The Cup, the Plate and the Bowl

A non-vintage Six Nations campaign is heading for a straightforward blitz-tournmanent style finale.  In the last week, Wales and France will meet to decide the championship winners (The Cup).  England and Ireland will play for the Plate, or third place, and Italy and Scotland will tough it out for the Bowl (or to avoid the wooden spoon).

The Cup

Some of the mythology around the enormous Welsh backline was exposed this weekend.  Mike Phillips got overly involved in a fight with the English backrow, and Wales never looked like getting around England, so they just kept trying to go through them.  Getting into a boshfest with the Kings of Bosh is a risky game, and Wales were in a tight spot for much of the afternoon.  In the end they had just enough class to win out, with one of their smaller backs, reserve centre Scott Williams (weighing in at a puny 97kgs) coming up with a dash of brilliance to win it.  The Triple Crown is in the bag, and they are in a good position to deliver the slam, with France coming to Cardiff.

Here in Ireland we love nothing more than fawning over the French.  We’re spellbound by their pristine blue shirts, intimidated by their scrummaging power, awestruck by their handling skills, and swooning over Morgan Parra’s classic good looks.  But for all their Gallic genius, they rarely play all that well.  Truth is, they’re masters of just doing enough (unless they are playing New Zealand).  Not much has really changed under the new coach.  Sure, the selection is consistent, but the mentality is harder to shift.  France sleepwalked through the first 25 minutes here, and while their two tries were brilliant, there was no sustained greatness.  Trouble is, they are usually good for one outstanding performance a series.  One of Ireland, England or Wales will get it.

The Plate

England: played three, two tries, both chargedowns.  They’ve Strettle, Ashton and Foden in the back three, but they can’t service them with three midfielders with the distribution skills of combine harvesters.  Brad Barritt fought gamely again, and he’s not a bad player, but the lines of attack are too predictable.  For all that they probably scored a good try at the death, and after last week’s bottling exploits for his club, we’d all have loved to see the theatre of the last-kick wide conversion from Toby Flood to save a draw.  Two players who won’t enjoy looking at the tape this morning are Courtney Lawes, whose upright carrying style led directly to the Welsh try, and Mike Brown, who failed to fix his man with the non-try scoring pass to Strettle, and gave him an awful lot to do, when a stroll in was possible.

Declan Kidney is starting to get the hang of this newfangled ‘bench’ thing that other people keep banging on about it.  We’d heard of it ourselves, but weren’t quite sure what it was.  Turns out you can replace players during the game, sometimes even improving the side by bringing off a guy who’s tiring or not playing great and putting another player in his position.  Who knew?  All the talk this week will be that Ryan and Reddan should be starting in Paris (they won’t).  Both players are getting a raw deal.  Ryan is clearly the superior player at 4 to O’Callaghan, and is probably among Ireland’s best performers in the series so far, and it appears Reddan has never really earned the trust of the management.  He started their two best performances last year, and was influential in both, but found himself overlooked ever since.  Dropping a young player like Murray after two poor performances is not an easy call, but you feel that if Ireland are to have any – any! – chance of winning, Reddan needs to play.

The Bowl

Hard times for Scotland, who have improved out of sight this year, without getting the results to show for it.  Their handling and offloading was terrific yesterday.  Management are culpable for some outrageously bad team selections.  How was it that Hogg, Laidlaw and Blair had to wait until the third game in the series to take to the pitch together? Still, credit needs to go to them for making the changes. Scotland look like a team who might just win a few … if they can just win one.

It’s proving a difficult season for Italy, who haven’t really improved as much as people are letting on.  They were much more competitive last year, when they should have beaten Ireland and Wales, and toppled France.  The wooden spoon beckons methinks, as Scotland look to have too much for them – thouh they can be a different proposition in Rome.

It’s not been a classic series so far by any means, which had us wondering when there last was a classic Six Nations. Wales’ and Ireland’s grand slams in 2008 and 2009 were up against mediocre post-World Cup fields (France were off experimenting).  The best in recent times is probably 2007’s tournament, when strong France and Ireland sides went toe to toe, with France securing the Championship with the last play of the game against Scotland.  It’s been a while…



  1. The Murray issue is one where there is a lot of scope for inter-provincial whinging – and I'm sure we'll all see that scope used to the full this week.The facst are, Murray's decision making isn't snappy enough. He does sit at the back of a ruck for a beat too long before moving the ball on and far too often he takes it forward himself. Just cost you are a big SH doesn't mean you HAVE to take it forward yourself, mate.Interestingly, Scotland showed that exactly that tactic worked surprisingly well against France. There always seemed to be space just aruond the ruck. So, IF France haven't sorted that out this week Murray would actually be a good choice to start. If only Deccie was coaching France we might have confidence in the same line up and tactics being employed against Ireland….You guys going to have anything more to say about 13 watch this week?

  2. Hi Xyz – interesting thoughts on Murray. I expect that Deccie will stick with him, and it's a decision we'd understand completely, though Reddan has never been given a fair crack of the whip under Deccie. We do rate Murray, and we said a few weeks ago that the halfback pairing needs to be given a few games, and of course he's still young. So we'd be lothe to just bin him after a couple of bad games. I think Reddan is certainly a better player at the moment, but don't mind us making an investment in the future. I think we can only beat France with Reddan at 9, but then, it's highly unlikely we'll win anyway. To be honest, it's just a tough old call.If Murray is selected, he does have to up his game. We've been surprised at his performances. When he first broke on to the scene his game looked so uncomplicated, and his delivery was smooth and quick. But this year he's looking to break or truck it up an awful lot. We theorised that this was under instruction, and down to a lack of ball carriers in their pack (Wally out, Leamy benched) and that with Ireland he'd be told to just pass it (and his pass is good). But he has continued playing like he has at Munster.As for 13watch, I thought Earls had a rock solid first outing – made his tackles, got a try and generally looked pretty sharp. A good start. Next week will be a tougher test though – Fofana gives me the heebie-jeebies.

  3. Agreed that I would give Murray another chance – him and Sexton deserve a decent run at it together. At least DK made the right call this week in giving him the curly finger around the 50 mins mark and not waiting around. One would hope Murray responds well to being hauled off. If not, one hopes that DK will do likewise in Paris and have Redden on sharpish. Ryan simply has to start, he has looked very good coming on both games and all logic says he should be in the first XV. Of course he probably won't, but one can but hope.What do you guys reckon about the backrow? SOB was very anonymous and I'm struggling to think of a game this year for Leinster where he was near his form of last year. I know options are a problem, but ignoring the problem is not the solution.

  4. Thanks for commenting Joe. I hope Murray, if he does start, is instructed to just pass it. He has a lovely pass, so let's see it!4 and 9 are the obvious selection calls, but the backrow is starting to go that way. I think with the load of four games in four weeks, if Deccie doesn't take at least one game to give O'Mahony a start, it would be a big mistake. Seanie is struggling for form from the openside, and if I felt O'Mahony was definitely the solution I'd be saying 'start him!' As it is I'm not sure, but it's increasingly looking like a call that will be made at some stage or other. I was thinking Paris is no place for a first test start, but then I remembered that Jamie Heaslip was handed his first Six Nations start in an away trip to Paris, by Eddie, played brilliantly and never looked back.

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