The Lineout Calls of the Week

Probably the first question is have you all caught your breath yet? What a weekend that was as Round 2’s Six Nations action gave us an extraordinary game between the number 1 and 2 sides in the world, France and Ireland, and completely lived up to the hype surrounding it in the process. Meanwhile in Murrayfield Scotland put in a performance that oozed class and most important of all consistency as they completely dismantled a truly hapless Welsh side. Finally, England found their mojo against a very spirited Italian outfit that despite coming out on the losing side, still looks ominous. In short, a Six Nations tournament that already looks set to be one for the ages simply didn’t take its foot off the accelerator!

There were so many talking points that came out of last weekend, it’s unlikely that we’ve even scratched the surface in our musings below, but what follows is what got us talking the most over some rather feisty and frothy pints.

Ireland stun France and in the process old and new heroes are found!

Now that we know the backstory to veteran Irish scrum half Conor Murray’s performance last Saturday it makes it all the more extraordinary, in a game that will live in the memory for many years to come

There is no question that the dustup between France and Ireland last Saturday at the Aviva in Dublin will take some beating in terms of spectacle this year. As a dress rehearsal for a potential World Cup quarter final between these two we couldn’t of asked for better. Both teams went at each other hammer and tongs and the first forty minutes alone left most of us reaching for the nearest oxygen tank – we can only imagine what the players must have been feeling like. It was a classic Six Nations match and one that will live on our highlights reels for a long time.

The handling and skill on display from both of these sides was of exceptional quality. In the end Ireland looked the fitter and better organized side, with many of their clearly rehearsed moves going to script. France on the other hand were equally ambitious but they are perhaps not as comfortable yet with the groundwork and tactics being developed to keep opposition sides guessing come the World Cup. However, the intent was there and had the Men in Blue not made as many uncharacteristic errors as they did last Saturday, then we would probably be writing a very different postscript. Nevertheless the danger signs are all there and France are unlikely to be as much of a rough diamond in the months to come as they are now.

For Ireland, it was a great day at the office with some sublime handling skills, well rehearsed moves and perhaps most important of all a control of proceedings that made it exceptionally difficult for France to develop any kind of rhythm. Ireland’s line speed and defence was extraordinary and as a result France were having to live off scraps and create opportunities from whatever they could scavenge. The fact that they were able to do so outlines just how dangerous France are even when things aren’t quite going their way.

The Irish will be happy that veteran scrum half Conor Murray was able to put in his best shift in a green jersey since the heady days of 2018. This was made all the more remarkable given the back story to it. His father was involved in a horrific bicycle accident with a truck and sustained serious injuries on the Tuesday before the match. That Murray was able to play and in such a composed, calm and effective manner is true testimony to the remarkable player he is and we’re all delighted to see him back at the height of his powers in the Irish setup. There were some touching moments as French Coach Fabien Galthie was seen to give the Irish scrum half a warm embrace after the match, and Murray himself showed genuine compassion for fellow teammate second rower Tadgh Beirne who was pitch side on crutches after the final whistle.

New heroes are also stepping up to the plate in the Irish camp. Fullback Hugo Keenan was truly imperious under the high ball all afternoon and his spectacular opening try demonstrated just what a world class player he really is. Caelan Doris is rapidly becoming one of the best number eights in the world, giving France’s Gregory Alldritt and New Zealand’s Ardie Savea serious food for thought. Meanwhile Ross Byrne stepped majestically into Johnny Sexton’s boots for the bulk of the second half. Ireland still have some serious work to do ahead of their trips to Rome and Murrayfield and that potential Championship decider against England back in Dublin, most notably sorting out their missed tackle count which was one of the few blemishes on an otherwise immaculate performance. A 73% tackle success rate is simply unacceptable at this level no matter how well you are able to control proceedings and their lineout success also at 73% needs some serious work.

For France, Dublin was a setback and their hopes of back to back Grand Slams are now dead and buried – but it is definitely not all gloom and doom. There was enough inventiveness on display that once it starts to fire, probably by the time of that opening World Cup match against the All Blacks, France will once again be back to their most dangerous and unpredictable best. The next three games will be critical in getting some traction towards that goal, but we hardly think it’s time to start ringing alarm bells. France had to play a largely reactive game on Saturday, but they will have learnt much in the process. Although they were on the wrong side of the score line there was much to be pleased about. If, as it should have been, James Lowe’s try been disallowed then there would only have been one score in it. Make no mistake this was a close game and when France were able to create something they did it in typically spectacular fashion – just watch that Damian Penaud try if you doubt it for a second.

Antoine Dupont didn’t perhaps have his best day for France, but was still able to mesmerise us and do the unthinkable when required, just watch that try saving tackle on Mack Hansen if you’re not convinced. Back rower Anthony Jelonch was one of the heroes of the day in a blue jersey and for us he remains perhaps France’s most underrated weapon. Meanwhile new kid on the block winger Anthony Dumortier continued to embrace Test Rugby at the highest level and between himself and Penaud France look to be a genuine threat out wide.

In short a classic, and for now these two sides can comfortably still claim to be the most dangerous outfits heading into the World Cup. For New Zealand and South Africa, along with everyone else the benchmark has been set!

Scotland at long last find that missing ingredient – consistency – and in the process honor a fallen warrior

Scotland finally broke their Welsh demon at Murrayfield last Sunday and now, at two from two, can genuinely consider themselves in the hunt for some silverware – provided they can survive a difficult trip to Paris next week.

We said before the start of the Championship that consistency was Scotland’s biggest goal this Six Nations and building towards the World Cup. Scotland have started the tournament guns blazing in recent years only to end with a whimper. Saturday’s festivities in Murrayfield would seem to indicate that Scotland have at long last turned a corner. Their cohesion as a team with a clear sense of what kind of game they wanted to play and how to execute it was clear for all to see. Finn Russell’s goalkicking may leave a lot to be desired, but everything else about his game and how Scotland feeds off it, is so much better. Gone is the mindless recklessness replaced with daring but measured audacity. Russell has been labelled as a magician on the pitch and Saturday’s display was a masterclass in that regard.

However, it would be unfair to single out Russell alone. Scotland’s back row particularly Captain Jamie Ritchie and the outstanding Matt Fagerson were exceptional. Ben White had another stellar game in the nine jersey, while the Centre partnership of Huw Jones and Sione Tuipolutu looks world class and, in addition to its attacking prowess, also looks remarkably robust defensively allowing Chris Harris to spend some time relaxing on the bench. Duhan van der Merwe was once again unstoppable especially in the second half, but in many ways his colleague Kyle Steyn stole the show out wide last Saturday. In short there were so many positives in perhaps one of the most clinical Scotland performances we’ve seen in a long time.

To top it all off, this fixture is now known as the Doddie Weir Cup in honor of the legendary Scottish second rower who lost his inspirational fight with motor neurone disease at the end of last year. It was a moving and fitting tribute to a figure whose courage and humility was exemplary, and someone who was taken from us far too soon.

However, now it’s time to put it all in perspective. Wales were poor last Saturday whichever way you cut it, allowing the Scottish diamond to shine at full intensity. However, a dangerous opponent in the shape of a wounded French side lie in wait next Sunday in Paris followed by a seemingly unstoppable Ireland, albeit at Murrayfield. As we said before the competition, the game in Paris will be the most important litmus test of where Scotland really are this year and whether or not they have genuinely managed to turn a corner in terms of their old bugbear known as consistency. We can’t wait to find out!

Not exactly Wayne Barnes and the officiating team’s best day at the office and no this is not a Rassie Erasmus rant

The only blemishes on an otherwise outstanding effort from both teams but which could in equal measures have had huge ramifications

We’ll keep this one short. We are big fans of referee Wayne Barnes, and although he may be seeking some of the limelight of one of his illustrious predecessors the legendary Nigel Owens, a couple of mistakes were made last Saturday in Dublin which need to get tidied up.

As aggrieved as French supporters may feel about the James Lowe try, they should also be grateful that prop Uini Atonio only saw yellow for his blatant shoulder to the head on Irish Hooker Rob Herring who left the field for an HIA and was unable to return. Had as he should of done seen red and not yellow, then France would have been down to 14 men for a full hour. There likely would have been a few more Irish points on the board, and as a result whether or not James Lowe’s try was legitimate would have been irrelevant. Atonio makes no attempt to dip in the tackle and Herring is upright when it is made. It’s poor technique all day long and not the first time Atonio has been called out. He has since received a three match ban, which ultimately means his Six Nations is over but that was a red card plain and simple and needed to be adjudicated as such.

However, on the flip side we can empathize with French supporters over the Lowe try. Despite the Irish winger’s truly dazzling attempt to defy the laws of physics, he doesn’t quite pull it off. As the one camera angle they needed all day long shows, but was somehow only available after the match, his foot clearly strikes the ground in touch. Given the priority given to getting all the angles to adjudicate such potentially game changing decisions, we were literally gob smacked that this was only provided after the match. While ultimately it wouldn’t have changed the game’s final outcome, with a World Cup just around the corner the officials really have to get this right.

England start to show us what the future might look like

Can England finally stop obsessing about Manu Tuilagi and just focus on working with what they have, as in the shape of Ollie Lawrence it looks rather impressive to say the least

After coming unstuck against Scotland for the third consecutive year, new Coach Steve Borthwick and his charges desperately needed the shot in the arm that the match against Italy gave them. Make no mistake Italy were no pushover and actually won the second half, but a fired up England put in a first half performance that finally gave English supporters reasons to be cheerful. It wasn’t perfect by a long stretch, but England did enough in the first half to allow them to paper over the cracks that Italy managed to expose in the second half.

