Now that we’ve had a chance to catch our breath after one of the most memorable Six Nations in a long time, we can reflect on a tournament that told us a lot about the State of Northern Hemisphere Rugby ahead of this year’s World Cup. Ireland emerged as Grand Slam Champions and with it their seemingly unshakeable grip on being the Number One Ranked side in the World was strengthened. However, as predicted World Cup favourites and host France proceeded to show that it will take a very special team to snatch the Webb Ellis trophy from them on home soil. Although they got off to their traditional slow start, by the end Les Bleus were playing rugby fit for the gods. Scotland, as they so often do despite their early promise faded as the tournament wore on and narrowly avoided a disastrous end to their campaign against Italy. England spent much of the tournament adrift at sea without any clear sense of direction, but managed to save their best performance for last and gave their long suffering fans some promise for the future. Wales lurched from one crisis to another but managed to hand Italy the honor of the Wooden Spoon, even if more questions than answers still surround Welsh rugby. Finally Italy, despite losing all five of their games showed some genuine class at times and a resilience we haven’t seen in the past. They may have emerged empty handed but their reputation as the tournament’s whipping boys is now most definitely a thing of the past, and at long last we can say with utmost confidence that the future of Italian rugby looks bright indeed.
Elsewhere around the globe last week, the speculation as to who will be the next All Blacks Coach was finally put to bed, as Crusaders Coach Scott “Razor” Robertson was appointed to the post after this World Cup. While it hardly came as a surprise, it remains to be seen what effect this will or won’t have on New Zealand’s preparations for the forthcoming World Cup under outgoing incumbent Ian Foster. While the Men’s Six Nations came to an epic conclusion, the Womens’ version of the tournament blasted out of the blocks last weekend, with England looking rather terrifying to say the least. The conundrum around the subjectivity of officiating decisions and the numerous grey areas they seem to have to work their way through continued to keep conversations in pubs agitated, after the controversy surrounding England fullback Freddie Steward’s unfortunate red card in the final Six Nations match against Ireland. Lastly, our own Toronto Arrows continued to struggle and to be honest this season is rapidly becoming one that the players and fans may be keen to forget unless things start to change.
So without any further ado, here’s what kept our pints frothy last week.
The Six Nations – The Final Verdict
A great tournament, some epic matches and in the end a worthy Grand Slam champion – what more could you really ask for? The pecking order in terms of the number one and two spots on the final table looked about right and everybody else lived up to the expectations surrounding them heading into the tournament. Ireland and France were the undisputed stars of the show. Scotland impressed but started to fade at the halfway point. England spent much of it trying to figure out who they were but managed to do so by the end and produced their best performance of the new Borthwick era in the process. Wales weathered the stormy seas that the sport found itself in back at home and ultimately managed to avoid the Wooden Spoon. Last but not least Italy entertained us from start to finish and simply refused to quit and in the process played some rather fancy rugby, even if their flair and ambition tripped them up on numerous occasions – but what promise it holds for the future!
So rather than break the competition down into a myriad of statistics for each side we ask the simple question as to whether or not the teams got what we felt they needed to get from this tournament when we previewed it way back at the beginning of February.
For Ireland, we think they can honestly say that they got what they needed to get for the most part out of this tournament. We said they needed to get some genuine confidence in their depth and the ability to deal with injury crises. We think it’s safe to say that after the Scotland game that question or concern is now null and void. We said they needed to find an understudy for Jonathan Sexton, especially with the veteran general now missing the rest of the club season due to a groin injury, but still hopefully fit for the World Cup. Ross Byrne’s performance as his replacement in the second half of the game against France, while still having some workons, allowed us and probably many Irish supporters to sleep just a little easier. Jamison Gibson-Park’s return from injury was stellar, and Craig Casey and Conor Murray provided ample cover in his absence at scrum half. As for the rest of Ireland’s depth, in short it is fantasy league stuff plain and simple. The fact of the matter however still remains that Ireland without Sexton are a world class team but with him they are extraordinary.
For France, their depth across every position on the park is quite simply outrageous. They may have struggled to get going in the early stages of the tournament, but by the time it wound up there were very few people who doubted their World Cup credentials and favourites tag. In short we said they needed to develop a Plan A, B, and C for every position and they did so and then some in this tournament. They have water tight Plan As and Bs and their Cs are already looking seriously ominous. Perhaps of all the teams in this year’s Six Nations France showed us what they can do but with plenty more still left in the tank, as in essence by the end of the tournament they genuinely looked like they were just warming up for the serious business come September.
