Week 2 of the 6 Nations was the week of the bonus point. Wales and Scotland both came away from heart-breaking losses with losing bonus points, while the Irish made history by earning the first ever 4-try bonus point in their rout of Italy. Though the Italy v Ireland game was a disappointing way to start the weekend – if you can consider a game with 10 tries disappointing – the remaining games were tight throughout and could have gone either way even going into the final 5 minutes.
With that in mind, here are my thoughts as we wave goodbye to Week 2 and start looking ahead to the next round in 2 weeks’ time.
Italy 10 – 63 Ireland
CJ Stander has all but ruined my chances of defending my title in work’s fantasy rugby league. I am one of the few people out there who spent the weekend regretting that I had not chosen to include him in my squad for the weekend, damn the weekly transfer limit! So even as I write about how good he’s played, I’m holding back tears.
The Munster back row was surely already pushing for a place in the British and Irish Lions Test team, but his performance against Italy has surely put him in possession of the 6 shirt. He finished the game with some incredible statistics to go with his Man of the Match award:
- 22 carries
- 73 metres made
- 2 line breaks
- 3 tries
- 1 assist
- 11 tackles completed (100%)
- 1 turnover
These stats don’t even show half the story, as he looked dangerous every time he got the ball, and was stopped inches short of a 4th try late in the game. His 2nd try was a short-range drive for the line carrying half the Italian team with him, while he showed a lovely turn of pace for his 1st and 3rd try, also picking a lovely line for the latter to cut through the defence. I doubt he meant for his kick downfield to end up in a try for Craig Gilroy, but I’m sure if anyone asks he’ll say it was deliberate! Granted, Italy did not put up the sternest of defences, but I’m sure if he continues to play like this, it won’t be his last Man of the Match award in this tournament.
There’s not much good that can really be said about Italy’s performance this weekend. Often thought of as a 50 minute team, Italy didn’t even manage that against the Irish, with a penalty try from a driving maul about the only highlight of the game. It’s hard to believe that this is the same Italy who beat the Springboks in the Autumn Internationals. The pack has always been an area of dominance for the Azzuri, yet they could not even manage that, and the backs were starved of anything even resembling good ball. I don’t understand why Michele Campagnaro continues to only make the bench; he is about the only person in that backline who has caused any danger for the opposition over the last 2 games and is also one of the few players in the squad used to winning on a regular basis at club level. It is possible that the physicality provided at 12 for many years by Gonzalo Garcia is being missed; as neither Carlo Canna nor Luke McLean has managed to get the men outside looking dangerous in attack. The week off has come at an important time, with England up next the Italians need to reset and find a way to be competitive, or the calls for promotion and relegation will increase.
Wales 16 – 21 England
The England bench got the team out of jail for the second week running. Throughout the game, Nathan Hughes was going into contact too high and struggling to make the big metres that England needed to break through the red wall. Jonathan Joseph has not lit up the tournament like in recent years and Mike Brown is looking merely solid rather than the spectacular we have come to expect, so it is now more obvious when he chooses to keep the ball for himself rather than pass to his wingers. Dylan Hartley was taken off early in the second half and replacement Jamie George had a much more visible impact on the game. James Haskell and Ben Te’o once again added an extra physical dimension after their inclusion and Kyle Sinckler won the penalty that gave England the chance to see the game out, as well as putting pressure on Jonathan Davies for that kick leading to Elliot Daly’s try. Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes also swapped positions during the game. The mark of a good coach is to know when something isn’t working and bring on replacements who will change that, Eddie Jones has done exactly that so far this tournament. With England’s next match against Italy, I would love to see England give Te’o and Sinckler starts, while also moving Daly to 13 or 15.
It wasn’t just the English substitutions that helped England get on the front foot, but also one of the Welsh ones too. I may be biased towards Gloucester players, but I feel that Ross Moriarty was in the running for Man of the Match until he was replaced by Taulupe Faletau. Moriarty brought a physical edge to the back row that has rarely been seen in recent years. So many England attacks were thwarted by a Moriarty tackle pushing their big boys back, and he also left his mark on Owen Farrell with a tremendous – if slightly late – hit. While Faletau is a fantastic player and arguably one of the best back rows in the world, this was his first game of rugby since Christmas Eve, as he returns from his second injury of the season. A tight game against England is not the return to rugby that you would want in those circumstances. This is nothing against Faletau at all, but the decision to bring him on for Moriarty, at such a crucial time in the game as England’s strong runners were coming off the bench was absolutely baffling.
France 22 – 16 Scotland
I felt so sorry for Scotland in this game. Already without experienced props Alasdair Dickinson and WP Nel, the Scottish scrum struggled against a hefty French unit all game, with a number of penalties gifting the home team territory and points. As if things weren’t hard enough, they lost inspirational captain Greig Laidlaw before the half hour mark and his replacement as captain John Barclay was also off by half time. As if the loss of over 100 cap’s worth of experience was not bad enough, they soon had to replace John Hardie – Barclay’s replacement – for Tim Swinson, limiting the Scot’s effectiveness in the back row. Against all the odds, Scotland still managed to stay competitive throughout the game and come away from Paris with a losing bonus point. They have come so far under Vern Cotter and if they continue to improve at this rate under Gregor Townsend, they could be peaking just in time for the World Cup.
He may look tiny behind such a gargantuan French pack, but Baptiste Serin has really impressed me in his first 2 tournament appearances. All too often we see quick ball ruined by a scrum-half taking too long to decide what he wants to do, and then taking even longer to actually do it – see Dan Biggar’s interception of Ben Youngs on Saturday. Serin however was frequently moving the ball on the instant he got to the breakdown, creating such a high tempo attack that any team would struggle to defend against it for too long. The decision to place the kicking responsibility on the shoulders of Camille Lopez has allowed Serin to focus on the rest of his game for now, but I’m sure that once he has a bit more experience under his belt he will start taking on more responsibility in this team. At only 22 years old and currently training with Dimitri Yachvili, the former U20s captain could be one of the top scrum-halves come the 2019 World Cup.
Did I miss anything? Want to give your opinion on anything I’ve mentioned? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge