The Lineout Calls of the Week

As the Six Nations draws to a thundering close – let’s be honest is there anything else to really talk about? Well actually yes there is. A bunch of lads from Fiji turned the form book upside down last weekend in Lautoka and made history in one of the most enjoyable and infectiously joyous rugby games we can remember for a long time. Also our own Arrows started to click courtesy of a young Kiwi and got their first win of the season, even if it was a bit more of a nail biter than we would have liked.

But ultimately as it should the Six Nations took centre stage and gave us some epic moments. Maybe we’d talked Italy up too much, but perhaps as a result of too much ambition the Azzurri played their hearts out but ultimately fluffed their lines against a Welsh side that seemed to have rediscovered their love of the game, despite all the troubles plaguing it back home. France then proceeded to completely and utterly put England to the sword at Twickenham and in the process silenced many of us who had been wondering if they’d peaked too soon ahead of their own World Cup this year. England by comparison are clearly wishing that this was the start of the World Cup cycle and not its conclusion. Lastly on Sunday, Scotland the brave gave everything they had against Ireland but, despite the number of Irish casualties littering the field, they just couldn’t get past the Men in Green. For Ireland who look set to cruise to the Grand Slam this Saturday, their ability to adapt to the ongoing field hospital conditions was nothing short of miraculous, while depth and composure is something that Ireland now appear to have in abundance.

So as always there was plenty of subject matter to keep our pints frothy but here’s what got us jabbering the most.

Wales make sure that it’s a race to the finish for the Wooden Spoon between themselves and Italy

Veteran Welsh scrum half Rhys Webb showed his Coach what he’d been missing all along in Rome on Saturday, while Italy are once more in danger of walking away from this Six Nations with nothing more than a Wooden Spoon

As Wales looked into the abyss of the Six Nations basement last Friday night, they knew that Saturday’s match was critical to breathing life back into a Welsh dragon that is clearly suffering. Sometimes the best teams simply know how to find the strength as a unit to fight their way out of such dark places. Wales’ performance last Saturday in Rome was exactly that. It wasn’t perfect but it was a team playing for each other and in the process remembering that, despite all the turmoil back in Wales, this is a game they love to play together and for each other. It probably won’t be enough to get them past France this weekend but it at least put a smile back on their faces and in the process the mental strength to face a daunting final game in Paris. Wales may be down but they are definitely not out yet. Build on the performance in Rome, and at least be competitive in Paris this weekend and the tough task of building for the World Cup come September can be approached with some degree of optimism.

For Italy, it was almost as if the desire to win was overwhelming. They were filled with ambition and kept trying to play too much rugby and be too clever, and as a result it tripped them up almost every time. There was no lack of enterprise but they simply couldn’t finish off the moves. If ever there was a time to slow it down and keep it simple, the game in Rome on Saturday was a case in point for Italy. Although the promise of what they can do has finally started to take shape this Six Nations, they have a tendency to overcomplicate things. Their handling error count which was already the highest in the competition went through the roof on Saturday, and the number of times we had to look away as a rushed pass or kick/chase was butchered was immensely frustrating.

In short, Italy didn’t play a bad game and Wales didn’t play a brilliant game, but the Welsh were the more patient of the two and it paid huge dividends. Italy did almost twice as much as Wales in practically every statistic but with only a 50% success rate. The Welsh by comparison fed off Italy’s mounting error count, and took their own chances in a much more measured and composed fashion. Welsh scrum half Rhys Webb made an extraordinary return to Test rugby and made Coach Warren Gatland wonder why he’d fallen out of favor in the first place.

Italy now face the daunting trip to Murrayfield to face a Scottish side in serious danger of reverting to type and fizzling out of the Six Nations once more after a promising start. As a result there is still an outside chance that just like last year Italy could pull off a big surprise for the final round. Wales although boosted by the win in Rome must have watched France’s demolition of the English with serious alarm. Beating a feisty Italian side in Rome is one thing, beating the world’s second best team who now appear to be in full song is another thing altogether and in front of a packed Stade de France. The contest for the Wooden Spoon is still very much alive and will keep us in suspense until Australian referee Nic Berry blows the final whistle in Paris on Saturday.