For Scotland this Six Nations was a bit of a mixed bag. They got themselves off to a brilliant start beating England at Twickenham and then thumping Wales at Murrayfield. We said that the thing they needed most from this year’s tournament was consistency. In the opening two rounds it finally looked like they were getting there. However, against France and Ireland things started to fall apart. They got blitzed by Les Bleus in the opening twenty minutes and once Scotland are forced to play catch up rugby against a strong side like France they panic and the wheels start to fall off. They rallied well in the second half but were still chasing the game and the execution and composure wasn’t there when they needed it. Despite a brilliant first half against Ireland they simply couldn’t maintain it, and couldn’t adapt to the injuries that were being absorbed by both sides as well as Ireland did. In that final game against Italy and without the services of Finn Russell, Scotland were just not convincing and once more appeared to panic as a resurgent Italy started get more and more confident. Scotland were lucky to win that game and they know it. So in short, no Scotland did not get what they needed from this Six Nations – that elusive quality known as consistency.
For England, this Six Nations gave them very little cause for celebration till that final game in Dublin. Sure they ended up fourth on the table at the end, and managed two wins, but Rounds 1-4 were anything but convincing. The execution was poor, defensively they looked like a helium balloon trying to breach the Normandy defences on D-Day and they appeared a tad unfit a lot of the time. However, after the ultimate humiliation by France in Round 4, England have to be applauded for making the journey to Dublin and giving it their all. It was their best performance to date, and showed both a plan and the skill sets needed to start implementing it. Sure there were still lots of work ons and defensively we still remain less than convinced that England are at the races, but you can’t fault them for a gritty and courageous display that clearly rattled Ireland at times. Freddie Steward’s red card was unfortunate and while we very much doubt it was the factor that lost them the game, the fact that England coped as well as they did with fourteen men for a full half must give them and their supporters huge confidence. It was finally a team performance from the Men in White. In terms of what they needed to get out of the tournament we’d argue that for the most part they can tick the boxes. If you look at the three things we said they needed, consistency of selection, the genesis of an attacking game and a crackdown on discipline, we’d argue that by the time the final whistle was blown in Dublin they’d started to get there. Selections are not quite consistent yet but are getting there and we saw the kind of attacking game England want to play even if they didn’t quite pull it off at times. In terms of discipline however, England can feel exceptionally pleased with their progress this Six Nations. The only team to concede less penalties than England in the tournament was Ireland. In short – job done and onwards and upwards from here.
For Wales, this was one to forget in many ways although they did end the tournament in a more optimistic mindset than when they started. They avoided the Wooden Spoon and some traction was made in sorting out the game at a national level, but it’s messy and the future is still less than crystal clear. They continued to struggle with injury and their set piece work and discipline still need some serious attention. Given that these areas of their game required open heart surgery going into the tournament, and would still appear to be on life support afterwards – then no Wales didn’t really get what they needed out of this tournament. Wales had the worst disciplinary record of the competition and their set piece work made for equally unpleasant reading. They only had a 74% success rate in the scrums the entire Six Nations and come the World Cup this could prove to be a serious Achilles Heel. Nevertheless there were glimmers in the final two games, with the win in Rome and the loss in Paris, of what Wales could do if they can just focus on the job at hand.
Lastly, Italy find themselves staring once more at the Wooden Spoon. However, despite emerging winless they must surely feel that this was one of the most positive Six Nations campaigns in their history. Sure that loss to Wales who were their main target for a win must have hurt like hell, but unlike in years past Italy never got thrashed once this tournament and were in all of their games till the final whistle. They gave every team they faced serious food for thought and at times a few mild heart attacks. Italy proved this year that the days of them being a pushover are now finally a thing of the past. However, despite the promise, flair and ambition on show at times and some impressive emerging talent there is still the uncomfortable truth that Italy simply didn’t get what they needed from this tournament. We said they needed one big win as a bare minimum, but in reality they really needed two. They almost got one against France, could have beaten Wales and almost pulled off the upset of the tournament at Murrayfield. Nevertheless it’s yet another tournament which will cause Italy to reflect in their buildup to a World Cup Pool of Death, on what might have been instead of what should have been. Sadly as much as it pains us to say it, given how much we enjoyed watching Italy this year, in terms of what they needed to get out of this tournament Italy failed yet again. Still on a positive note, we really believe that come 2024 Italy could well be a Six Nations dark horse.
