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Italy v France

England v Scotland

Wales v Ireland

6 Nations Review: Brian Moore

Brian Moore

By Brian Moore


An uneven, sometimes monotonous, Six Nations championship will now go down to the wire, in a final round that will guarantee excitement and angst.

That it is so is due to an almost preternatural defensive display Wales produced in their 23-16 win over title favourites Ireland. It was an outstanding, attritional, game that went some way to compensating for some of the disappointing rugby that has taken place thus far. Led, in every way possible, by captain Sam Warburton, the Welsh tackling brought the Irish and themselves to a standstill. But that is not the whole story.

The initiative gained by Ireland at the start of their three previous games has come from their adept kick-and-chase strategy. Wales, however, did what none of their previous opponents could do - cope with the high ball and successfully reverse the ploy. The maestro for this important volte-face was their full back, Leigh Halfpenny; arguably the most dependable No15 in world rugby.

Leigh Halfpenny is the 'most dependable No15 in world rugby' (Rex)

Unable to dictate through the bootand without significant advantage in the tight, Ireland were forced to play with ball in hand and it is here the questions remain over Joe Schmidt’s side. Even accounting for the Welsh defensive effort, the fact is that Ireland did not have the creativity to break a resolute defence.

The Irish midfield had not been chosen to show anything in the first three games and failed when asked to do so, despite a surfeit of good quality ball. It is difficult to play with fluency if you do not do so regularly and Ireland have to expand their restricted tactical approach to gain this.

Sam Warburton takes on Cian Healy (Reuters)

One fact should concern Irish supporters – Ireland have only crossed the line three times in four games, plus one penalty try. How likely are you to beat the world’s best sides if you cannot score more tries?

The table-opening win by Wales should have been followed up by a potentially table-winning score from England against Scotland. Had Stuart Lancaster’s team put away even half of the try-scoring chances they missed they would have won by another 20 points and had an almost unassailable points difference, provided they beat France at home in the final round of games.

On the positive side, the return of second row Courtney Lawes showed that some of England’s longer-term injured players would have made a difference to England’s performances this campaign. His contribution in the loose, carrying and chasing down opponents, augmented a solid performance in the set which, at times, had to cope with some imprecise throwing.

Improved game management from scrum-half Ben Youngs allowed his fly-half partner, George Ford, to show his club form on the international stage.

Ford’s confidence and distribution skills allow him to play flat without compromising his ability to release his outside backs. The fact that he challenges the gain-line makes defenders check their drift and if, as in the case of his own try, they disregard him, he has the pace to accelerate through any resultant gap.

Outside Ford, both centres created and exploited space and Jack Nowell made the most of Scotland kicking far too long in the first 20 minutes of the game. That England managed to make at least seven clear, potentially try-scoring, line-breaks is to be welcomed. They consistently picked apart a Scottish defence that had, hitherto, proved generally impermeable.

Without context, a three-try win over an improved Scotland team might have been received more enthusiastically. Instead, it produced almost universal frustration about what might, perhaps should, have been.

England largely eradicated the unruliness that hampered their effort in Ireland by not giving away more than the odd unnecessary penalty but, as previously stated, discipline comes in various forms and in other ways England were not so and it showed.

Courtney Lawes made an impressive return to the starting XV (Getty Images)

The finishing of clear try-scoring chances does not require an element of magic, it requires the ball carrier to look for support, adjust his speed if necessary and time his final pass. Support runners have to vary their lines to make long and difficult passes unnecessary and to time them so that the passer does not have to flirt with the margins of a forward pass.

None of the chances that went begging was hugely difficult to execute, had those involved been disciplined. Yes, it is a lot easier from a seat, but that is no excuse for international players not to accomplish core skills, even if they are under pressure.

Up front, the line-out did not work as efficiently as it should because throws, support positions and timings were not precise – again a failure of discipline.

Whether England win or narrowly lose the Six Nations title, what will not change is the amount of work still to be done.


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