France make it look too easy while England looked as though they hadn’t studied or been to the gym

France’s Damian Penaud made Test rugby look like child’s play as he and his colleagues showcased France back to their best, while England looked out of shape and out of ideas

If you were a French supporter or a neutral you would have found Saturday’s proceedings a glorious exposition of the beauty of the modern game. If you were an England supporter you were most likely looking over the top of the couch in sheer horror and with a very stiff drink in your hand. France were magnificent in every aspect and any doubts about whether or not they are genuine contenders to lift the Webb Ellis trophy in the Stade de France on October 28th can once more be consigned to the rubbish heap. England meanwhile know they have a ridiculously short and painful five months ahead of them in which to get them even close to the point where they can be genuinely competitive once they leave the pool stages, and that’s assuming they even make it out of the pools alive.

For England what really struck us the most was how unfit they looked. Admittedly it must be tiring as all hell chasing around after a bunch of guys in blue jerseys as sharp as France are, but still that porous English defence was once again glaringly obvious. Their forwards were completely outplayed at the breakdown by France who attacked and defended with speed and precision. Far too many English players were left isolated after a promising break, with the rest of their teammates arriving far too late. England were painfully slow at recycling the ball and keeping it moving, whereas the French were doing everything at least twice if not three or four times as fast. England’s lethargic pace at times allowed French defences to reset continuously with every English play being literally telegraphed ahead to the French coaching box before it got underway. Once again England’s handling errors mounted as the game increasingly got away from them, and France were there to pounce on every English miscue and Ireland will do the same this Saturday.

For France it was a faultless performance from start to finish and one which reflected the standards this remarkable team must now set for themselves in the World Cup. Wales should be a relatively straightforward proposition for the Men in Blue on Saturday to finish off their campaign in style. Although France’s chances of lifting the Six Nations silverware now look rather dim, given that they require a badly misfiring England to do them a favor in Dublin on Saturday, a strong second place finish will leave Fabien Galthie and his Coaching team with a warm fuzzy feeling ahead of their World Cup preparations. After watching Saturday’s game at Twickenham you can’t help get the feeling that the best is yet to come from France.

Scotland put up a brave fight in a match that took some heavy casualties, but Ireland’s ability to adapt prevailed

Scotland must be commended for putting in a massive opening 40 minutes, but as the body count started to mount on both sides Ireland showed some remarkable flexibility in dealing with it

First up, let’s simply say that Sunday’s encounter in Edinburgh was a game of two halves. In the first half two sides went at each other hammer and tongs and ran from every perceivable corner of the pitch. It was thrilling stuff and showed enormous enterprise and skill from both teams. However, in the second half Scotland ran out of gas and once more started to chase the scoreboard as they did in Paris a fortnight earlier and sadly we all seem to know how that ends. Despite a mounting casualty list on both sides, Ireland simply hunkered down and adapted to the crisis they were forced to deal with, whereas Scotland slowly but surely started to look reckless and flustered. It was interesting as the more the game went on the more Scotland started to look like Italy under pressure in the game against Wales the day before. Ireland took a deep breath and focused on the task at hand while Scotland and Finn Russell played an increasingly risky and rushed game.

For Scotland it’s a trend they simply have to fix come the World Cup to realise their full potential. The skill and talent in this squad is exceptional, but just like Italy at times it boasts an ambition that is either inappropriate given the immediate situation they are faced with or not backed by the skills needed in the heat of the moment. Ireland always looked as if they had the measure of the game and the although audacious at times, their moves always boasted the skill set and preparation needed to make them fire. As the game wore on the same could not be said for Scotland. With fullback Stuart Hogg and fly half and star playmaker Finn Russell ultimately succumbing to injury Scotland were clearly starting to lose their cohesion.

For Ireland, they will look at Sunday’s game as a remarkable achievement. As an exercise in depth and crisis management Ireland excelled. To lose both your hookers is every Coach’s nightmare, but somehow Ireland took it all in their stride. Cian Healy proved once more that Test centurions have their value and then some as he made an outstanding shift to being a Test level hooker by necessity. In addition, World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier made a pretty solid effort at throwing lineout darts. Meanwhile the bench rose to the occasion, as Ryan Baird, Jack Conan and Robbie Henshaw all stood up and were counted for their injured counterparts. Jamison Gibson-Park returned from injury and once released from the bench looked as though his time on the sidelines hadn’t caused him to miss a beat whatsoever. Ireland will still be concerned with the number of tackles they are missing, 27 compared to Scotland’s 11, but their phenomenal success at turning the ball over is managing to compensate for it. However, it’s still an issue that simply has to get addressed ahead of the World Cup and unfortunately England are unlikely to give them much of a workout in that department this Saturday.

