From discipline to Dupont, we round up the key news items from the third round of the 2019 championship
Discipline and defence crucial to Wales’ win over England
Last year at Twickenham, Wales conceded just two penalties in their Six Nations defeat by England. This weekend it was three penalties in the Principality Stadium – and that disciplined approach was crucial to their 21-13 victory.
Wales didn’t allow England to clear their lines and dominate the territory statistics by infringing. They kept on the right side of the referee and kept the pressure on the visitors, who themselves conceded nine penalties.
The patience they showed in the 34-phase move that led to Cory Hill’s decisive try was exceptional, not only varying the plays – pick-and-goes, wide balls, miss-passes – but maintaining their discipline. So often you see teams give away a penalty in those situations.
Wales’ defence was also key. Their tackle stats were not as high as England’s. They made 127 tackles to England’s 205, with the visitors’ top tacklers making nearly twice as many tackles as Wales – Jamie George and Tom Curry made 27 tackles to Alun Wyn Jones’s 14.
However, Wales closed down England’s big ball-carriers effectively, often with double tackles, and that prevented Eddie Jones’s side from gaining momentum and building attacks.
Should England have gone to the bench earlier?
Momentum started to slip away from England midway through the second half in Cardiff. Eddie Jones replaced a couple of forwards around that point, but what about changing the dynamic of the game?
Owen Farrell is a world-class player but he had something of an off-day against Wales. Why not bring George Ford on, move Farrell to 12 and present Wales with a different challenge, two playmaking options to keep the defenders busy – even three if you include Henry Slade?
Ben Youngs kicked an awful lot from scrum-half. Would Dan Robson’s sniping game and pace have made a difference in the final quarter?
We’ll obviously never know but Jones’s reluctance to go to the bench seemed strange. Surely those ‘finishers’ could have helped change the course of the match?
Personal attacks are not necessary
Warren Gatland described Kyle Sinckler as an “emotional timebomb” in the build-up to Wales v England and talked about the England prop having “demons” to deal with in his post-match press conference.
Last year it was Eddie Jones singling out Rhys Patchell and a few years back the England coach got personal about Johnny Sexton.
Yes, this is professional sport and mind games are becoming more prevalent, but it doesn’t need to involve targeting individuals and getting personal in this way.
Gatland had no problem picking Sinckler for the Lions Test team that faced New Zealand in 2017 after all.
French kids are alright
Finally, France performed for a full 80 minutes. In beating Scotland they replicated their first-half performance against Wales but managed to maintain it for the whole match.
And central to the victory were a group of youngsters given licence to play their game. Romain Ntamack belied his teenage years and looked at home in the No 10 shirt. Demba Bamba replicated his Junior World Cup form with a physical performance. Thomas Ramos was superb from full-back, with his counter-attacking runs causing the Scots plenty of problems.
And Antoine Dupont bossed the show from scrum-half, proving that he is the fulcrum upon which this France team should be built.
As for Yoann Huget, one of the older members of the squad, his mixed championship continues. There was the try followed by the defensive howler against Wales, the dreadful performance at full-back against England, and now another varied show against Scotland, which included a sin-binning and a try.
Scotland still lack depth
Scotland’s first-choice XV is a good side. There’s no doubting that. However, strip away a few key players and it makes a vast difference to their quality. That’s what we witnessed in Paris.
Without their X-factor men Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg, as well as key forwards WP Nel, Hamish Watson and Ryan Wilson, Scotland struggled against France, eventually losing 27-10.
Had those players been on the Stade de France pitch, Scotland would have had a great chance of ending their 20-year losing streak in Paris. And those are just five players who feature on a double-digit injury list for the Scots.
Russell should be back to face Wales and Gregor Townsend will be hoping Hogg is too, for they will need them to challenge the current table-toppers.
Townsend will also be desperate to develop more strength in depth so Scotland don’t feel the loss of key players so acutely. Yet having only two pro teams in Scotland makes the challenge that much harder.
Ireland’s entertaining bus journey
Before Ireland’s nervy 26-16 victory over Italy in Rome, a video emerged on social media of the team’s bus journey to the stadium – and it made comical viewing.
Ireland had a police escort to Stadio Olimpico, which involved a single police car leading the way. Said car weaved left and right, cleared traffic, gesticulated wildly at other cars – and had the players and coaches in fits of giggles.
You can watch the video clip of the bus journey here…
Given the laughter you can hear, it’s unlikely the trip unsettled any players before the Test match, but their performance was below-par.
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With France showing vast improvement in their win over Scotland, the Irish need to up their game before round four too.
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