WALES V FRANCE
Another dull game in a series of dull games so far this 6 Nations. There is no doubt that Wales continue to be a hard team to beat with their defence superbly organised, but I am not sure how well the alleged ‘new style’ of rugby is coming on. I still see the centres (particularly Roberts) and forwards trucking it up the midfield phase after phase and then……….what?
Gareth Davies at scrum half seems the only genuine threat with his sniping and incredible turn of speed. So why, in my opinion, are Wales failing to make the next step in evolving their game? In two words, Dan Biggar.
Don’t get me wrong, I think he is a class player and was instrumental in keeping the Welsh team in the World Cup with their battered, bruised and depleted team, but that was then and this is now. His brand of rugby is ‘safe’, he is not one to attack the gain line, leave his decision to the very last minute and put players into space. He WILL kick his goals, organise the midfield well and chase the high ball superbly. It is not a style of play that will change the way Wales can attack the game.
If Gatland is serious about having a genuine ‘plan B’ then he might look at Priestland or Patchell – it might mean taking a step back to move forwards, but it could be worth it.
France? Where to start? That might, in fact, be the question that Guy Noves has been asking himself since he took over the reins. Judging on what we have seen so far in the tournament, he must still be asking himself that very same question!
Yes there are glimpses of flair and imagination, but there is far too little of it and it is not enough to worry the most average of teams. There is, I am sure, a game plan…. I am just at a loss to see what it is. You go beyond one or two phases of play and there seems to be no shape to their attack and I suspect that if their defence is stretched, really stretched, that it will crack and crumble in the wide out spaces.
I have a huge amount of sympathy for Noves, who was, yet again, restricted to a handful of days with his players (most of whom were playing for their clubs last weekend) when most other teams had their full complement of players for two consecutive weeks. However…… there really seems to be little, if any, development noticeable since the first weekend when the stumbled over the line against Italy.
Wales were the clear winners in an often turgid game. A shame as the Friday night games at the Principality Stadium have so often sparked the weekends rugby into life. Not so on this occasion.
ITALY V SCOTLAND
Quite simply a must win game for both sides. Scotland, despite their heroics in the World Cup, had not won a six nations game since a last second drop goal by Weir at Stadio Olimpico two years ago – Their coach, Vern Cotter, had never one a Six Nations match – and Italy had not been much better themselves.
We all knew what we were going to get.
Scotland would come out of the blocks at 1000 kilometres an hour, show flair and great interaction between forwards and backs and play with width. Italy would win the battle at the set piece (dominating scrum and lineout) and attempt to use slow Scotland ball down until they could launch their own brand of attack.
One side succeeded, the other failed, miserably. I was stunned with how poor Italy were in the scrum. Normally the one area of the game where they could, at the very least, guarantee parity, was a disaster denying them the platform to strike from. Parisse has openly blamed the referee for his “poor” interpretation of the scum – I’m not sure he is totally right here, Italy were just outplayed in this phase of the game. Despite this set back, Italy were good enough to have 62% possession and 66% territory throughout the game. It should have been enough to control the match and win.
So where did it go wrong?
The loss of Carlo Canna, Italy’s fly half, during the week will certainly have affected their ability to create problems for Scotland – Haimona is certainly not as gifted a player – and it will have, no doubt, required a significant change in the game plan. That having been said, I never rated Haimona as a kicker yet he nailed all of his kicks off the tee and his kick offs to Parisse could not have been better. For me it was a serious lack of game management coupled with the amount of turnovers they gave away (13 v 8) that cost them dearly. If you add the fact that Italy’s bench is not strong you can see why they are always going to struggle to close games out. Most teams now talk about the match day 23 being composed of ‘starters’ and ‘finishers’. For Italy, I suspect, that they will make changes only when the starting XV have run out of steam rather than to put the opposition to the sword.
I thought Parisse was, yet again, monumental and Campagnaro showed that he is developing into a centre that any team would be glad to have in their side. It was Laidlaw, however, with his 21 point haul, that put the nail in the coffin that buried Italy.
ENGLAND V IRELAND
This was the first real test for Eddie Jones, having eased past Scotland and seen off Italy in the last 20 minutes in Rome. The situation, for Ireland, was significantly different; their problem being a team bereft – again – of a number of key players. Something that a small nation can hardly afford.
This game, for the first time in the championship, lived up to its billing. It was fast and furious, exciting and the game ebbed and flowed – first in Ireland’s favour and then back to England. I think, despite the fact that the statistics say that it was a close game – with Ireland edging the possession and territory, that England should have, in all honesty won more convincingly. The lack of precission in the Irish 22 and their penalty count (including two yellow cards) let them down badly. The fact that Danny Care, barely on the pitch, missed the last 10 minutes of the game as he was on the naughty step, severely dented England’s abilit to pull away. Farrell also needs a good talking to – he has always been an aggressive player, but he is beginning to rack up the penalty count and for all his place kicking points he could soon be a costly liability to England.
Ireland threatened on numerous occasions and it was only Jack Nowell’s lung busting run and cover tackle to prevent Henshaw scoring in the corner that kept England ahead with 15 minutes to go. If that had been a 7 pointer, then the rest of the game would have been on a knife edge.
Another notable point is how well Itoje played. This was his first start (having played a handfull of minutes in Rome) and he looked as if he was a seasoned international. If he can stay fit, there is no doubt that he is going to be a world class player.
So, the Championship winners for the last two years are effectively out of the running this year and the Jones era is 3/3. The game against Wales in two weeks will be another step up in intensity and quality, but this England team (still pretty much consisting of players from the Lancaster era – only 4 of the match day 23 being new) seem to have banished the demons from the World Cup and are in a good place. Ireland could do with a visit to Lourdes – we might then see their real potential.
As a general comment- none of the teams with superior possession and territory stats won a game! Who says that stats don’t lie?
ONE WORD DESCRIPTIONS:-
Wales – Uncompromising
France – Chaotic
Italy – Disconnected
Scotland – Vibrant
England – Frustrating
Ireland – Gutsy