Dyer’s 6N blog – Wk 4 Review

Date: 12 March 2013

Well, well, well. After the penultimate round of fixtures we now have a final weekend showdown to look forward to. The title shoot out in Cardiff will see the Anglo-Welsh rivalry no doubt raised a few notches higher with both teams knowing that all bets are still firmly on.

England missed the chance to make sure the Championship was theirs in all but name, Italy turned the form book upside down and will be disappointed not to have got more from their visit to HQ, Wales will rue that missed kicks don’t have them pressuring the English title ambitions that bit further whilst Scotland, Ireland and France will probably be looking forward to the tournament coming to an end. The entertainment value was again low in terms of attacking skill and high quality rugby. The brilliant prose of Gerald Davies accurately lamented on the eve of the weekend’s games (when writing in The Times), the style of rugby on view remains “unremittingly gladiatorial, pitilessly severe and oppressive”. If style was absent then at least all three games provided some drama as the closeness of the score lines kept the fans interested to the final whistle.

Scrum Time

The scrum was yet again a major factor in all three games and it is now beyond tiresome. As a former front rower myself, I chuckle when I hear that nobody knows what happens in the dark recesses of the scrum other than those in the front row. There are times when front rowers themselves have little idea of what is happening either. I have experience of scrums going down where as a hooker I had no idea who was responsible. Often you would have a pretty good idea but there are times when nobody is to blame. A slip here or a missed bind there can lead to the scrum going down. It’s not intentional but it happens.

The IRB are trialling yet more changes to the scrum with the “touch” part of the process possibly incorporating a pre-bind for the props. Possible other improvements could come along the lines of the following:-

1) Speed up the engagement process. The returning long pause between “touch” and “set” is not helping. You try stopping several hundred tonnes of weight from lurching forward when you are balanced on your toes.
2) Get back to the contest of hookers striking for the ball. Make scrum halves put the ball in straight and entice hookers to regain their art. A quick strike for a number 8 pick up generates quick ball to attack. The current theme of walking over the ball slows down the movement to the back of the scrum and reduces options.
3) Look at how scrums are handled. If the ball is clearly won at the Number 8’s feet and is not used because teams go for secondary drives (unless it’s a five metre scrum and a pushover is being targeted) then the team in possession should be met with a “use it” call. If not then the scrum should be reset and the put in lost.

I’m sure each of those suggestions will have some arguing the other way but something needs to give.

Scotland vs Wales

At Murrayfield, referee Joubert awarded 26 penalties but kept his yellow cards in his pocket until it was far too late to rescue the game. If there was a clear problem at the scrum (and it would appear the early engagement of the Scots was his major issue) then the non appearance of the yellow card was mystifying. The rank indiscipline of some players should also have been more harshly dealt with. Jim Hamilton is six foot eight inches tall and weights 19 stone, hence he’s not going to be easy to miss. The penalty he gave away on the stroke of half time was as ridiculous as you could wish to see at international level. He should have spent 10 minutes on the sidelines just for his sheer stupidity. Clive Woodward was very vocal on the display of Joubert both during and after the game. As he quite rightly said, if the players are not prepared to stay within the laws of the game then they should be sent to the sin bin. An early yellow card may have improved the chances of a rugby match breaking out. I was very disappointed by Scotland whose approach seemed to be to kick the ball at every opportunity. Their midfield lacks class and as a result their rated back three get little ball to attack. The lack of a true openside was also a major negative. The Scots were taught a lesson at the breakdown by the returning Warburton who reminded everyone of his ability. The Welsh game plan is based around defence and discipline. This has helped them to win some tight games (ones that this side has habitually lost in recent times) but it has provided little cheer for the romantics out there who wish to see Wales play with attacking style and verve. Halfpenny’s three missed penalties could have put them into a stronger position in terms of the championship but the Welsh pack is looking strong and that is now three clean sheets on the bounce after the open floodgates display against Ireland.

Ireland vs France

In Dublin, we saw….umm…..err….. very little to get the pulse racing. The weather conditions were again used as an excuse but the skill level on display was poor. France got a draw because of the brilliant display of Louis Picamoles who almost single handed got his team back in the game. In fact his brilliance should have translated into a French win when in the last minute he dragged Les Bleus into the Irish 22 only to see the erratic Michalak kick the ball away when all France had to do was keep possession and build a winning score. Ireland looked a weary and battered team at the end and this does not bode well for their trip to Rome. If this was O’Driscoll’s Dublin farewell then it was a desperately poor way for one of the games greatest players to say goodbye to the home fans.

England vs Italy

Finally, to Sunday and Twickenham where the home side only needed to score some tries to place one hand on the title. The opening signs were that England would win by a lot and Italy would be blown away by the intensity of the home performance. Unfortunately for the English support, their team failed to put Italy away due to a mixture of attacking incompetence (built on poor execution of the basic skills) and a spirited Italian performance in which Parisse was head and shoulders above any other player on the pitch. After England had blown a couple of promising early moves, Italy can feel aggrieved that they didn’t have more to show for a superbly conceived lineout move which only floundered after Mike Brown dived goalkeeper like to push the ball one handed away from the rampaging Italian skipper. The officials missed a professional foul and (whilst I am sure I will be accused of being anti English) I have to say I thought Italy were harshly treated by referee Clancy throughout. England should still have scored twice before half time, one missed overlap was butchered whilst poor passing failed to put Tuilagi over on the stroke of half time. What happened in the second half will have most rugby fans scratching their heads. Italy had made a huge number of tackles in the first half and this usually translates to fatigue as the game goes on. However by the end of the match England had made 30 more tackles than the visitors and spent much of the second half on the back foot. There were still opportunities for England to put some tries on the board but again a lack of execution prevented them from killing the game off. Italy grew in confidence and should have perhaps been closer on the scoreboard as the game wound down.

It was not the performance or score England were looking for but for the neutral it was the perfect result. After a tournament that has on the whole provided little to get excited about at least there will be a finale to grab the attention.

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