Clear and Obvious

We’re all having to get used to the new TMO calls, and they’ve led to some bewitching moments this season.  Three recent ones involving Irish provinces spring readily to mind: Connacht’s try in Toulouse being ruled out, albeit correctly in the end, for a minor knock on some 70m down the pitch, and both Munster and Leinster’s tries against Scarlets and Connacht being allowed to stand in spite of what looked like a knock on at the base and a forward offload respectively.

As with seemingly every law tweak, change or ‘new interpretation’, the unintended consequences are usually what comes to pass, and so it appears in this case.  Indeed, there’s every chance that the new TMO laws will result in more, not less, forward-pass tries being awarded.  Why is this?  Because when the referee goes to the TMO to check out a pass in the build-up the TMO must spot something ‘clear and obvious’ to prevent the try being awarded.  Therefore, once the ball is dotted down over the try-line and the referee, rather than trusting his instincts, refers the decision upstairs, it’s more likely to be given than not because the burden of proof is all on the side of the infringement.

Was Jimmy Gopperth’s offload to Gordon D’arcy clearly and obviously forward?  No.  But was it, in all likelihood, viewed in realtime, a forward pass?  Yes.  Was David Kilcoyne’s knock-on at the base of the scrum against Scarlets clear and obvious.  No.  But a hand was on the ball and the ball then took a roll forward.  Viewed in real time, and seen by the referee, this would probably have been blown up on the spot.  Had the referees in each case been required to call it there and then, and trust their instinct, it’s highly likely neither try would have been awarded.

Referees will need to have the courage to blow things up as they occur rather than give themselves the safety blanket of the TMO, or they’ll be in danger of turning into robo-refs. The situation can turn even more farcical when touch judges are asked questions like “was he in touch” and can’t decide, recommending the TMO get involved. I mean, what is a touch judge there for, but to see if someone is in touch? Do your job.

Our favourite TMO moment was in the Boks game in Mendoza (we think) when Dreamboat Steve Walsh went upstairs to check something he was unsighted on, only to decide himself what he wanted to give once he saw it on the big screen. When the TMO gave a verdict that differed, he alpha-maled him into thinking again, until he got what he thought was the correct call. Is there anything he can’t do?

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Overheard Conversations

Interprovincial Rivalry

In recent years, the growth of the provinces as entities independent of the national team has given rise to an intense rivalry, which borders on the farcical at times, and in the past certainly hasn’t helped build a good atmosphere around Team Ireland. But the banter at Ireland matches still has the possiblity to illustrate a healthy rivalry that doesn’t descend into the usual my-6.5-is-better-than-yours bickering.

Case in point: Egg was getting the DORSH to the game, when at Tara Street, some Ulster fans got on, a few beers on board, but not hammered, having fun if you will. The following exchange happened:

Ulster fan with thick Belfast accent: Any Leinster fans on the train?

Carriage (muted): Way-hay!

Ulster fan with thick Belfast accent: Any Munster fans on the train?

Carriage (less muted and slightly louder): Way-hay!

*laughter ensues as it appears Leinster fans are outnumbered*

*two seconds silence*

Ulster fan with thick Belfast accent: Youse are fuckin’ shite

*uproarious laughter from all*

Ulster fan with thick Belfast accent: And youse can have Robbie Diack if you want – he’s fuckin’ shite as well

Brilliant stuff.

Ill Communication

A commenter recently raised the issue that the Irish players don’t appear to talk to each other that much when on the pitch, raising the question as to how the team can execute a game plan without sufficient communication between each other.  It’s an interesting point.  Another result of apparent ill-communication is James Hook’s unfulfilled career path.  The Welshman is blessed with footballing talent, but by all accounts just doesn’t talk and boss his team around enough to control tough matches from fly-half.

In a recent conversation, a collaeague of WoC’s said he had been talking to a Kiwi who coaches at regional level.  Our colleague asked him what it was that differentiated the Kiwis from the other rugby nations.  His answer wasn’t their feral breakdown work, natural fitness or handling skills developed from playing the game as soon as they can run.  It was their communication.  Every Kiwi is coached to talk continually to the guy next to him.  The result is that the Kiwis invariably make good decisions in clutch situations.

