing a win at Murrayfield?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images