After last weekend’s woeful displays in the Six Nations we saw some actual rugby being played yesterday.
The highlight on paper was France vs Ireland, but the true highlight of the day, and possibly of the weekend, was Wales vs Scotland.
We always knew Wales and Scotland could fling the ball wide and play with abandon, but they showed us what is possible when they actually begin to play. In contrast to the match in Dublin last week, the Welsh backs actually got some good ball and they made good use of it. The Welsh forwards did the hard work to let their cavalry run in the tries with lightning moves.
Scotland too played an amazing game and, as many times before, they did not deserve to lose, but lose they did. Which is not to say Wales did not deserve the win, because they did. They were just a bit sharper and made fewer errors. That was where Scotland lost the game, simple handling.
And, as ever, with Scotland too, there is controversy and anger. The first Welsh try was clearly a knock on, and it could be argued the Welsh scrum half was offside when he picked up the ball. However, it would have mattered little. Scotland were brilliant but sloppy, Wales were brilliant and alert.
The contrast with the game from Paris was staggering. Once again, the Irish persisted in their dumb strategy of battering away at their opponent, without much real succes. The French too were not very good.
Yet, it looked like the French are finally finding their feet again. They are still rebuilding their team, but it was clear they had more confidence. They were cocky again and happy to strut about as though they are the best in the world. That confidence has been lacking in France for a while. While the technical side and the bond of the team might be lacking still, their attitude seems to have changed and they did try to play rugby again.
Ireland seem to have fallen into the same hole as their two big provinces, Munster and Leinster. There is no real leadership on the field and there was no spark. With the French hammering away at Johnny Sexton, a lamentable, but understandable tactic, it was left to others to carry the responsibility and no-one really stepped up, imposed his will and shook the side into formation. And so the mindnumbing game of short crash balls continued.
The one player at fault here is Conor Murray. He is technically a great scrum half. He reads the game well, but what Ireland need right now is a Peter Stringer. A scrum half with typical scrum half little man syndrome who shouts and rages at the forwards, slapping them around the head if he needs to to get them to do what he needs them to do. Murray does not do that. He reads the game well, but he doesn’t lead the game.
On many occassions there was a back line available for Ireland, quick ball and space outside, and Murray played the short ball because the forwards were between him and Sexton. That is unforgivable.
Yet there were sparks of hope for Ireland. When the quick ball did go wide, Ireland broke the gainline without a problem, a rare feat against the tenacious French. Trimble and Dave Kearney, who sadly had to retire with a suspected AC injury after some foul play missed by the referee, were electric, and Rob Kearney was great at full-back.
The forwards did a lot of work, which should be applauded, but they fought the battle nearly on their own, refusing to give way to that sparkling backline Ireland does seem to have.
The upshot of it all is that we actually got to watch some rugby. And there are signs those of us who went back to our rugby hibernation after last weekend should maybe return to the pubs and the sofas after all. Because there could actually be a rugby tournament on.
Paul Peerdeman, Pundit Arena
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