Although derided as a nation with a history of choking, the Kiwis in fact have a habit of getting out of sticky spots.  How many times have Ireland brought them to the wire only for the BNZers to come up with a spirit-crushing score late in the game?  Saturday’s match against England was a case in point.  Their favourite referee Craig Joubert was whistling them off the park and their 14-point lead had been turned briefly into a deficit, but when the heat was on the Kiwis had the goods to score the winning points.

You’re Banned From This Historical Society.  You, Your Children and Your Children’s Children.  For Three Months.

Qantas have looked to come down hard on indiscipline under the new regime, but there’s something about yesterday’s news that they have suspended six of their players for the upcoming match against Scotland that looks like a fudge.  One can imagine Ewan McKenzie’s thinking:

‘Strewth!  The Badger and fourteen other galahs have only gone out and drunk twelve pints of Fosters in Copper Face Jacks three nights before the game.  They can’t get away with this.  I’ve gotta show them I’m tough on discipline.  Trouble is, I need the blaahdy dingbats to beat Ireland this Saturday.  Badger looks hungry for meat in training this week.  Maybe I can still look tough on discipline if I ‘suspend’ them for the flamin’ Scotland game instead, when I was going to rotate my team anyway.  Ewan, you bloody genius.  Nobody will notice a thing.’

Somewhere in Reading, an exiled bombshell is buried under a pile of Samoans with his face in the mud, thinking dark thoughts.

Lions Captaincy Playoff

It was a good time to be an Irish rugby fan last week – after a chastening Six Nations, the country basked in the warm afterglow of Munster’s sack of the Stoop – it was the gift that kept on giving, with Harlequins stroppy mid-week press release vowing to identify the fans who sold their tickets classic “Munster in Europe” stuff.

The honeymoon extended into the build-up to the Munster-Leinster game, and the self-congratulation got dialled up to 11 – Shaggy decreed it the greatest club rugby rivalry in the world (Biarritz-Bayonne anybody?) and there was almost universal agreement that it had driven Irish rugby to greater levels. We’d agree with that to a point – on-field there is no doubt Munster’s achievements have driven Leinster, but off the field, the petty desire for some people to see everything through the provincial prism is most irritating, and that has been one of the legacies of the intensity of the rivalry from 2009-11. The match was billed in the Irish press as a virtual playoff for the Lions captaincy between Drico and Paulie in front of Gatty – we’d have loved to see the reaction of the press in Blighty had they got a sniff of that one.

The one thing that got overlooked in the sepia-tinged buildup to the game was this – only one team had a need for the points. Munster were out of the running for the Pro12 playoffs, and had one eye (and the wallet) on events in Montpellier in two weeks, whereas Leinster would like to secure a home semi-final. Plus Leinster have had a lock on this fixture for the last few years – we could see only one result.

And so it transpired – Munster played pretty well, then predictably faded after 60 minutes – O’Driscoll got over for Leinster and they duly saw it home. The exertions the previous Sunday took their toll on Munster, and no-one was too bothered about the win once the performance was decent – the Bananamen looming on the horizon was the bigger fish to fry.  It was an enjoyable game for this neutral (Egg) – it was certainly a level above the normal dross served up in the Pro12, and the skill level of the young Irish players on display was very impressive.

You might not have known it from Gerry’s match report, but the main talking point after the game was Paul O’Connell’s kick on Dave Kearney – to our eyes, it was clearly unintentional, but just as clearly reckless use of the boot. Kearney will be out for a few weeks, and we would be surprised if O’Connell isn’t as well – no-one wants to see him miss out on the semi-final, but, just like Brian O’Driscoll’s stamp on Simone Favaro last month, it appears to be an open-and-shut case.

It shouldn’t impact his Lions selection, but with Munster (and Ireland)’s propensity for being 50% of the team they are without him, O’Connell will certainly impact the game with Clermont Auvergne – and not in the way Irish rugby fans hoped.

The Steve Walsh Show, and Ireland’s Backrow

Before we go through this game minute-by-minute, first let’s ask what the press made of the contribution of our back-row? The Sunday Times plaudits went to Peter O’Mahony – O’Reilly rates him highest (8, with 7’s for Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip), crediting his impressive all-round game while Denis Walsh had POM as man of the match. The Sindo had Sean O’Brien in contention for the gong (with Murray). The press in Blighty made no mention of our hotly-debated backrow, restricting themselves to managing to staying awake as two bald men fight over a comb while ENGLAND sniff a Grand Slam.

