Wednesday, February 12, 2014

6 Nations Round 2 by @BigJoeShep

Who were the inspirations and who were the donkeys in round 2? asks @BigJoeShep…


Ireland V Wales

Well we expected the battle of the giants here. The 2 times champs against Joe Schmidts young and developing usurpers. Add on the Gatland / O’Driscoll “Relationship” that probably everyone else apart from them believes is STILL a going concern and it was going to be a real test. Wales pushed hard early on with some attacking play but it lacked the totality of previous years. Ireland in return were good in the defensive roles, have certainly been concentrating on the lineout / rolling maul areas. In addition they never over committed too many players at the contact but Wales were strong and physical and Ireland did, just on the odd occasion looked a little sparse out wide when the Welsh threatened. More of that though later.

I wondered whether Ireland had failed to capitalise on their chances in this first half, but I suspect that Schmidt has said try out some kicks, put them under pressure, use that along with the lineouts, mauls et al and see how it goes? He is building and not in a hurry despite the undoubted pressure on him to deliver. I DO wonder about the amount of “Box Kicks”. Perhaps I’m not a big fan of them being utilised all the time that I notice them more, but I wish we’d open up our backs more instead? Just a thought.

Anyhow, Sexton was kicking on a sixpence. He really is a playmaker and you can see the encouragement others get from his play. It was only going to be when not if the first try would come and on 32 minutes following another lineout / maul combo, that was it. I have to say at this point both Trimble, O’Mahony and Toner were all standing out. Now I haven’t changed my opinion on Big Dev but you cannot argue with his abilities in the line outs. A human “Lighthouse” lol but still needs to “Grow” in more open play and be more aware in the contact.

Ireland came out 13 – 3 up in the 2nd half and continued the way of the 1st. Excellent “Slow” build up forced another penalty. Straight from this though, Wales attacked and again we looked a little suspect on the wide. Great defence though and O’Mahony is providing a steady, rock-like performance and continues to make me believe he is an Ireland captain in the making. I’d caveat that with the fact his passion needs to be streamed into the play at ALL times. He was lucky not be yellow carded for “Back chatting” the referee who was unbelievably tolerant lol!!

Wales pressed on, scored a penalty and then were unfortunate not to get their try but for some “Bunny Hopping” on the ground by the Welsh forward. A superb rolling maul of around 20 metres and break off gave Ireland a second try through Paddy Jackson.

In sum then, Ireland produced an extremely workmanlike display. Their pack were dominant, lineouts well drilled and the rolling maul developing nicely. I think a lot of work has gone on under the new forwards coach, John Plumtree. How England and the remaining teams will counter that now everyone knows it’s a drilled machine will be interesting. There were some very good displays by Cian Healy (whose facial expression when he broke through and the realised he was away AND alone was to be seen!!), Sexton, Murray, Toner, Henry all excelled but two people stood out. Andrew Trimble has clear vision, awareness and technical ability. How he has been overlooked for so long is surprising. MOTM though goes to Peter O’Mahony. He is truly everywhere on the pitch, strength, passion, aggression, belief, hunger and is inspiring at every step. Ireland have an untested back row in real terms for me and I REALLY look forward to when they open up. A final thought that we MUST watch the wide open. A number of times we look vulnerable and a quality side will punish us.

For Wales however, they lacked courage, belief, vision and controlled aggression (I say that after watching Mike Phillips’ display. Time to retire Mr Phillips me thinks!), innovative thought and generally a second rate tired display. Perhaps my assertions last week that Wales’ “Window” for championships is over. They have a long way to go if they harbour any thoughts of a 3rd 6 Nations in a row now?

MOTM: Peter O’MAHONY (Ireland)


I will keep this one briefer…not because it’s Scotland v England, but because it was dire! Scotland turned up, played (and I use that term very loosely) and their performance made England, who were very comfortable in an almost training ground run out look good! I could stop there but it would be unfair to England.

Good opening play and running from several English players and those who in both games are beginning to show they need to be watched. Burrell, Brown, Jonny May, Twelvetrees (yes I know the jury is mainly still out on him with some?), the as ever powerfully strong Vunipola (Billy type) and the ever ever impressive Danny Care. The English line out was well drilled; the pack dominated on what was a poor standard of ground and as a retired prop, what a ‘mare it is to try and gain any standing on such a pitch?

