Penalty counts, big crowds and clinical attacks – a few reflections on the fourth round of the 2019 championship
Six Nations Championship goes down to final day
Wales have their Six Nations destiny in their own hands but there is sure to be plenty of drama on Super Saturday, with two other teams in with a chance of lifting the trophy.
England and Ireland are in the mix along with Wales – and what a match it should be at the Principality Stadium next weekend.
It’s great that the championship is being decided on the final day, showing the competitiveness of the Six Nations.
Matches between Ireland and Wales tend to be very tight affairs, with players very familiar with each other, and both teams will be looking to produce their best performance of the tournament in the final round.
One area Wales will want to improve on is discipline. In beating England in Cardiff two weeks ago, they conceded just three penalties. In beating Scotland in Edinburgh last Saturday, they conceded 11 penalties.
That is extremely out of character for Wales and they will need to keep on the right side of referee Angus Gardner if they are to come out on top against Ireland.
Ireland U20 wrap up Six Nations title a round early
In contrast to the senior tournament, the winner of the U20 Six Nations has already been determined.
Ireland beat France 31-29 to give themselves an unassailable six-point lead in the table. Josh Wycherley (two) and Callum Reid scored Ireland’s tries, and although France hit back with a late converted try from Kevin Viallard, time was then up and Ireland held on for the all-important victory.
They now play Wales on Friday night with the aim of securing a first-ever Grand Slam at U20 level.
Record crowds in Women’s Six Nations
Huge numbers of fans turned out to watch this weekend’s Women’s Six Nations fixtures.
There were 6,047 fans at Energia Park to watch Ireland’s 47-16 defeat by France – a record for a standalone Ireland Women’s home game.
Exeter’s Sandy Park also welcomed 10,545 spectators – an English record for a non-World Cup game – as England beat Italy 55-0.
It shows there is huge appetite for women’s rugby and England will be hoping supporters stay behind after the men’s match at Twickenham on Saturday to see if they can seal the Grand Slam by beating Scotland Women.
However, the concern for the tournament as a whole is that the gap between England and the rest is growing and it is likely to grow further now the Red Roses are professional.
They have breezed past all their opponents so far and will most likely do the same against Scotland, who are winless in this year’s championship. Yet sport needs to be competitive to appeal to a wider audience and such one-sided scorelines – England have a points difference of 153 from their four games so far – could see people lose interest.
Language barrier for Six Nations referees
In the Ireland v France match, France captain Guilhem Guirado clearly had trouble understanding referee Ben O’Keeffe at various points.
It was particularly evident in the second half when France were continually penalised at a series of scrums close to their line. Guirado seemed unable to clarify what the specific infringements were by his players and replacement prop Dorian Aldegheri was subsequently sent to the sin-bin.
It has long been said that teams can be put at a disadvantage when English is not their first language and that is how the officials choose to communicate.
Surely it is time for more English-speaking referees to learn a few key words of French, Italian, Spanish etc so they can make sure their messages are clear to players. It’s something Wayne Barnes is able to do, so why not others?
Imagine if Pascal Gauzere had officiated the Scotland v Wales match in his native French rather than English? There would have been uproar, although at least in that example both teams would have been at a disadvantage.
It would be great to see those referees chosen to officiate at the World Cup later this year taking a few language lessons before arriving in Japan.
England show their clinical edge in attack
Eddie Jones’s team selection suggested England will look to outpower Italy at Twickenham and in the end they thumped the visitors 57-14.
Looking through the post-match statistics, the most interesting facet was how clinical England were in attack.
They had less possession (44%) and territory (49%) than Italy, yet scored eight tries to two. Those tries came in 17.1 attacking minutes which is a try a little over every two minutes.
Italy’s two tries came from 21.7 attacking minutes, so they had a far less successful conversion rate.
So it’s not about having the most possession and territory; it’s about making sure you’re accurate when you do have the ball. England certainly did that against Italy.
Twickenham spectator gets a poor viewing experience
Ben Makowiecki took to Twitter on Saturday night to complain about the number of people at Twickenham to watch England v Italy who regularly got up and down during play to visit the bars or toilets at the stadium.
This issue has become a big talking point in the recent years and is something we cover in depth in the April issue of Rugby World magazine, which is on sale now.
Cian Healy demonstrates his laws knowledge
Early in the first half at the Aviva Stadium, Ireland prop Cian Healy spotted that the ball was sitting on the try-line at the base of a French ruck.
With Antoine Dupont dawdling somewhat in clearing the ball and the pressure, Healy stretched an arm through in an attempt to touch the ball down for a try. Unfortunately for Ireland, he actually knocked the ball on rather than grounding it, but knowing he was entitled to go for the ball showed an astute knowledge of the laws.
It was brilliant quick thinking, just poor execution from Healy.
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