Based on the live Saturday viewing, we thought POM had his best game to date for Ireland, SOB was the highest class of the unit (what about that kick!) and Heaslip played with authority and continued his personal upturn in form in a green shirt. But will the statistics back it up? With due trepidation, we get reviewing ….

After cracking open two bottles of wine (Valpolicella Ripasso, in case you were wondering) and re-playing the entire game, stripping out Steve Walsh’s contributions, we have to say that the backrow appeared to work – it may not look conventional, but collectively they functioned well. All three men played well for the first time this series, and it was about as good as we have looked in that unit since Fez broke down.

We graded every action as:

  • +2: big play
  • +1: positive play
  • 0: neutral
  • -1: bad play
  • -2: awful play – a cross-field kick in your own 22 that goes straight to an opponent, for example

There are several things to note about our findings:

  1. Steve Walsh bestrode the match like a collossus – the man dominated the game, his tanned and ripped torso was rarely off-screen and he even refereed well – there was a clanger of a penalty on each side, but they balanced out. There was no shoving over of players, a la Conrad Smuth, but we were left in no doubt who was in charge – this was the Steve Walsh Show
  2. Morgan Parra’s passing was terrible – we have a lot more sympathy with Freddy than we did on first look, although he was rubbish too
  3. The volume of ruck inspecting by green shirts was ridiculous – either they don’t know what they are doing, or they do, and it’s rubbish. You would often have two green shirts in a ruck vs one blue, with two other green shirts inspecting – how can 11 men expect to break a 14-man defensive line?
  4. Donncha O’Callaghan’s tears during ‘Ireland’s Call’ were emotional. All the talk was of BOD, but this was likely Stakhanov’s last appearance in Lansdowne Road as well – whatever your opinion of him, 95 caps is a tremendous return and he will retire one of the most decorated players in our history. Hat tip.

What about her eyes the results, you say?

Well, looks like we picked the right week to stop sniffing glue.  All three men contributed hugely.  Our numbers have Peter O’Mahony scoring the most points by a cigarette paper, largely down to big turnovers (which got bonus points), but all three scored between 22 and 24 points – there’s some margin of error of course, and another review might place either of the other two in pole position, and we are sure people will disagree with some of our findings.  By the by, if we missed anything significant, please let us know.  We can attest to how tricky it is to capture every nuance of the match, especially in tight phases.

O’Mahony was the tidiest player, with only one error. He produced big plays when needed, two massive turnovers standing out, and (notably) didn’t start  any silly fights. His lineout work was good, and he tackled well.

Heaslip, as we suspected, was the groundhog/blindside groundhog – not always first to the ruck, but the most effective when he got there. Missed tackles were costly for Heaslip – two in two minutes against Kayser didn’t look good. As captain, we reviewed Heaslip’s decision-making (without awarding points) – with power comes responsibility. He was decisive and authoritative and looked, for the first time, a real leader. He trusted Jackson and the team seemed united and cohesive.

O’Brien was the most impactful player, and we feel we probably undersold his all-action excellence, but you live and die by the numbers. If you factor in the points earned for kicking and chasing, O’Brien scored the lowest pure back-row points, but he was almost Parisse-esque in his ubiquity at times.

Mauling was one of the big success stories of the day and all three were prominent, with good body positions and lots of aggression.  We awarded points for anyone who was in a maul which moved forwards, and there were plenty of them.  Heaslip in particular appears to excel at this element of the game, but all three were part of a huge mauling success.

All three players effectiveness declined in the second half, in tandem with Ireland’s in general. Some tables are below for your viewage.

NB: does not include Steve Walsh

NB: does not include Steve Walsh

NB: Steve Walsh's actions are broken down in the pdf file at the bottom

NB: Steve Walsh’s actions are broken down in the pdf file at the bottom

The complete analysis is below – feedback is welcomed and assumed, particularly from those who tweeted us at half-time from their high horse, assuming we’d make up stats to ensure O’Mahony wasn’t recognised – we expect a mea culpa below the line.

So, our preceonceptions turned out more or less correct.  Heaslip is the closest thing to an openside we have, but relies not so much on being the first man to the ruck, like a classic seven, but more on being the strongest man at the ruck.  O’Mahony plays like a No.8, and O’Brien is a carrying machine.  The numbers may be a jumble, but we seem to get away with it.