Scotland only ever started to come alive when they lost a player yellow carded………… fact the ONLY player of note was Dave Denton their inspiring No 8. Why Kelly Brown was dropped was beyond me. Scotland were in England’s’ 22 for a massive 1% (yes 1%) of the 2nd half! Says it all really.

To sum Scotland’s’ performance up, I was talking to my ex-wife yesterday, she reminded me that this time last year her late lamented father Bill, an avid Scotland Rugby fan and ex 2nd row himself was in hospital in what turned out to be his final days and not as she explained 100% “In the room” with everyone. The England v Scotland game was in the background and the family were watching when Bill suddenly sat up, shouted that he wanted to play rugby with those men outside his window cos they were “going great!”? Everybody looked out the hospital window only to see a long line of road cones all in a pile. The family lamented over the weekend that those road cones still performed better than Scotland did at Murreyfield this weekend. I’m sure Bill was watching down and laughing. Vern Cotter cannot come soon enough for Scotland!

MOTM: Jonny MAY (England)


The final game saw Les Bleus against Azzurri. It is fair to say it was a closely contested 1st half. Italy defended well and won a number of scrums against a usually dominant French pack. This was in fact a highlight of Italy’s game, the whole front row were exceptional but Martin Castrogiovanni and Alberto Di Marchi the props were outstanding. I don’t use that word lightly and as a former prop, am always buoyed by such fine displays (and I suppose anything that takes away the usual glory from the backs lol). These comments are made easier by the “Interesting” display of the Italian backs lead by Luke Mclean who tried to run a ball out from behind their own line! I’m sure the Italian backs coach will be reviewing that one and by a poor kicking display from Tomasso Allen. Not a brilliant day for those of mixed Scottish / Italian persuasion?

The French tight head, Nicholas Mas carried well and was very strong but no-one really stood out for France, not for me anyhow in the 1st half. Picamoles had a few runs as well. Basteraud did his usual strength & power demolitions but I do have an issue with him. Perhaps we are spoilt by certain other No 13s but that role I do expect a player with real innovation, vision, flashes of sheer genius, awesome technical ability and skill not just a huge lump who can power through a few players. A decent prop can do that. Hey ho, France though lead 9 – 3 at half time.

The 2nd half saw the French scrum improve greatly and a well conducted lineout and maul saw Louis Picamoles peel off and get over the line for Frances first try. 2 minutes later a great break from Wesley Fofana gave France a 2nd try and leading 23 – 3 and finally in the 52nd minute a superb run by Fofana ably assisted by Huget and Bonneval saw them score a 3rd try. 12 minutes, 3 tries, game over!

France finished with 13 men after their lock was yellow carded and then 2 red cards were issued for opposing props who were literally involved in a “Head to Head” engagement. Not good for the game.

Italy kept pressing and in the 76th minute, they scored a well-executed try courtesy of Tomasso Ianonne following yet again, another successful lineout & maul. A trend in games this weekend.

Overall the score didn’t really do the efforts of Italy justice but the 12 minute spell shows that you can never AND must never write off the French.

MOTM: Wesley FOFANA (France)


This week I have gone for inspiring and an out and out “Donkey”

Inspiring: Jointly between Danny CARE (England) and Peter O’MAHONY (Ireland) for their passion, technical AND footballing ability all of which was a joy to watch.

“Donkey”: Mike PHILLIPS (Wales) for his continuing and blatant negative aggression lack of thought, technical play and someone who really should consider retirement.

See you in Round 3 folks!

@bigjoeshep is the Owner and Head of Information & Knowledge Management atDigital Knowledge Zone.   An avid Leinster & Ireland Rugby fan, he came to rugby at the late age of 24, was a tight head prop, had at least 2 good runs in every game and retired at only 36 after 3 operations on his legs and now forms the 4th "virtual" person in a front row each time his beloved teams are playing (much to the annoyance of his suffering girlfriend who has to put up with being "embraced" by the Big Fella at each scrum!!!)


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019