Women’s Six Nations 2016: Round 4 Wrap-Up

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Scotland 0-24 France

France have clearly been humbled by their defeat to the Welsh last week. The once-favourites for the Six Nations trophy staggered and stumbled to an unconvincing win over the Scots, winning 0-24 in a match they looked well on their way to lose despite a one-try lead at half time.

Where the men’s side show no unity at all, the French women’s side was formulaic to a fault, in a way that made it nearly impossible to pick out anything resembling real threat for the first 50 minutes of the game. Gone was the free-flowing flair of the second half against Italy back in round one, instead France seemed to produce nothing to get their significant travelling support excited at all. The Scots were the story of the first half, holding a heavy French pack at bay and giving their back line no space to operate at all, whilst frequently throwing attacks back at them that inspired panicked scrambles in the French defence. That none of it was converted to points is a repeated concern, but not one that could erase the good news that was real gain-line threat with almost every phase of play.

When the points finally started ticking over in the second half it was a result of basic handling errors from the Scots – a second half fitness problem that has raised its head every round so far. Although things ran no less smoothly with a back line reshuffle after 60 minutes it was clear the Scottish side couldn’t keep up their improving skills against a physical French assault for that long and the Gallic side capitalised on the dominance of possession that gave them.

France’s points came almost solely from the dominance of their strong scrum, eking out two scrum penalty tries, a maul, and a sole backs move finished against an exhausted Scottish line. The Scots have yet another game they have improved on and will look at try-starved Ireland hungry for a win whilst the French have to worry that, with another performance like that, England will fancy their chances for a Grand Slam.

Scotland stand-out player: Lisa Thompson
In a first from these round ups the same player is getting this award twice in this tournament. Thompson is the Duncan Taylor of the women’s game, a potentially game-breaking player equally threatening in either centre berth. Her performance against France shows her impact on Italy wasn’t a fluke, breaking through a heavy French defence time after time and was unlucky not to convert her go-forwards to points. An incredible find for the Scottish game. Honourable mention to Lana Skeldon, a hooker who showed off silky handling.

France stand-out player: Patricia Carricaburu
In a game where no one really stood out from the French side in open play, Carricaburu must receive significant note for a dominant scrum performance that yielded 14 of France’s 24 points. Outmuscling her front row opposition she made full use of the power of the scrum to bully the Scots on all three occasions the French found themselves in striking range. In the loose she was one of few in the French pack who seemed to retain the confidence of the beginning of the tournament and consistently hit the gain line to give her side much-needed quick ball.

England 20-13 Wales

Wales went into this match brimming with confidence. Despite England’s strength in the competition they were the victims of a surprise loss to the Welsh last year, and their Celtic neighbours had thoroughly humbled the French favourites last week. Another upset was not to be however, and despite a second-half comeback the Welsh dragon was felled with a composed and clinical first half performance from the English.

For a country apparently stripped to the bone in their back line by the 7s set up, England’s performance was a remarkable display of depth. Sheer power and aggression was the order of the day as England hammered the Welsh line, each player simply out-muscling their opponent in a way the French thought they’d achieve last week. Pinned back by the English forwards the Welsh were unable to stop Amber Reed and Ceri Large, at 10 and 12, from scything through their lines for two opening tries.

The second half, like the men’s equivalent, was a different story. The Welsh reclaimed the furious defensive effort which won them victory over the French and pinned the English side back to force their way back into the game with two opportunistic tries from young centre Robyn Wilkins. The comeback came to a close towards the end of the game, however, as an exhausted Welsh side, having spent far too much of the match defending, failed to hold the hosts back on their fourth attempt over the line to take the match.

England stand-out player: Ceri Large
With early tournament MOTM Harriet Millar-Mills starting on the bench, Large took full responsibility for the same role this time around and she did so with gusto. Large’s sheer power was the story of the first half, running over the Welsh No.8 to score her first try and there in support across the park to latch on to an offload for her second. After France suffered in the hands of a similarly strong carrier in the centres against Scotland on Friday, they will have to plan ahead to hold out the more experienced English centre if they’re to avoid the same fate as Wales this weekend.

Wales stand-out player: Robyn Wilkins
Given Large’s dominance of contact over the match, the fact her opposite number was such a significant influence shows the huge impact of Wilkins’ quick-thinking throughout the match. Her two tries were both excellent examples of this – scoring off a charge down and an interception during the second half to give Wales hope of a fight-back. However, her costly mistake allowing the last conversion to be charged down will be a lesson to the Welsh youngster, but not one that dents the positives of a performance shaped by a natural rugby mind.

Ireland 14-3 Italy

Ireland have looked far from the team that took the trophy last year and, against the ever-improving Italy, there was always a chance for an upset result. However, Italian fitness remains the weakness and Ireland ran out unconvincing 14-3 winners after controlling the second half.

After a series of games where Ireland struggled to turn dominance of possession into scores this weekend was the turn of a new-look back line. Several new caps joined the side in a display that began to show the successful increase of depth in Irish rugby but retained the problems of failing to score no matter how in-control they were. This week that came down to an unfamiliar back line still getting to know each other and a wave of handling errors, including an uncharacteristically mistake-filled performance from captain Niamh Briggs, in the face of an eager and confident Italian defence.

A 7-3 half time score may have looked precarious but the Irish would have rated their chances due to the Italian habit of fading in each second half – and they would have been right. After struggling against the line speed of the Italian defence for the first 40 minutes the pressure eased in the second half and with it came a great deal more cohesion as the new back line got to know one another.

Another try was surely on the way and it finally came to give a final score of 14-3. Again plenty of opportunities went missing for the Irish however, and they will continue to be worried at the chances of an upset to an increasingly confident Scotland next week. The Italians, meanwhile, will hope to build a strong lead over Wales in their upcoming first half if they’re to hope to gain their second win of the tournament.

Ireland stand-out player: Sophie Spence
A second player earning a second mention for her side, in a match plagued by inaccuracies and lack of cohesion Spence was back to her reliably dominant self. The no.8 consistently provided forward ball, stamping her name down as one of the strongest carriers in the championship and it was largely her role in crossing the gain line that gave Ireland such control of the final 40 minutes. Fewer knock-ons from the back line and that impressive effort would have yielded a great deal more points on the board at home.

Italy stand-out player: Lucia Cammarano
In a match that could have gone either way it was the now trademark ferocity of the Italian defence that could have turned things to their favour in the first half. Cammarano was a key part of this, holding up an Italian pack used to gain line dominance and putting her body on the line time after time to force the error-strewn Irish display. That she was rushed back onto the park after an eight minute break was evidence of how key she was to this effort which played a strong hand in keeping the score line down.

By Tristan Gray (@RuckingGray)

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