But one thing stuck out beyond all others.  Well though the three of them played, they were no match for Steve Walsh.  The tan, the arms, the demeanour, the chatty style, the mad new TMO rules he invented on the spot.  It’s Walsh’s world, the rest of us just live in it.

The full breakdown of every action is in the link below:

Backrow Stats – All Actions

Peter O’Mahony, the Rage Virus and Statistics

Ireland’s backrow is most confusing in its current iteration – it appears unbalanced (what’s new), consisting of an 8, a 6.5 and a 6/7/8 (delete as appropriate), and appears unable to grab a game by the scruff of the neck.  Far from the traditional roles one associates with the 6, 7 and 8, Ireland’s appears to be a jumble of roles.  Now, we’re not against fluidity of systems, but given Ireland’s recent results, it has to be asked – does the current backrow work?  For the record it looks like this:

No.6 Peter O’Mahony

Typical role of number 6: tackle anything that moves, truck dirty slow ball around the corner and try to turn it into quicker ball, add ballast to mauls, possible tail of lineout option

Prototype: Dan Lydiate, Stephen Ferris

Role of O’Mahony (as we understand it). Standing wide between the centres, looking to join up the play and make rangy breaks in midfield by handing off defenders.  Important part of lineout.

No. 7 Sean O’Brien

Typical role of number 7: arrive first at as many rucks as possible, win turnovers, track ball carriers, take and give offloads to bring continuity to play

Prototype: Sir Ruchie, David Pocock, Justin Tipuric

Role of O’Brien (as we understand it): primary ball carrier. Relied upon to repeatedly carry slow ball over the gainline and deliver huge tackle count in defence.

No.8 Jamie Heaslip

Typical role of number 8: set up attacks off the base of scrum, carry ball, usually allowed a little more free reign to stand wide from ruck to get ball in space, should have good hands, often a lineout option

Prototype: Sergio Parisse, Louis Picamoles

Role of Jamie Heaslip (as we understand it): used primarily in tight, where he is depended upon to clear rucks and win turnovers.  Seldom asked to carry the ball.

It’s certainly a far cry from, say, Wales’ uber-traditional backrow where the 6 (Lydiate / Jones), 7 (Warburton / Tipuric) and 8 (Felatau) are outstanding in the traditional primary roles.  As a unit, Ireland’s backrow performed well against Wales, were hopelessly outmuscled against England and did enough against Scotland to deliver sufficient clean ball and go-forward to win the game, which failed to happen for various reasons.  Looking at the individuals, we’d say O’Mahony was good against Wales, ordinary against England and poor against Scotland.  Heaslip was good against Scotland, poor against England and average against Wales.  O’Brien has probably been our best forward, heroically committed and hardworking – with the caveat that he has given away too many penalties.

Any time we try to have a rational debate, it degenerates quickly into bitter provincial bickering – Munster folk will point to Jamie Heaslip’s relative lack of visibility while Leinster and Ulster folk will decry Peter O’Mahony’s lack of impact, and lament the absence of the glorious Fez. Sean O’Brien is largely spared criticism, thankfully, for if we agreed on nothing, this would be a most depressing state of affairs.  The oddly fitting roles probably don’t help here.  We expect our 6 to be a tackling machine, and our 8 to be making big plays, but neither seems to be the case.

The statistics from ESPN Scrum bear out the above thesis.

Carrying: Heaslip has carried for 27 cumulative metres over three matches.  O’Mahony and O’Brien have over 90m each, with O’Mahony averaging over 4m a carry.  He made an eye-catching 65m from nine carries in his best game of the series, against Wales.  Carrying the ball further away from the ruck allows him more space to make metres, while O’Brien is asked to carry slow ball repeatedly.  He has made 44 attempted carries so far.

Tackling: O’Brien appears something of a workaholic, adding a huge tackle count to his carrying ability.  He has 28 successful tackles to his name.  Heaslip, as we’d expect given his responsibility close to the ruck, leads the tackle count on 30.  O’Mahony’s tackle count is somewhat dwarfed by the other two, on 13 over three games, again reflecting his tendency to  play further out from the ruck.

Discipline: O’Mahony has a reputation as a penalty machine, but he’s only cost his team two so far this series.  O’Brien has never shaken off his tendency not to roll away quickly enough in the tackle area, and has coughed up six penalties.  Heaslip – usually a well disciplined player – has cost his team five penalties so far.

