Six Nations 2021: England v Scotland

Six Nations 2021: England v Scotland

England kicked off the defence of their Six Nations title by hosting Scotland. Gregor Townsend’s team showed a vast improvement in 2020 but almost found themselves going behind in the opening seconds as Maro Itoje charged down Ali Price’s clearance, only for Jonny Hill to be penalised for sealing off 5mfrom the line. The Scots cleared their lines and took the game to the Auld Enemy and a series of penalties saw them work their way down the pitch and open the scoring with a Finn Russell penalty. The English indiscipline continued and led to Billy Vunipola being sent to the bin on 24 minutes for persistent offending by the team. Scotland looked to take advantage of the extra man by kicking to the corner, but Hamish Watson was held up on the line and 5 minutes of reset scrums resulted in a Finn Russell cross-kick that bounced just a little too high for even Duhan van der Merwe to claim. The Scots soon got the try they were looking for though, as Sean Maitland beat Jonny May to a high ball on the edge of the England 22, and when the ball was spread wide to van der Merwe, the wing powered through tackles from Elliot Day, Owen Farrell and Mark Wilson to score the only try of the game. Russell was unable to score the conversion from out wide, and when Rory Sutherland gave away a penalty for not rolling away, Owen Farrell kicked the 3 points to get on the scoreboard, before adding another penalty right before the half as Russell was sent to the bin for a trip on Ben Youngs, leaving the halftime score at 6-8, a scoreline that flattered the English.

The Scots had to see out the first 9 minutes of the second half a man down, but did so with aplomb by keeping the ball tight and drawing England into giving away more penalties, which allowed Russell to come back on and immediately kick the team back into a 5-point lead. The rest of the half saw England try – and fail – to produce anything that even resembled attacking play, while the Scots held firm in defence, and though Stuart Hogg’s team missed a couple of kicks at goal and began making a few errors, they were able to hang on for an historic 6-11 win to regain the Calcutta Cup.


This was a result that has been coming for England, and Eddie Jones has nobody to blame but himself. Over the last couple of years, he has created a team that actively discourages any form of positive rugby and instead focuses on defensive solidity, forward dominance, accurate kicking – both from hand and at goal – and taking advantage of their opponents errors in order to put points on the board. That’s all well and good, until your pack gets outplayed and you’re the team giving away all the penalties.

Of course, the selection can’t have helped either, with half the team having not played in months due to either the league not playing (the Saracens players who make up a key core of the team) or COVID outbreaks in the squad. This was a team coming in missing crucial rugby fitness and it showed, with flat performances across the board. Owen Farrell looked shell-shocked, Billy Vunipola could only make it just past the hour despite having a 10-minute break in the first half, while Ollie Lawrence and the backs outside him must have been wondering who they had insulted to get so little ball.

An when England so desperately needed an attacking spark coming off the bench, they replace Mark Wilson – a solid defensive player but not an attacking star – with Courtney Lawes, leaving Ben Earl on the bench. For so long, Eddie Jones has got away with his ridiculous selections and tactics by drawing out wins; now that their opponents have rebuilt, England are going to have a much harder run, and it’s time to move onto a coach that selects players on form and looks to play attractive and effective rugby at the same time.


In an alternate reality, Cameron Redpath could have been playing for England today, instead he was making his debut for Scotland and playing a key role in the victory. Aged 18, he was called up to Eddie Jones’ England training squad but an ACL injury ruled him out for months. Tied in with the arrival of big names at Sale, he found his chances limited, but a move to Bath has really worked out for him and I feel that switching allegiance to Scotland will work better for him than staying with England as Townsend will do a better job getting the best out of him that Eddie Jones would.

In this match, he really showed England what they were missing, running brilliant lines and always being willing to take the ball on, while also earning a key turnover penalty on halfway that would have stretched the lead to a 2-score claim had Stuart Hogg not kicked wide. He will certainly face bigger challenges in defence, but he already looks like an established international rather than a debutant, and that is the highest of praise.

Could he be in with a shot of a place on the Lions Tour, assuming t goes ahead? I think that this Tour may have just come a little too soon for him, but if he can carry on performing like that, he could certainly push his way in as a late bolter.

Lions Watch

And so with the British and Irish Lions Tour to South Africa due to take place this summer, it is the return of Lions Watch, looking at players whose chances of making the squad were helped or harmed by this game.

As well as Redpath, fellow recent Scotland call-up Duhan van der Merwe showed his quality in attack, with his size and power giving an extra dimension out wide. Hamish Watson continues to shine every time he puts on a Scotland shirt and it’s hard to imagine that his power carrying and doggish determination at the breakdown would not see him make the plane. As for England, Maro Itoje was probably one of the few players to not do himself harm with a performance that saw him solid in defence and putting heavy pressure on Ali Price whenever he was kicking from the base of a ruck. Finally, Stuart Hogg put in such an assured performance including some inch-perfect kicks to touch that really highlighted his quality at a moment when the fullback shirt looks up for the taking.

On the flip side, Owen Farrell‘s struggles may lead to a worry that a lack of top flight rugby will see him fail to reach his heights this summer if he can’t turn things around quickly. Finn Russell had some moments of quality, but his trip on Ben Youngs was a timely reminder that he is not the most solid option in defence, while Ellis Genge may have taken a hit as his struggles against Zander Fagerson in the scrum may outweigh his carrying in the loose when you consider how dangerous a weapon the Springboks scrum is. Finally, Billy Vunipola looked far from fit and very rarely looked a threat with ball in hand – is his time at the top of the game over?

Guinness Six Nations

Six Nations 2021: Italy v France

Six Nations 2021: Italy v France

It may feel like the 2020 Six Nations only just finished, but the 2021 edition kicked off today in Rome as Italy hosted Rome at the Stadio Olimpico.

The French came into the match one of the favourites to win the tournament, and they soon found themselves on the Italian try line, with Dylan Cretin managing to stretch out an arm to dot the ball down over the line under the posts after 6 minutes, Matthieu Jalibert adding the conversion. Jalibert soon added a penalty to the score before his opposing number Paolo Garbisi kicked three points of his own. Italy were missing a number of big names but playing positive rugby and put together a strong series of phases in the French 22, which came to a disappointing end as Michele Lamaro knocked on as he tried to run a crash ball line off a ruck. Italian indiscipline then proved costly as the resultant French scrum became a French lineout in midfield, and another unnecessary penalty gave the French a lineout in the Italian 22. The French set up the maul and as it stalled, Antoine Dupont recognised that Stephen Varney was not covering behind the defensive line, leading to him kicking into the sizeable in-goal area for Gaël Fickou to dot down. Dupont proved decisive again just minutes later as he hacked on an Italian pass that had gone to ground. The bounce beat Azzurri fullback Jacopo Trulla and favoured Gabin Villière, who offloaded to the supporting Dupont. The scrum half was stopped just short, but found Arthur Vincent for try number 3, while Jalibert continued his 100% record off the tee. Dupont did end the half with one blot on his record, however, as Stephen Varney came away from a ruck and snuck down a 5m blind side, selling dummies to both Cyril Baille and Dupont before feeding Monty Ioane to go over in the corner, however TMO Karl Dickson rightly adjudged that the final pass was forward, so the half ended with Les Bleus on top 3-24.

Les Bleus were soon back on the offensive after the break and while Jacopo Trulla managed to beat Teddy Thomas to Brice Dulin’s grubber into the in-goal, it only delayed the inevitable as Dulin and Villière countered an Italian kick just minutes later and Dulin beat everyone to Villière’s kick forward before riding Garbisi’s tackle to secure the bonus point. Just minutes later, the French were scoring again, with Thomas on the loop on first phase from a lineout, outpacing Brex with his outside arc and feeding back inside to Dupont for the try. With the next attack, Jalibert snuck through a gap between the Italian locks to feed the supporting Dupont, and the scrum half duly repaid his debt to Thomas by spreading it to the wing for a try of his own, with Jalibert maintaining his 100% record off the tee before being removed. With the result secured within an hour, a deluge of substitutions affected the flow of the game and the Italians found a reason to cheer as Maxime Mbanda turned the ball over and after a couple of phases, the ball came to Luca Sperandio, who chased his own chip and too it on the full to cross for an Italian try, converted by Garbisi. However, there was time for one more try as France earned a scrum 5m out from the Italian try line. The ball went blind and Brice Dulin bravely ignored the impending smash from Ioane and calmly flicked the ball through his hands to put Thomas over for his second try of the game. Louis Carbonel was unable to kick the conversion from out wide, but it didn’t matter in the long run as France ran out 10-50 winners.


With so many big names missing – including Jake Polledri, Matteo Minozzi, Braam Steyn and Michele Campagnaro – this was never going to be an easy match for the Azzurri. But rather than do as most do whenever the Six Nations comes around and highlight the score and the negatives of the Italian performance, I am instead going to look at the positive of how they have improved from last tournament.

Frequently in 2020, I found myself lamenting the lack of variation in the Italian attack, with everything either being a 1-off pass to the pack or spreading the ball wide without earning it. However, with exciting stand-off Paolo Garbisi and recognised centres in Marco Zanon and Argentine-born debutant Juan Ignacio Brex, Italy looked much more dangerous and varied in midfield, with all 3 making breaks, while there was also much more variety to how the forwards were getting the ball, with crash balls off both 9 and 10 as well as forwards tipping the ball on or playing it to the backs.

And it was clear that this variety was having an impact, with Italy looking dangerous when able to put the phases together and forcing breaks both out wide and in midfield. There is still room for improvement though, as the players making the break were often lacking the support to fully take advantage of the situation, while the attack also appeared to be stymied by the introduction of Carlo Canna for the injured Zanon early in the second half. With such a young team playing great attacking rugby without their stars, that elusive win may not come in this tournament, but I don’t think that it is far away.


There wasn’t much to criticize Les Bleus about in this game, but one thing could be their kicking game. While many of the kicks were competitive, there was also a strikingly large number that found themselves sailing and bouncing into the sizeable in-goals and even over the dead ball line. It could have been even worse at many stadia as the Stadio Olimpico in-goals almost doubled the length of the pitch, so even more scrums could have been given away in dangerous areas had they been playing on another pitch.

Maybe it was a tactic to kick deep and force the Azzurri to play from deep, maybe it was unfamiliarity with the ball – the balls have shown some horrifically unpredictable bounces over these first 2 games – or maybe it was a bit too much exuberance from the youngsters, but the French need to remember that their players can already kick the living **** out of the ball and may want to work on taking a little length off their kicks during training this week, otherwise a more dangerous team could take advantage of the free possession and territory.

Guinness Six Nations