Sunday, March 12. 2017
So, although the defensive efforts from both sides were massive, and Wales need to think about how to cope with a very flat, very fast defensive line if they’re going to continue with a flat attacking line - although in fairness they adapted on the field fairly quickly unlike England against Italy and the intercepts went away. But, although Wales scrambled well and Ireland didn’t convert their opportunities against the All Blacks in the summer they’d have been 21-0 down. It’s fairly obvious that, for whatever reason, Wales and their back row in particular had an off day in Scotland. They were back with a vengeance on Friday forcing Ireland onto the back foot for most of the game. Ireland didn’t help themselves with an unfortunate offside that chalked off their only real try scoring opportunity. While Wales still have room to improve, against that quality of defence they will be happy, as will their fans, to have scored three tries. There will be some worries that they relied on North and Roberts but overall they will be happy. A lot of the familiar names will hold their hands up again, Owens was unspectacular but totally solid and played over 70 minutes, AW Jones, Tipuric, Warburton, Webb and of course North. There’s a lot of competition for wingers and full backs, but Williams and Halfpenny both had good games as well, and after that torrid first 15 minutes Biggar looked good in the face of ferocious defence. On the other side, Stander looked efficient as always, Sexton looked fairly composed but gave up an unnecessary yellow card. Scott Williams seemed to me to stand up well against Henshaw on both sides of the ball, which is not a bad recommendation. I would pick him ahead of Farrell, but it does depend on who Gatland picks at 10 and 15 - there are plenty of players in those positions who are in Farrell’s class (or better) as a place kicker and in his other skills at 12 I don’t think he’s up there. There’s a lot of scrambling for the 13 jersey, and Davies is in that mix, although not my favourite from the weekend.
In Rome, poor Italy got off to a good start, then roused the French who romped away. Picamoles was unlucky, in my opinion, with the try the TMO called back for a foot in touch, and Italy were lucky the score line wasn’t more one-sided. That said, although they did fall off at times, their last minute try proved that Italy are getting better in some aspects at least. Ben O’Keeffe was the referee for his first test match (he’s been an assistant a few times before) and seemed to have a decent game.
Finally, England stuff Scotland. Scotland really didn’t help themselves with an early yellow card, and Hogg being injured after 15 minutes or so added to their woes. A scrum where Scotland had turned over England’s driving maul 5 metres from the line being overturned for Barclay being a hot-head - that’s Scotland’s captain - resulting in a penalty, another lineout, maul and this time a try didn’t help at all, although the match was long gone by then. Hartley played 60 minutes or so, but still doesn’t look like a Lions hooker to me. On this performance Ford, Joseph, and his opposite number Jones all looked good. Chunks of the England pack held their hand up. The problem is, for three games that’s not been true of England and playing well against a dispirited and disjointed Scotland at home is very different to what will be demanded of them playing for the Lions. Jones seems more likely to get a shout because he played well in a side that was performing badly - and it wasn’t a case of standing out from a bad bunch, he genuinely played well.
I haven’t particularly picked a prop on either side of the scrum - in their core jobs I don’t think any props are particularly standing out this year to be honest. No scrum is dominating and no one is having the impact that, in years gone by, the like of Jenkins had in the loose.
Next weekend - Wales, Ireland and Scotland to win.
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