Lineout: This has not been a vintage series for the Irish lineout, but O’Mahony’s skills have seen him claim seven catches.  Heaslip gets thrown up reasonably often too – he’s won four, and O’Brien has two.

ESPN doesn’t provide numbers on what Donncha O’Callaghan fans might refer to as the unseen work – clearing rucks, shoving hard in a maul, winning a choke tackle turnover, slowing down opposition ball at a ruck.  Nor do the stats on ESPN tell the whole story of any action.  Keith Earls’ break and non-pass gave him huge metres carried, but many of them were thrown away by failing to the right thing once he’d done the hard bit. 

For this weeks France game, we are going to go through with a fine tooth comb (rather like the Mole did for kicking against England and chart (and, crucially, grade in terms of positive impact) each action of each backrow forward, specifically:

  • Tackles
  • Carries (number and metres)
  • Rucking (clearing out and otherwise)
  • Lineout takes and steals
  • Other good actions: Linebreaks, key passes, turnovers won, tries
  • Other bad actions: Turnovers lost, penalties, free-kicks, missed tackles

We expect that O’Brien will have the most tackles and carries, and Heaslip the most ruck clearances, and we don’t expect to see the same quantity of dog-work from O’Mahony. If he is to stand in wider channels let’s hope he can make his ball skills and rangy carrying ability tell and deliver serious metres in open space and keep the play alive.  In general we’d prefer to see him involved in the action more than he is, but we know he’s capable of coming up with big plays.  We’ve a suspicion his yardage is a little flattered by his standing so wide, so we’ll see if that’s borne out.  One thing’s for sure, he’s a very different player to what his astonishing media profile suggests; we’re far from convinced that he’s a no-backward-step warrior that he’s portrayed as in the press, and we’ve already aired our Good Face theory.

We have to come out and admit that we find O’Mahony to be a most curious player. He can do the hard things brilliantly – zipping passes like Strings in his peak, and taking balls from the air or off his bootlaces with consumate ease. Yet, for a blindside, his tackling is largely absent, his carrying inconsistent, and his breakdown work unseen (to coin a phrase). In short, we think he doesn’t work hard enough.  He’s yet to deliver 10 tackles in a match in any of his eight starts for Ireland, and in four games has combined single digit metres with single digit carries.  On his day, however, he can be impactful, as in this season’s win against Wales. 

He has not yet been forced to nail down a jumper for Munster, never had his attitude and play questioned, and never really been subject to any media criticism whatsoever. The Mole opined that some time at the coalface nailing down a position and learning about himself might be the best thing for him – we feel he just coasts too much, but that seems to be out of tune with a lot of opinions, so we felt this was a puzzle worth delving a little deeper into.

What we’d like to see from Heaslip is an improvement in his carrying, which looked pretty marshmallowy in the first two games of the Six Nations, before improving against Scotland.  And as for O’Brien, well, we’d almost like to see him carry less.  If he’s making over 20 carries in a match it’s a surefire sign that Ireland’s Plan A of Give The Ball to O’Brien has been jettisoned for Plan B: Give the Ball to O’Brien.

More than simply analysing each player’s individual performances, we want to try and gain some understanding as to whether Ireland’s backrow functions as a unit.  It’s highly unconventional in that the role of the players is so at odds with what we traditionally expect from each shirt number.  Are we suffering as a result of that?  Are we getting the best out of the three players?  Do we have the right men selected?  Would we be better off with a more traditional 6 and 7, allowing Heaslip to carry more ball as he did three years ago?  Is his carrying good enough to merit that role?

So on Sunday night we’ll sit down with a bottle of wine and pour over the tape.  By far the biggest issue we expect to have is that O’Mahony and Donnacha Ryan look rather similar.  Let’s hope we can tell them apart enough to get some accurate stats.  Results will be up early next week.

