Sunday, February 25, 2018

Six Nations Round 3 according to Big Joe Shep


France & Italy were dire……….Ireland strong, determined and left the Welsh Dragon breathless. Scotland retained the Calcutta Cup, the Raeburn Shield, the moral high ground and sent the English “Homewards tae think again!!”


Well what ANOTHER W/E of rugby!!!! Well deserved wins for France over italy, Ireland against a spirited Wales & for the second round in a row, the game and team of the round was Gregor Townsend's Scotland who absolutely played England off the park to win The Calcutta Cup for the first time in 10 years!!
Very little in the way of Contention, Debate, Furore, Conjecture, Anger et al (Well read my AND FINALLY para to counter this??)..........however there was PLENTY of Frustration (for Italy, Wales & especially England), Jubilation (for France, Ireland and especially Scotland) complete ranges of Emotion (for all concerned, fans, players, pundits and coaches alike) and of course there was some absolutely outstanding Rugby Union!!
Soooooooo let’s recap Round 3,


Well not exactly an inspiring game of rugby TBH with France looking to end a 2 match losing streak playing for the first time outside of Paris at the Stade Velodrome, Marseille however with the stadium less than full, an indication perhaps of the current malaise in French Rugby certainly at the National level. Added to this, a handful of players dropped after their extra-mural activities in Edinburgh following their loss to Scotland and apart from 2 well crafted tries, overall, they lacked much of a threat. Italy for their part appeared to have run out of steam after spirited performances against Ireland & England.

My MOTM was returning French Centre, Mathieu Bastareaud. Powerful in direct contact and such a powerful beast at the breakdown, he delivered a superb one-handed offload for Hugo Bonneval’s try. Simply the outstanding French player. How will he get on against stronger opposition?? Time will tell but in this game, it was the correct standout call.

Italy lacked a coherent team approach. Skipper Parisse is looking tired and that impacted on the Italians. They do however have a “New” talisman it appears, Benetton Treviso s Blindside Flanker, Sebastian Negre who really stood up and was the standout for a disappointing Italian side. Once again, the short sighted, small minded armchair pundits are already calling for Italy to be hoofed out of the 6 Nations YET they are probably not even aware of Conor O’Sheas 5 Year plan to help build Italian Rugby from the ground up……………….NOR are they even aware of the huge improvement of both Italian Regional sides in this years Pro 14, but hey.


Well initially this game was supposed to be a relatively easy win for the Irish however with 3 british & Irish Lions out injured for Ireland and 3 of the same returning for Wales, as last week went on, the doubts for many grew. We had to also bear in mind that both Ireland and Wales record at home against each other hasn’t been convincing.

Ireland though played some very confident rugby, choosing as ever to channel their efforts through the middle. Sexton had a rare off day with his kicking but hey he’s JS10, he’s allowed to! The positives greatly outweighed the negatives with Ireland putting away 5 Tries for a BP win keeping us at the top of the table. The loss of Lions Prop Tadhg Furlong had been a concern however replacement Tight Head Andrew Porter was excellent in the scrum, loose, carrying. A fantastic start to his first full irish start. Devin Toner in the 2nd Row played all round better than I’ve seen in a while which meant we didn’t miss Iain Henderson that much and MOTM Chris Farrell was simply outstanding in all aspects replacing injured Robbie Henshaw for the Centre partnership with Bundee Aki.The try scoring Wing of young Ulster man, Jacob Stockdale (and not DAVID STOCKDALE as reported by The UK Telegraph??) took a brace and his tally to 8 in 7 games for Ireland.

The negatives (and I’ve been saying this for a while!!) was that we were again caught narrow by the central featuring game and were caught out for 2 of the 3 Welsh tries. Given the capacity of both Scotland and England to open up wide, quickly and at phenomenal speed, it’s a MUST MUST MUST “Work ON” as Ireland Coach Joe Schmidt would call it in the next 2 weeks. Certainly Irish Defence Coach, Andy Farrell will be less than happy shipping another 3 tries for the second game in succession. That put is in a self-imposed difficult situation late on when we should have been home and dry. That lack of defensive positioning out wide IS and REMAINS a concern for Ireland.

Fair play to Wales though, I felt they started slow, outplayed us wide, the kicking game, finished very strong but lacked an overall co-ordinated approach they had against both Scotland and England. The Welsh pack came off very much second best with Ross Moriarty particularly struggling and Dan Biggar most contributions after returning from injury were constantly appealing to the Referee???


For the second successive round, Scotland produced both the game of the round and the performance of the round thereby quietening some of the lesser professional as well as armchair pundits as to their longevity as a team who could rise up as a credible threat after their demolition by Wales in Round 1. Two Rounds further on the Lion Rampant is very much……….Rampant!!

A brace of tries from Scotland’s Huw Jones and another from Sean Maitland saw off the English at Murrayfield. Scotland totally outclassed a poor English side who appeared in the main to be individuals. Scotland simply over ran them in the breakdown and were far much more up for the scrap. Their passion and intensity were just too much and England leaked tackles, penalties, turnovers and more besides. The crowd were behind Scotland and every time the Scottish turned a ball over it was as if a try had been scored. There wasn’t the usual conjoined look of the Farrell / Ford partnership. Lawes was particularly weak as Flanker. I had opined before that I felt he’d be better as 2nd Row Lock and Itoje as Flanker bur hey Eddie J knows best lol. It was a very un-England like performance all round to be fair.

In addition, Farrell had a pre-match bust up with Scotland’s No 8 Ryan Wilson and most certainly England’s replacement No 8 Sam Underhill will be cited to go along with his yellow card for a crazy shoulder-lead charge? I predict at least a 3 week ban!

A superb display then and a well deserved victory for Scotland. It’s one that sets them up with a chance still in the championship now. They move onto Dublin in 2 weeks time with Ireland then a final away game at Italy. They’ll be feeling pretty happy where they are currently. A win in Dublin could see them potentially achieve the impossible!

Yet another fantastic weekend of 6 nations Rugby! There's a 2 week break until Round 3 however our weekly rugby roundup, “3 BLOKES, A BALL & BOD” will be on as usual this Thurs at 2100Hrs / 9PM GMT where we will be looking at a review of this W/E plus look at the potential permutations left for this year and who is going to come out on top?

This is rugby. I know times are changing but there’s some things creeping in that hitherto haven’t (to my mind) been there. England being booed as their coach arrived at Murrayfield, Scottish fans booing during the national anthem, players relentlessly screaming at the ref for penalties even Irish players weren’t singing one or other of the 3 anthems on Saturday etc etc etc.
If I was a coach, I’d be speaking out publicly against all this behaviour. Set an example. The French did after their players shenanigans in Edinburgh. I don’t care for your politics, respect the anthems, don’t hijack them. Play the game not the referee. Fans remember what rugby is all about.
Till the next time, stay safe, be happy and remember when it’s over it’s just a bit of banter and craic we need.

The Big Fella

Joe SHEPPARD is an avid Leinster & Ireland Rugby fan who 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. He 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!!!)


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