We really hope that by the time the opening whistle is blown for France 2023, it’s the rugby we’ll be talking about after the matches and not the officiating
This Six Nations saw great games marred by the post match breakdown of how much this card or that card ruined the spectacle, skewed the result or was just downright nonsensical. Once more though, and excuse us if we sound like a broken record, the issue of consistency and subjective versus objective interpretation came into play. It’s an area that SIMPLY HAS to be sorted out come the World Cup.
Firstly we need to say two things regarding the red card incident in the final game of the tournament in Dublin. First and foremost we don’t think that any malice was intended in the unfortunate incident between the two fullbacks. It was just a case of mistiming and poor reaction. We rate English fullback Freddie Steward very highly indeed and not once in his time in a white jersey has he given us any reason to believe he could be classed as a “dirty or dangerous player”. Secondly even with the red card, while it didn’t help England’s cause, it wasn’t the reason why England lost and Ireland won.
We appreciate that in the way the rules are currently written, the way Steward turned and faced the unfortunate Keenan can be perceived as having a high degree of danger as his elbow made contact with the Irishman’s head with force. But by the same argument we’d say Steward’s hip could have done even more harm as it’s a larger and more solid surface. Steward was caught in an instant in a very awkward position with both players reacting to momentum. In short, all of us felt that despite how the laws interpret it, it should have been a yellow card end of argument. Given the fact that the disciplinary hearing also felt that no further citing against Steward was required also makes you wonder if a yellow would not have been sufficient on the day, and as a result an unnecessary piece of side show theatre would have been avoided.
If you look at the other red and yellow cards issued throughout the tournament, Steward’s punishment seems excessive. Why weren’t France’s Uini Atonio’s yellow card in the game against Ireland or Italy’s Pierre Bruno’s forearm to the throat of Wales’ Wyn Jones which also saw yellow, reds as well given these views?
All we hope for is consistency and the tools by which to make the distinction between red and yellow so much more clear cut for the officials, thus removing the current confusing levels of subjectivity. On a stage such as the World Cup or Six Nations, rugby produces marvellous spectacles that simply shouldn’t be marred by such game sapping vagaries.
No surprises here!
We all knew this was going to happen, we just didn’t know when.
Is he the right man for the job? Probably, only time will tell.
Was it handled well? No.
Was the timing appropriate? Not really but what choice did the New Zealand authorities really have, having messed it all up in the first place anyway.
Whichever way you cut it, the appointment of the “Razor” aka Crusaders Coach Scott Robertson to the All Blacks top job was inevitable. The timing of the announcement was never going to be perfect. Given the backlash against current Coach Ian Foster, fuelled initially by New Zealand’s governing body themselves last year and fanned by All Black supporters, a decision regarding the future had to be made sooner rather than later. Furthermore, given the fact that Robertson and his competitor Jamie Joseph’s in trays were rapidly filling with lucrative offers from other clubs and countries, they simply couldn’t afford to let what was considered one of the brightest Coaching prospects the All Blacks have had in years slip away.
However, Robertson’s appointment still leaves us feeling slightly uncomfortable. The reasons mentioned above make sense, but put yourself in the position of Ian Foster charged with taking an All Black side that at the moment looks significantly less than the finished product to potential World Cup glory. Let’s just suppose that the All Blacks do turn things around this year and surprise everyone and make it to the final. Let’s take it a step further and throw out the wild card of New Zealand under Foster’s tutelage winning the whole thing. Now a Coach who has no International Coaching experience is preferred over one who has been with the All Black Coaching setup for 11 years and possibly even won the World Cup. That’s an interesting dynamic whichever way you cut it.
All that aside however, the writing on the wall was plain for all to see. The next generation of the All Blacks post France 2023 needs fresh blood in the Coaching box and Robertson is seen as the way forward in that department. The New Zealand public wants it and the players although loyal to Foster and his team, especially the younger members of the squad, know it’s needed. In short, although it may have been badly handled by all and sundry, everybody now simply has to buckle down and get on with the job at hand. The future will ultimately take care of itself but the here and now is the most pressing concern, and it’s our hope that the players and Coaches are simply allowed to focus on the task at hand.