Six Nation Preview: The Joy of HECs

Part 2 of our Six Nations preview looks at what the HEC has thrown up, and how this might have a bearing on the international sphere.
It’s been an extremely positive tournament for both Scotland and Ireland. Scotland have their first quarter-finalist in 8 years and this has got to be good news for Robbo. For a start, he will have some players on the field who know what it takes to win close games, a facet of performance in which Scotland fell notably short in the RWC. True, Edinburgh weren’t exactly in the Pool of Death, but you still need to beat the teams in front of you – 2 away wins laced with cojones are positive signs, as is the try count – 17 – more than Scotland have managed in the last four Six Nations put together. In addition, the team is largely Scottish, and is well-marshalled by Greg Laidlaw at 10 – a position where Scotland have failed to find consistent leadership of late.
Ireland, in turn, have an unprecedented 3 quarter-finalists, with one guaranteed semi-finalist and the press full of breathless talk of a Munster-Leinster final. It’s all positive then, right? Possibly not. The contrast between and confused bumbling in the green shirt and the sure-footed confidence in the blue/white/red shirt has grown starker and starker since 2009, and, despite a decent RWC, it’s not clear anything is changed. Ulster are marshalled by the accents of Bloemfontein as much as Belfast, and Munster and Leinster operate to disparate gameplans. Talk is emerging of a new style and clearer attacking strategy, and it would want to, because Ireland frequently look an uneasy, confused hybrid of the two. The squad announcement was a flat affair, and there’s been little sense among the rugby public that Ireland can capitalise on the provinces’ dominance.

For England and Wales, the HEC did not augur well. England’s RWC squad was backboned by players from Leicester, Northampton and Bath (16 out of 30 including Thomas the Tank Engine, drafted in for Ted Sheridan). All 3 suffered merciless and record-breaking beatings at the hands of Irish provinces this year, which has given rise to hilarious hand-wringing in Blighty. Ackford thinks the solution is more English teams (no, really), Barnesy has started touting the Pro12 as the model, and Cockerill has pointed his pudgy fingers at the salary cap, referees, injuries, the heavy Christmas programme, the Catholic Church, Dick Cheney and the euro.
All that aside, what looked like a new-ish broom swept in by Stuart Lancaster has already turned into a damage limitation exercise – the HEC has left English rugby’s confidence dented, and it needs to find its pride again. Even Harlequins have stumbled. Confidence will likely stay dented right up until Chris Ashton
belly-flops his way to 3 tries against Italy, when they will be prospective world champions again.
The Welsh had exactly the opposite problem after NZ – how to temper expectations (not their strongest suit, it must be said). However, the regions have done a pretty good job for Gatty and co. The Scarlets produced a signature performance in thumping the Sinners in Franklin’s Gardens, but failed to follow through, losing 3 of their last 4 games in circumstances where a team with belief and a pack would have won at least 2 of them. NKOTB Rhys Priestland has been de-scoped from the 10 slot in favour of bearded has-been Stephen Jones and the marvellous young backs (Scott and Liam Williams, JJV Davies, George North) have been successfully neutered.
The Hairsprays didn’t expect to capitulate so rankly in Biarritz on the last weekend, although double losses to Sarries and a draw with Treviso had snookered them before the off. Cardiff qualified, but only as a runner-up, and made extremely heavy weather of an easy pool. Anything less than a severe thumping at the hands of Leinster in April would be considered progress after a measly 9 tries in 6 games – against 2 sides determined to throw the ball around like confetti (Edinburgh and Racing Metro) and 1 of the worst sides in the HEC (London Samoa). It looks like positive momentum lost, but then again, the Welsh national side has never fed off the regions. They’re a curious side whose performance can go any which way, depending largely on what mood they’re in. It might not matter that much.
For France and Italy, it was all a bit … meh. Of the 6 French sides, only 3 bothered – Toulouse (group winners), Clermont (group winners) and Biarritz (narrowly pipped for a knockout place, and began looking more menacing after the Harinodoquy-Yachvili-Traille spine was bedded back in for the later games). The other 3 sides used the tournament for practice – either backline moves (Racing Metro) or scrummaging (Castres, Montpellier). The Top 14 will always be a priority for French sides (despite their lack of connection with their fan bases, Gerry), and HEC success is a pleasant side-dish in most cases. It’s hard to know what impact this all will have on the national side – not much we suspect.
The Italian sides were a curates egg. The positives came from Treviso’s home form and their willingness to play a more rounded brand of rugby – no longer can you go there and rely upon your scrum breaking even and your kicker to kick 80% in order to win. On the flip side of that, Aironi regressed from last year. No-one expected miracles, but they beat Biarritz last season and were generally niggly at home. This time around, they got fed an eighty-burger (thank you Demented Mole) by the Clermont reserves, and the only success, such as it was, was denying Leicester a bonus point in the Zafanella. One hopes that Italy will take more from Treviso’s performances, and make it a proper Six Nations.