Last week I mentioned that Scotland’s lack of composure could haunt them against the top teams and unfortunately it cost them this week. When you commit 18 handling errors against one of the best teams in world rugby, you are not winning that game. Furthermore, Scotland should have gone in ahead at the end of the first half, camping on the Ireland try line, against teams like Ireland, you have to take those chances. Additionally, they failed to capitalise on the momentum they garnered at the end of the first half, managing to only have 33% possession in the second half, however, when they did have the ball, they were great to watch.
The injury to Stuart Hogg was always going to hurt them, a player of that quality going off will damage any team’s chances of victory, however, Blair Kinghorn played well, managing to make 102 metres with the ball in hand, the most in round two, three clean breaks and beat five defenders. The Edinburgh boy is making a case for a starting role in the Scotland team.
Scotland are the most entertaining team in the championship and will give anyone trouble, however, if they are to make a go of it at the World Cup come September, they have to become much more clinical in attack.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was a mature performance by Ireland, made all the more impressive with absence of Jonny Sexton for the majority of the match. This match was all about getting back to winning ways and they did just that. They did well to keep Scotland out at the end of the first half, however the second half they controlled the game extremely well, having 67% possession and 72% territory, starving Scotland of the ball and therefore opportunities.
With Carberry at 10 they lacked a little in attack, missing Sexton’s willingness to go to the line, forcing defenders to pick him up and create opportunities for teammates like Jacob Stockdale. Yet, after a shaky start which included an interception, the Munster fly half settled down, and with the help of Conor Murray controlled the game. Taking advantage of a sloppy Scotland defence he provided a great assist for Keith Earls’ try.
They still do not look at their best Ireland, they seem tired, however they defended well and took their chances against Scotland.
The Italians put on a valiant performance against Wales on Saturday, especially in defence, making tackle after tackle. They finished with a 90% tackle completion rate, the highest of round two and joint highest of the tournament so far, Ireland recorded the same rate against England in round one. Furthermore, it was a big step forward in comparison to their round one performance where they managed only an 84% tackle completion rate. However, where they lacked in defence was the ability to turn the ball over. Italy have turned the ball over only nine times so far this tournament, the second lowest out of the six teams with only Ireland turning the ball over less with five turnovers. Yet, Ireland had 60% possession against England and 59% against Scotland, compare this to Italy who managed 54% vs Scotland and 44% vs Wales. In reality Italy are just going from round to round struggling (albeit heroically) to stay with whoever they are playing in this competition.
Finally, Italy’s attack, they seem to run out of ideas if they have the ball for two long. They look dangerous on a turnover where they can get the ball to their backs in space and with a defence disjointed, yet when they have to keep to structure, they seem lost. The Italians improved in week two, but whether their performances will see them record a victory seems to depend on how their opposition play rather than themselves.
Warren Gatland’s team did not have to do anything special to come away from Rome with the victory. Plenty of players were rested for the trip, but those selected did more than enough to brush the Italians aside in what was the dullest match of the Championship so far. It was basic rugby from the Welsh but it was all that was needed.
However from here on in, Wales face three very real tests. Luckily their toughest tests, England and Ireland, will be played at the Principality, with a week five trip to Murrayfield splitting the two fixtures. Next week, I predict it will be an intense forward battle between Wales and England and in particular between the two backrows. Josh Navidi has been in excellent form recently, and if Wales are to turn over the Championship favourites, he will have to be a massive part of making that outcome a reality.
England provided a dominant performance against the French running out convincing 44-8 winners. Owen Farrell controlled the game, putting England in the right positions on the pitch to play and they were clinical when the opportunities provided themselves, with Jonny May running in a hat-trick before halftime.
Granted, it was a horrific French performance and you can make a strong case that Kyle Sinkler should have seen a yellow card, however do not take anything away from this England side who have finally rediscovered their groove. England’s defence has seen them make tackle after tackle, it is bizarre to think that a team with the most missed tackles (61), would be getting as much defensive praise as they have been, but the reason for this stat is the effort they are making in defence. England have attempted and completed the most tackles in the championship thus far with 390 and 329 respectively. Furthermore, they have also won the second most turnovers, managing 14, with only Wales ahead of them on 16.
Week three sees England travel to the Principality and a victory there will be a gigantic step forward in reclaiming the six nations crown.
This is absolute carnage. When a team can control a game against them, they are in trouble. I do not know if they are literally ignoring any form of structure in training, or if they just get bored during the match and just do their own thing.
In round one, they made 89 tackles, Ireland made the second lowest with 117. In round two they improved to 109 tackles, the joint lowest of the round, along with Wales. In fact, France have managed to make only 198 tackles in the competition so far. Ireland, the second lowest in this category, have managed 250 and England, who top table, have made 329.
For France to succeed, the game has to be utter carnage, no structure and extremely fast paced. When this happens, France look dangerous, however, this is international rugby we are talking about and you will struggle to find a team who do not have some one who is fairly competent at running the game.