Week two of the RBS Six Nations produced a big win for England and narrow victories for Ireland and Wales, while Scotland and Italy are left wondering where their first victories will come from. Who were the hits and misses from this weekend's games?
He scored a try on his return to the England team last week and just when you thought things couldn’t get any better for Jonathan Joseph he raced in for two tries in England’s 47-17 Six Nations win over Italy this weekend and snapped up the Man of the Match award.
The Bath centre scored both while he was playing out of position on the wing, having been moved after ten minutes when England re-shuffled following Mike Brown’s injury. His first try came from a magnificent solo run from almost halfway and for the second he looped round Billy Twelvetrees, took the ball at pace and broke through the defence.
Joseph was rightly praised by the England coaches, with Mike Catt saying: “His confidence is exceptionally high, and that’s a credit to what Bath are doing with him. He’s taken his chance and taken it well.”
Joseph gave a lot of credit to George Ford’s creativity. “I try to stay around him as much as possible because then something is going to happen. I am in a good place but I don’t want to sit back and relax. I want to get better and better and see where I can go.”
Return just the ticket
It was six years and three months since Danny Cipriani had last played for England at Twickenham, but he was on the pitch for no more than three minutes on Saturday before he was racing in for only his second Test try, taking a scoring pass from Jonny May.
When the Sale Shark ran on to replace George Ford with 62 minutes on the clock he was given a rousing reception by the Twickenham crowd. “It does feel like I have been away for a while,” he said. “To get the reception I did was humbling. It was one of my proudest moments, to get back out there in an England shirt.”
Nick Easter also played the role of returning hero, although he had come off the bench against Wales last week too. This time Easter was driven over for England’s sixth and last try and became the oldest player ever to touch down for England, just one day shy of 36 years and six months.
The Edinburgh weekend is something a lot of Wales fans look forward to and they turned out in massive numbers for Sunday’s clash with Scotland at BT Murrayfield and roared and sang their team to a 26-23 victory. Not only were the thousands who traveled undeterred by the scheduling of the game, hundreds of them went the extra mile by donning all kinds of fancy dress. There were sheep aplenty, miners, a scattering of national costumes and hosts of golden daffodils. It all made for a marvellous site and a top-notch atmosphere.
The win for Wales over Scotland was due in no small part to their outstanding defence when the Scots had them on the ropes. They held out when under sustained pressure in both halves. They conceded some penalties which Scotland chose to run as they chased the game and still the visitors would not be moved. It has to be said, they were helped by referee Glen Jackson’s decision not to wield his yellow card at all in the second half, but it was still a great exhibition of backs-to-the-wall defending.
Morisi at the double
Hats off to Italy’s outside centre Luca Morisi, who scored two tries in a 30-point defeat.
Morisi struck nine minutes into the second half, leaving Dave Attwood, James Haskell and Anthony Watson in his wake as he crossed the line, then added his second try in the last minute, diving over in the right-hand corner.
It hadn’t been a good afternoon for Italy, but the 23-year-old Treviso back made a great impression.
Johnny Sexton came back from a 12-week concussion lay-off and was a match-winner for Ireland, kicking five penalties in their 18-11 win over France in Dublin. His first contribution was to halt the considerable bulk of Mathieu Bastareaud as the powerful centre came charging down the outside-half’s channel. Sexton stopped him and forced the turnover – not a bad start.
He didn’t miss a single kick at goal, his kicking out of hand was excellent and while he wasn’t able to create any tries for his team, Ireland were still delighted to have him back.
Whichever RFU employee thought it was a great idea to gather a few dozen schools rugby players to form a guard of honour as the England players walked from their team coach to the changing rooms at Twickenham needs a swift lesson in customer relations.
The young players – some of whom were adult-sized – appeared about 15 minutes before the bus arrived and were planted right in front of massed ranks of supporters who had been waiting in the cold for an hour or more to catch a glimpse of the players as they walked by.
The views of every child who had waited patiently and in hope on a chilly day was obstructed. Plenty of adults couldn’t see much either. While the marketing bods darted up and down the line reminding the youngsters to “clap and smile” when the teams walked through, the disappointed, chilly, ticket-buying fans behind them were thinking they would have done that without prompting and added a cheer or two.
Come on RFU – that’s a terrible way to treat your paying public. You don’t need to stage-manage a great reception for your team. The fans have managed quite nicely until now.
Off colour stand-off
Scotland’s Finn Russell has had an excellent season so far, but he made a few critical errors during his team’s 26-23 defeat by Wales on Sunday. Having helped set up Scotland’s first try with a great turnover, he then cost them ten points towards the end of the first half when he took out Dan Biggar in the air. Instead of challenging for the high ball, he turned his back to protect himself and backed into Biggar’s leaping legs.
Russell was sin-binned and in the mean time, Wales kicked a penalty and used their numerical advantage to engineer a try for the backs.
The Scotland stand-off missed touch twice with penalty kicks and was involved in some controversy at the death. Jon Welsh scored a try with 45 seconds to go, but Russell did not take the conversion until 38 seconds later and referee Glen Jackson blew for full-time before the re-start, with Scotland just three points behind. The Scots felt they should have been able to kick off, but if Russell had had his wits about him and chipped a quick conversion over, as Greig Laidlaw would probably had done had he still been on the park, there would have been no controversy or debate.
Russell was not the only Scottish villain: Matt Scott missed a tackle which let Jonathan Davies through for what turned out to be the match-winning try, and the forwards got a bad case of white-line fever close to the finish and ignored a big overlap out wide.
Poor old Jonny May (you’ll get that, if you are a Dexys fan or over 40, or both). After having a quiet game in attack against Wales last week he must have been hoping, or even expecting, to pick up a try or two against Italy. Instead he could not rediscover the cutting edge which is so familiar to Gloucester fans. He stumbled over his own feet as he tried to wrong-foot the defence and he was at fault for Italy’s last try as he made a hash of his tackle. Yes, he made the break which created Danny Cipriani’s try, but that was the one bright spot for him.
It simply looked like he was trying too hard, and that the confidence he built during the November Tests has turned to anxiety. I would like to see England release May to play for Gloucester against London Welsh next Saturday, so he can have a go a rediscovering his try-scoring touch in the familiar surroundings of Kingsholm.
Marks out of Glen
Referee Glen Jackson has taken something of a panning on social media since he blew the final (premature?) whistle on the Scotland v Wales clash. While I think that timekeeping problem was not down to him (another official told him time was up) and while he dealt well with the two tackles in the air and went to the TMO for the Liam Williams’ try which was ruled out by obstruction, he did make a few questionable calls when Scotland were attacking.
I would have liked to see him go to the TMO to look at Greig Laidlaw’s dive for the try-line right on half time, which he ruled was short. And when Mark Bennett dotted down for what would have been a vital try in the closing minutes, he ruled that Sam Hidalgo-Clyne had knocked-on in the build-up and came back for a high tackle by Rhys Webb, but didn’t see fit to check whether the ball really had gone forward, or to sin-bin Webb or even award a penalty try, given that he was the last defender.
There’s no doubt Scotland’s fans, players and coaches are feeling aggrieved. There is also no doubt Jackson will have better days at the office.