Scotland will want to end what has been for all intents and purposes one of their most positive Six Nations campaigns in recent memory, despite the two back to back losses. However, a solid win over Italy is absolutely key to ensuring they carry some formidable momentum into a challenging World Cup Pool. For Ireland a Grand Slam beckons and despite the missed tackle count, all of Ireland’s development goals for this Six Nations and building towards the World Cup, provided they dispatch England on Saturday, will have been met and then some.

We need to talk to our travel agents about flights to Lautoka

As the Fijian Drua scored an historic win over defending Super Rugby Champions the Crusaders, the atmosphere in Lautoka just looked so much fun

If you were as fortunate as we were to catch the Fijian Drua’s historic win over the Crusaders on Friday night (here in Toronto time wise that is), then the party atmosphere was well underway by the time you got up to watch Wales and Italy do battle on Saturday morning. We can’t remember the last time we had so much fun watching a Super Rugby game. So much so we’re all planning our winter holidays in Fiji next year to coincide with a Drua game. The atmosphere in the stands was absolutely fantastic and a wonderful celebration of what our glorious sport is all about. Everybody was just having so much fun! We weren’t having fun at the Crusaders expense as they did the match credit by putting up a serious contest, but as a sporting spectacle it took some beating. What’s even more exciting is that over the course of this Super Rugby season we get to watch the Drua put on a show in front of their adoring fans six (yes count them) more times!

As everyone knows who reads this blog, we have a genuine fanboy/girl thing about the Drua. However it’s based on wanting to see a side from a country that clearly struggles with resources but not talent do well in a premier club competition. When they do as evidenced on Friday it’s heady stuff and let’s be honest everyone loves the underdog. Sure you can argue that the Crusaders were missing some of their big guns like Richie Mo’unga but there was still a significant contingent of All Blacks there. Admittedly it looked incredibly humid which clearly didn’t help ball handling skills or fatigue at times for either side, but the Drua played with flair, passion, commitment and above all absolute loyalty to their delirious fans.

Rugby was the winner on the day in Lautoka and we look forward to a lot more of its winning ways.

The Arrows grind out their first win of the season with Sam Malcolm stealing the show

Toronto Arrows fly half Sam Malcolm was instrumental in their tight win over the Chicago Hounds and their first of the season

Like we said in the previous post, we wanted to reserve judgement on the Arrows season for 2023 until they were at least 3 games in. Secondly, unlike all the other teams they will not get to play in front of their faithful Toronto fans until their seventh game. That’s a long time whichever way you cut it and in our opinion explains their traditional slow start to the season.

All that aside though, Saturday’s one point win over League newcomers the Chicago Hounds showed just how valuable to the team Kiwi fly half Sam Malcolm is. The Arrows have been fortunate enough to secure his services for a fifth consecutive season, and on Saturday he showed why he is such a good investment. Despite Toronto’s opening two losses, Malcolm remains the League’s second highest point scorer. His composure under pressure is exemplary and his ability to marshall Toronto’s attack even if as a whole the team looks frayed is key to their potential success this year. He has a keen eye for opportunity and an ability to put players in space. Add to that a reliable boot to make sure opposition sides pay dearly for their disciplinary indiscretions and Toronto looks well placed to make some noise this year.

However, kicking points alone is not what wins you a Championship and it’s Malcolm’s speed of thought and decision making which could be Toronto’s greatest asset this season – the rest of the team just need to make sure they can keep up!

So that’s it for another bumper week of top notch rugby. Lots of Super Rugby Trans Tasman action this weekend to look forward to leading up to Super Saturday and the grand finale of the Six Nations as well as our Arrows doing battle with Old Glory. Enjoy folks and hopefully by next week we can finally start to peek over the top of the winter wall towards spring!


Published by Neil Olsen

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: