Well, after a quiet and boring weekend of Six Nations and LV= Cup rugby, there's not a lot to say really, is there? Or, should I say I don't know where to start?
Stand up and take a bow all the players who threw caution to the wind in the final round of RBS Six Nations matches and served up the most entertaining, exciting and nail-biting weekend of rugby anyone in Europe can remember.
With England, Ireland and Wales all trying to win the title by beating their rivals’ points difference, they concentrated more on attack than defence and the three games produced an astonishing 211 points between them.
When the dust finally settled as the final whistle blew at Twickenham on Saturday evening, Ireland were champions with a points difference that was just six better than England‘s, while Wales finished third, just four more points behind.
Is there any hope that this extraordinary day will encourage Europe’s Test players and coaches to put their heads up and play this kind of all-out attacking rugby more often? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful legacy for a great day.
As Ireland kicked off at Murrayfield, they knew they needed to win by a 21-point margin to overtake Wales at the top of the table and they made a seven-point hole in that wall with just four minutes on the clock when Paul O’Connell, of all people, barged over the line for his first Test try since November 2006.
The skipper became Ireland’s oldest try-scorer (35 years, 152 days), beating the record set in 1909 by 34-year-old Fred Gardiner, and O’Connell continued to lead his team from the front throughout.
As well as his usual magnificent contribution at the lineouts, scrums, rucks and mauls, he made 14 carries – bettered only by Jamie Heaslip’s 15 in this game.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt paid tribute to O’Connell, saying: “In his 101st cap he was the guy he has been for the other 100 caps. He is a leader. He doesn’t know when to quit.”
Liam lights the touch-paper
George North took a chunk of the headlines with his 11-minute hat-trick against Italy but another Wales back caught my eye. Liam Williams ran a brilliant line to score the first try of the second half, taking Wales from 14-13 up to 21-13 then just two minutes later, on 50 minutes, he fielded a kick in his own half, made a break and put North through for the first part of his try treble.
Suddenly Wales were 28-13 up with half an hour to go, the confidence came rushing into their systems while Italy‘s resolve drained away, and Wales scored five more tries and came within a whisker of taking the Six Nations crown.
Youngs gives his all
In a team of players who were giving their absolute all to try to win the Six Nations by beating France by 26 points in the last game of the championship, England scrum-half Ben Youngs stood out from the crowd as he played like a man possessed.
He spun through a tackle to score his first try after a sublime offload from George Ford, then a fantastic break from Youngs, starting in his own half, led to Anthony Watson’s try on the half-hour, taking England from 15-10 down to 17-15 up.
Youngs wasn’t finished there. He dummied and broke from halfway and found Ford with a lovely pass on 46 minutes to give England a 34-22 lead and was a major threat throughout the game. When France drove Benjamin Kayser over the line in the 65th minute to make the score 48-35, a crestfallen Youngs was cursing, almost in despair. He certainly could not have done any more in England’s cause.
Great job, Jamie
Was the Six Nations won for Ireland with a try-saving tackle rather than a piece of attacking play? There is certainly an argument for saying so as, with 75 minutes on the clock at Murrayfield, Ireland were 40-10 up and looked like making sure England had a tough task to beat their points difference.
Then Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg made a break and seemed dead set to score a try in the right-hand corner, until Jamie Heaslip brought him crashing to the floor, knocking the ball out of his hands in the process. Heaslip’s tackle was a great example of a player giving his all right to the final whistle and, with Ireland only beating England on points difference by six in the end, that try-saving tackle proved critical.
The U20s Six Nations also reached an exciting climax on Friday evening as England and France met in a winner-takes-all clash to decide the title. The game was in the balance with England 12-11 up after 64 minutes, then their centre Joe Marchant produced an astonishing piece of individual skill to take England further ahead.
Stu Townsend charged down a kick from France and Marchant collected the ball and somehow pivoted in the smallest of spaces in the left-hand corner and showed great balance and skill to touch down for a try.
England went on to win 24-11 thanks in no small part to that spark of brilliance from the 18-year-old Harlequin, who is still at school. He looks like a special talent, which is why he is one of the Hotshots in the April edition of Rugby World magazine!