Borthwick is known as a set piece specialist and in that regard he can feel exceptionally pleased with England’s performance last Sunday at Twickenham. The scrum could use a little work but at the rucks and at lineout time England were outstanding and their rolling maul looked a weapon that will cause Ireland and France some heartache. Even in attack they started to finally show some shape particularly in the form of centre Ollie Lawrence who put in a massive shift, gaining 58 metres and beating 8 defenders and surely the whole obsession with Manu Tuilagi is now irrelevant. Add to that the fact that when Marcus Smith came on, along with Alex Mitchell at scrum half and Henry Arundell on the wing England literally sparkled on attack.

England won’t be happy with the fact that they missed 41 tackles and defensively they still need a lot of work, but given this was only Borthwick’s second match in charge there was plenty to start to get excited about for England and their supporters. The future made an appearance on Sunday at Twickenham and it does look rather promising at long last.

As for Italy, we always thought that beating a new look England at Twickenham was rather a tall order, but they can still head back to Rome and await the Irish and Welsh with some degree of confidence. It was a strong second half performance from Italy, with some massive performances most notably from back rower Sebastian Negri and rugby’s hottest property in the back three fullback Ange Capuozzo. We have a hunch that it won’t be Italy holding the Wooden Spoon this year.

The train wreck known as Welsh Rugby

Welsh Rugby is suffering a dizzying fall from grace with players clearly frustrated and upset by the state of the game in Wales which is starting to fracture the team. All of a sudden cooking with Wooden Spoons is a distinct possibility for Wales this Six Nations

Whichever way you cut it, Wales is not a fun place to be right now if you’re a professional rugby player. A governing body that regards its players with contempt and seems incapable of managing the game at national and provincial levels with any degree of competency, is wreaking havoc with Wales’ Six Nations aspirations. With the players threatening to go on strike and put next weekend’s fixture against England in jeopardy while the men in suits fiddle as Cardiff burns, you have to wonder just how the rot entrenched in the management of Welsh rugby has been allowed to go on for the past ten years the way it has.

The end result of this is evident on the pitch and in the Coaching box. Warren Gatland looks as if he genuinely hates his job, with his players looking frustrated, demoralised and confused. Wales have been shambolic in both their performances in the Six Nations so far. Ireland was bad enough but perhaps the Principality crowd were enough to ensure that Wales weren’t completely humiliated. However as the machinations in Cardiff boardrooms reached fever pitch last week, it clearly meant that players had too much time to think about it on the trip to Murrayfield. Wales just weren’t at the races, and simply failed to fire as a unit. Their much vaunted new look back row just didn’t gel and for much of the match was irrelevant despite an impressive solo effort from Christ Tshiunza. Defensively they looked at sixes and sevens while failing to get any kind of attacking momentum despite some promising opportunities that they seemed incapable of finishing.

Perhaps the most damning evidence of Wales state of disarray was fly half Dan Biggar’s temper tantrum with Welsh new boy winger Rio Dyer after the former Captain was on the receiving end of a very poor pass from Dyer. Biggar is part of the leadership group and to be seen visibly remonstrating one of his colleagues on the pitch and TV screens around the world was not a good look. The senior group of Welsh players need to be seen to be supporting and encouraging the new crop of talent that Wales is trying to develop. Biggar has since apologized but whichever way you cut it it left a bad taste in the mouth. Unless the frustrations seeping into the national cause are addressed with both empathy and a view to a sustainable future, then we have a hunch that such outbursts are likely to be commonplace over the coming weeks.

This is not an attempt to denigrate Welsh rugby and its players, many of whom are venerated here at the Lineout. However, we share their frustration and are disheartened that such a proud rugby nation and a group of talented and committed players are being treated as poorly as they are. May the rot be brought to a halt forthwith and Wales and its players be allowed to get on with the game they so treasure and which we love watching them play.


Published by Neil Olsen

Passionate about rugby and trying to promote the global game in Canada and North America.

4 thoughts on “The Lineout Calls of the Week

  1. Thanks again Neil. Great write up. I was really disappointed in not being able to secure a single match ticket for the RWC, despite clicking the official site queue, I waited for five hours and on finally getting in at 23h French time, all tickets for all venues sold out. Incredibly disappointing. I found later from a rugby playing collègue that even through his provincial club connections, he could only buy a tranche of three tickets, one for a premium group match and two for lesser group matches, but you had to buy all three not just the “better” one. So where have all the tickets gone?


    1. Hi Micky. Thanks. Yes I hear your pain. I found the official ticketing site really frustrating, much more so than either Japan 2019 (which I didn’t go to) and England in 2015 which I did. In the end myself and my family bit the bullet and went through an official RWC travel package and got tickets for the two QFs in Paris but at an eye watering sum. Still it’s my sixtieth birthday this year, so swallowed the pain especially as it’s the first genuine shot Ireland have at ever making it out of the QFs (even if we’ve all heard that before). There may still be tickets available if you use Gullivers travel on the official RWC website, but like I say it ain’t cheap. Take care and good luck and as always thanks for the support. Check out Squidge’s analysis of the France/Ireland game over on the TV page – really interesting. Cheers mate.


      1. Thanks for reply Neil. As I only live 2h from Bordeaux and 4h from Paris, I will see if there are any local travel agency options.


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