In one of the more anticipated rugby competitions of the year, the RBS Six Nations kicked off this weekend, with two of three matches played today. In one, a predicted outcome was evidence again that English rugby is near it’s peak. In the other, a Scotland win sets up a riveting Six Nations Championship.
SCOTLAND 27 – Tries: Stuart Hogg (2), Alex Dunbar; Conversion: Greig Laidlaw (3); Penalties: Greig Laidlaw (2)
IRELAND 22 – Keith Earls, Iain Henderson, Paddy Jackson; Con: Paddy Jackson (2); Pen: Jackson.
Coach Vern Cotter began his sides ‘6 Nations’ campaign with conviction. Facing the recently successful Irish side, they won an important home match. Murrayfield witnessed an epic clash, with the hosts starting off with a burst–thanks to ‘Man of the Match’ Stuart Hogg.
The Scottish fullback is making an audition for the British and Irish Lions tour party, and this first-up display was of high caliber.
Thanks to three early tries and leading 21-8 at halftime, they needed to prepare for the predicted pressure from Ireland. That came via Iain Henderson’s score straight after the break. It would have worried many sides, but Greig Laidlaws’ men held firm in the knowledge that they had drilled and practiced for this situation. Probably the most satisfying factor was never panicking. For Scotland today, that was they key to victory.
Ireland Comeback Failed to Crack the Scots Accuracy
Paddy Jackson, in good form looked to have made the crucial play, when he scored. Converting his own try, at 21-22, they assumed the lead and stood tall. Braveheart fans called out for more from their men, and it was the defense today that was hard for Ireland to overpower.
Several late Irish penalties were taken by well by Laidlaw, and it returned Scotland to the lead–meaning Ireland were the ones panicking. It was not their best effort, and as in Dublin last year against New Zealand, they failed to finish strongly.
“To grab the game back at the end was very pleasing. It was a good team effort to win” – Greig Laidlaw.
Irish Push for Six Nations Title Takes a Hit
Coach Joe Schmidt has admitted that a sluggish start cost his men dearly. “We were sluggish, we got some really good field position in the first half and didn’t convert. That was frustrating. They got too much room to move, we were sluggish to close that space down and missed a few tackles.”
Halting Scotland from scoring more second half tries was a positive, but he knows that the major frustration was that “you can try to prepare as best you can but it’s actually what you deliver that will determine a result”. Schmidt told ESPN.com that his men are not out of the championship, and was happy to collect a losing bonus point.
His opposite coach praised the Scottish players. “All credit to the players” he said and highlighted the defense as superb. He was delighted to start the championship with a win. Laidlaw held high the Centenary Quaich trophy, and said post-match “It was a simple message today: hold onto the ball. That’s how we were able to score 21 points in the first half.”
That positive post-game reaction was not reflected by the head coach of England though. Eddie Jones used the term ‘awful’ to describe his teams win. A strange contrast, as the England rugby team continued an unbeaten run–but that did not impress their manager.
“I take full responsibility for the performance.” – Eddie Jones
ENGLAND 19 – Try: Ben Te’o; Conversion: Owen Farrell; Penalties: Owen Farrell (3), Elliot Daly
FRANCE 16 – Try: Rabah Slimani; Con: Camille Lopez; Pen: Camille Lopez (3).
He was pleased with the attitude, and told ESPN.com “I thought we were awful, but I thought we were always going to win the game and that is what I like about these boys. They have got a never-say-die attitude. They keep at it even when they are not playing well and things are not going right. It looked like we hadn’t practiced, but these things happen and we will get through it.”
Not panicking was a trend of the day, and while Scotland had established an early lead to hold firm, England; in the words of James Haskell “couldn’t have played any worse if they tried.”
England Make Slow Start at Twickenham
ln an uncommon way, England were guilty of a lackluster opening quarter of the first half. Any side who can not convert their opportunities, is only going to feel the wrath of their coaching staff. Allowing France to score multiple penalties, Jonny May was sent to the bin for a foolish and dangerous tackle. Today he seemed to be a victim of the new focus on lifting-tackles.
France seemed to have the advantage, offloading and out-playing England. Scott Spedding was injecting himself into play, and Louis Picamoles was his emphatic best. In the battle of the number eights, the Frenchman is more commanding than Nathan Hughes.
Knock on ball was depleting England’s chances to get any decent territory, so when a penalty 50 meters out was given, they needed it. Elliot Daly stood forward, and converted his chance, to end the half at 9-9.
Second Half Pressure Finally See’s England Triumph
As the time wore on, sides had to break through, otherwise it would be a ‘kick-a-thon’. Nobody wants that in modern rugby, and Jonny May almost repaid his early infringement, but a toe on the sideline denied his attempt. France were more likely to split open the defense, Virimi Vatakawa was a threat. With the ball being shared wide, the forward replacements on both sides was a key moment.
For France, bringing on Rabah Slimani ultimately resulted in him benefiting from a Picamoles run. That converted try would have rattled many English fans hopes of an unblemished start. But like Jones, the men in white were confident that their ranks would ultimately shine through. When Haskell was subbed on for Joe Launchberry, and not surprisingly, sub Ben Te’o soon was able to score the match winner.
Sometimes you have to win ugly.
“We have got a very strong bench and given that we have four of our top-class forwards out – and we can still bring on a bench that makes a difference – is a great testament to the depth of the squad,” said Eddie Jones.
Of note, even a Les Bleus ‘Player of the Day’ effort, Picamoles showed his bitter disappointment when the final whistle was blown. He will be a threat all through this Championship, and France may still be strong at home in 2017.
Final Quarter Pressure Brings Win Number 15
The narrow Six Nations victory retains their attempt at the record for Tier-One consecutive wins. While that is secondary, the weight of a nation will hang heavy over the side. Jones is happy to take responsibility for an ugly win, but they will need to rebound quickly. They next face Wales in Cardiff, and will want to start the match better. No excitement yet from captain Dylan Hartley.
“Week one of the Championship, we will take that win but there is plenty to work on”.
RBS Six Nations action continues, with Italy hosting Wales in Rome to complete Round One. Look forward to continuing coverage of 6 Nations, with Last Word On Rugby.
LWOR Poll Question:
“Main photo credit”