Double joy for Ireland
It wasn’t all about the men’s game this weekend, as the Women’s Six Nations ended in dramatic fashion when Ireland wrestled the trophy from the grasp of France on Sunday with a 73-3 victory over Scotland which took them to the title on points difference. Wing Alison Miller scored a hat-trick and Niamh Briggs kicked 23 points on the occasion of her 50th cap.
England prop Rochelle Clark reached an even more notable personal landmark on Saturday as she won her 100th cap and became England’s joint most-capped player of all time. The 33-year-old Worcester player joined Amy Garnett on a century and has been playing for England since 2003.
Spencer ‘s special day
Saracens fans are raising a toast to 22-year-old scrum-half Ben Spencer who won the LV= Cup for them by kicking a penalty with the last kick of the game. Exeter Chiefs had just leveled the score in the final at 20-20 with a try from Max Bodily, converted by Gareth Steenson, but Saracens went back into Chiefs’ territory and when the penalty chance was given, Spencer was up to the task, despite the pressure.
All the people who were moaning about the staggered kick-offs on the final day of the Six Nations must be feeling a little silly today. In case they hadn’t noticed, the tournament has finished with a Super Saturday like this since 2004, so why was it suddenly a problem this year? Why so much debate about whether or not it was fair this time? Could it be because England looked like the most likely side to benefit beforehand?
Shame on you
Whoever sent an offensive, homophobic Tweet to referee Nigel Owens after he had refereed the England v France game should be hanging their head in shame – and they could find themselves in trouble with the police.
The Tweet, which criticised Owens for his part in a game which meant England went above Wales in the final Six Nations table and featured a homophobic insult, was sent from the account of Edryd James. However, within an hour James had apologised and said his phone had been stolen before the message was sent.
Dyfed Powys Police launched an investigation after a complaint from several members of the public, and said: “The Tweet concerned has now been removed from the page. The investigation is at an early stage.”
Pride before a call
Wales coach Warren Gatland thought he didn’t need Adam Jones anymore and stopped picking the veteran prop in his Test squads last year. Jones responded by announcing his international retirement when he failed to make the squad for this Six Nations. But now tighthead prop Samson Lee is recovering from a torn Achilles and may not be fit for the World Cup, it seems clear to everyone outside the Wales set-up that Jones is needed again.
Gatland seems to think he can’t recall him because he has retired from international rugby, while Jones seems to be waiting for the coach to make the first move. It’s a stand-off which does not benefit either party and it is the pride of the two men which is stopping either one from picking up the phone. Jones needs to ask himself if he will live to regret not putting his hat back into the ring for one last World Cup, while Gatland needs to think honestly about whether Wales will be a stronger squad with Jones in that out.
No, no Noa!
France wing Noa Nakaitaci gave himself and all the French and Irish fans a horrible couple of minutes with a stupid piece of play at Twickenham on Saturday. He raced over for what should have been a simple, comfortable try, but ran on right to the dead-ball line, seemingly trying to get round Ben Youngs, and came within a whisker of stepping over the line before grounding the ball. In a match where every point really mattered, Nakaitaci looked sick with worry as the TMO and referee looked repeatedly at replays, trying to establish if the try was good. They finally judged that his foot which was over the line was still just in the air as he grounded the ball, and the wing was mightily relieved.
James Haskell landed himself in trouble when he tripped France fly-half Jules Plisson as they both converged on a loose ball at the back of a lineout. Referee Nigel Owens missed the incident initially, but the TMO didn’t and it was clear from the replays that Haskell lifted his leg to trip Plisson.
Ten minutes in the sin-bin was the result. England were 16 points up when Haskell went to the bin and only 13 up when the period was over, as France scored two unconverted tries in his absence and England managed one converted try. Who knows if England might have won by a big enough margin to take the Six Nations title if they hadn’t had to manage with 14 men for ten minutes of the second half?
Exeter’s replacement hooker Greg Bateman is the unfortunate soul who gave away the match-winning penalty at the very end of the LV= Cup final. Bateman came in from the side of a ruck inside the Chiefs’ half as Saracens went looking for a winning score, having seen Exeter equalise at 20-20 a couple of minutes earlier.
It was a time for cool heads and patient defence for the Chiefs, but Bateman buckled under the pressure and Saracens won 23-20.