From Wales v England hype to positional play to the Women’s Six Nations frontrunners, we reflect on round two of the championship
Eddie Jones hails “greatest Welsh side ever”
The hype for Wales v England has begun. This fixture is always a big match and it has become even bigger given that they are the only two teams unbeaten after two rounds of the Six Nations.
The match in Cardiff on 23 February is now being billed as a title decider – and Eddie Jones has already heaped praise on his opponents.
After England secured their biggest win over France for more than a century, Jones described Gatland’s team as “the greatest Welsh side ever”.
Most who watched Wales’ win over Italy would likely find fault with that statement, but it was their 11th consecutive Test victory, equalling the country’s best-ever run.
Gatland was hoping the unimpressive nature of that win, with a much-changed side, would lower expectations ahead of the England match, saying: “A lot of people will write us off, which is a good position to be in. Hopefully we’ll go under the radar.”
Jones clearly hasn’t bought into that, however, and decided to put the focus back on Wales by hailing them after his team’s win at Twickenham.
“We’re playing against the greatest Welsh side ever,” he said. “We’re playing against a Warren Gatland side, he’s been top of the tree in European rugby for the last few years.
“They’re a tough, physical team, they contest hard at the breakdown, you have to earn every point against them. I’m looking forward to getting down there.”
Many will also be looking forward to the comments Jones and Gatland send in each other’s direction over the next two weeks. The build-up has begun.
Playing players out of position causes problems
France started the match at Twickenham with a wing at full-back – Yoann Huget – and two centres on the wing – Gael Fickou and Damian Penaud. So was it any wonder England targeted that back three with their kicking game?
Jonny May scored three tries in the corner – two from kicks and one from a long Owen Farrell pass. For the first try he outpaced the French defenders, for the second he stepped around Penaud and for the third – after France had failed to deal with a high ball – he was again quicker than the French chasers to touch down a kick.
That’s not to say May wouldn’t have scored a hat-trick if France had played an out-and-out winger on the wing, but he may not have found it so easy. Penaud didn’t have the pace to match May and the back three as a whole looked unsteady in terms of their positional understanding.
It’s little wonder Thomas Ramos replaced Huget at half-time. He was making his debut but looked more composed at 15 than his experienced team-mate.
France also looked more dangerous with Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack at half-back in the latter stages of the match – will Jacques Brunel give them a go from the off against Scotland?
England in pole position in Women’s Six Nations
The Red Roses clash against France in Doncaster in the Women’s Six Nations was supposed to be a tight contest, a title decider in fact, between the sides ranked two and three in the world. Instead, England ran out comfortable 41-26 winners.
Two converted tries in the last five minutes gave the scoreline more respectability from France’s point of view – and meant the visitors also left with a try bonus point – but in truth England had wrapped up the win well before then.
It was 24-0 at half-time and they added another three tries after the break, England clinical in possession whereas France made too many mistakes.
The fact England conceded nearly four times as many penalties as France – 19 to five – shows how the visitors had opportunities to score more points, but their own handling errors let them down.
Related: Women’s Six Nations fixtures
The French were also hindered by their selection policy. With the Sydney leg of the Women’s World Sevens Series taking place last weekend, the nation’s sevens players were unavailable for the first two rounds of the Six Nations.
This has long been an issue in the women’s game and there needs to be more thought given to the calendar so there are not overlapping tournaments and key players missing from either sevens or 15s.
England’s victory, which featured braces for Jess Breach and Poppy Cleall, puts them in pole position to lift the Six Nations trophy, as they will be expected to win the remaining matches against Wales, Italy and Scotland.
Tens will always be targeted
Just after Johnny Sexton had released the ball to Jacob Stockdale, launching the Ireland winger through a gap to run in a try from 45 metres against Scotland, he was hit hard by Allan Dell.
The Scotland prop was warned by Romain Poite to watch his timing, the hit being a little late, but there was no penalty.
Sexton received treatment after that incident – Conor Murray took the conversion – and seven minutes later, having been hit hard again, this time by Ryan Wilson, he was taken off. He failed an HIA and didn’t return.
From the stands, it appeared targeting Sexton was part of Scotland’s game plan and while there was some debate online about the number and power of the tackles coming his way, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Teams always target tens, trying to unsettle the opposition by unsettling the playmaker. It may look like Sexton is targeted more than others but this is most likely because he plays so flat to the line. One of his strengths is taking the ball into the face of the defence and then producing the key pass.
If Sexton played deeper, defenders wouldn’t be able to reach him so easily but he also wouldn’t be such a threat.
Don’t expect Sexton to change. And don’t expect teams to stop targeting him – and other tens.
And a couple of funnies to finish…
First, Romain Poite needs to work on his hand signals. A couple of times at BT Murrayfield he was trying to signal to stadium staff that a ball was required, but the way he was moving his hands looked more like he was bringing in the Television Match Official!
Secondly, when the teams came out onto the pitch at Twickenham, France centre Mathieu Bastareaud launched into a forward roll.
Unfortunately we have been unable to source any video evidence of this so you will just have to trust us; it was certainly an unusual sight. It was also probably the most metres Bastareaud made all game – maybe because Courtney Lawes wasn’t in front of him to drive him backwards in the tackle!
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