Six Nations Part 2 anyone? – Yes Please!!!!!
As you all know Womens’ Rugby, especially after the truly memorable World Cup in New Zealand last year, is very much on the radar here at the Lineout. Consequently the opening round of this year’s Six Nations was something we were all eagerly looking forward to, and it’s safe to say we weren’t disappointed. Admittedly we were gutted for Ireland and Scotland who were dispatched with relative ease by Wales and England, but the France/Italy game was a feisty affair that at times had shades of deja vu with the opener between the Mens’ sides back in February.
However, it must be said that England look set to put the disappointment of the World Cup behind them, and return with a vengeance to the winning ways that saw them arrive at the final on an unprecedented 30 game winning streak. It would appear that the World Cup Final was a mere bump in the road for England. It was a dominant 10 try performance against Scotland which also saw back rower Sarah Hunter play her last game for England after an extraordinary 141 caps. Barnstorming flanker and team mascot Marlie Packer crashed over as usual for a hat trick of tries and England looked sharp both physically and mentally. For Scotland it was a very tough day at the office as they simply couldn’t match up to England’s brute physicality and ability to clinically control proceedings.
Wales were perhaps the surprise package of the weekend as they romped to a comfortable 31-5 win over the Irish. Ireland struggled to get into the game and put a stop to the physical prowess of Wales every time they got into the Irish 22. As we thought might be the case Italy continue to be a smoking gun in Womens’ Rugby and made life exceptionally difficult for France at times. Had the weather remained dry it could have been a very different match, but as the heavens started to open in the second half, France coped better with the conditions and showed the composure under pressure that served them so well in the World Cup.
In short it’s only Round 1 and this tournament looks set to provide us with some thrilling encounters. England may be hard to beat and France are likely to get progressively stronger as the tournament unfolds, but at this stage all the participants look more than capable of pulling off some memorable wins. Make sure you don’t miss it!
The Arrows need some good news – FAST!
We’ll be honest we’re struggling to remain positive so far this season about this new look Arrows side. While we were delighted to see so many Canadian players and new domestic talent in the side, there is no denying that Toronto are missing some of their South American contingent from seasons past. Five games in and only one narrow win to show for it, is not exactly the ideal season opener.
A lot of the same problems persist from last season, mainly around discipline and set piece work, but we also can’t help noticing that the Arrows simply don’t look as fit as their opponents with some of the older guard looking distinctly slow out of the blocks. Toronto have turned in some relatively impressive first halves, but seem to completely run out of gas in the second half, even from off the bench. Fly half Sam Malcolm remains a bright spark in an otherwise relatively lacklustre side so far. He seems one step ahead of the play while the rest of his teammates seem at least two behind it. If it wasn’t for his accuracy with the boot, a lot of the scorelines in Toronto’s opening five matches would make for much more painful viewing.
We’re not quite sure what the answer is at this stage. As mentioned in previous posts, we’ve always been willing to give the Arrows the benefit of the doubt in their first few games before they finally get their first game at home in Toronto six weeks into the season. However, by the time they arrived for their first home game last year they already had four wins under their belt. This weekend they face the only team who have fared worse than them this year, the Dallas Jackals and it’s hoped that this is where it all starts to click for them. If it doesn’t then they face a tough three week stint against some of the top teams in the league, so a confidence boosting win this weekend is absolutely critical if they are to start getting their season on track.
Well that’s it for this week folks. Women’s Six Nations action this weekend, Heineken Cup Round of 16 and another party in Fiji with Super Rugby as the Drua host the Rebels. Enjoy it all and hopefully the long awaited start of spring!
2 thoughts on “The Lineout Calls of the Week”
No doubt red cards are ruining the spectacle. I would suggest for a red card infringement the player leaves the field for the rest of the game and a replacement comes on after 20 minutes. The player is then brought before a panel after the game and judged by it’s severity and given a ban accordingly. Thus avoiding Freddie Steward type of balls up.
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Couldn’t agree more Chris. While I know many have frowned on this approach being used in Super Rugby, I feel it has some merit. Players guilty of continuous infringements will get weeded out, player safety won’t really be negatively effected and we won’t be subjected to endless post match debates as to how much such cards did or not affect the result.