Six Nations: talking points from second round of fixtures
Player welfare versus flow of the game, Ireland’s own Beauden Barrett and England kicking on with an All Blacks tactic
1) Player welfare should not be compromised
Early this season officials were hard on players whose acts risked causing a head injury. It led to a flurry of cards and bans but then came a World Rugby directive that the TMO should be used sparingly so games did not become addled by hold-ups. As a result, when Stuart Hogg was taken out by Peter O’Mahony and Rory Best, no penalty was awarded and there was no review; nor was there for any of the thumping challenges on Johnny Sexton. Hogg lasted 16 minutes and Sexton 23. Player welfare has been relegated below the flow of a game.
2) Carbery gives Ireland a different threat at 10
Joe Schmidt said after Ireland’s opening defeat that he did not understand those who were saying his side lacked a Plan B after England had powered their way to victory. It was less about plans and more about why Ireland are near-invincible when defending a lead in the second half but struggle when chasing. Joey Carbery provided something different when he replaced Sexton at fly-half against Scotland. Carbery is at his most comfortable in broken play, as he showed when picking up a loose pass, slipping away from two tacklers and setting up the match‑settling try. Carbery has been likened to Beauden Barrett by Ronan O’Gara.
3) Wales do well to rest their best for the run-in
Wales’s second team beat Italy comfortably rather than convincingly. Warren Gatland chose not so much to rest players for the match against England in Cardiff as to expose players who will have a role to play in the World Cup. Yet Gatland is driven by the desire to mark his last year with Wales by winning the Six Nations. The last time they did so, in 2013, was also the year of their last victory over England in the tournament. Wales have a more taxing run-in, making victory at the Principality Stadium imperative. After falling for Eddie Jones’s feigned indifference to the roof being open or closed two years ago, Wales should quickly say that the elements can do their worst.
4) No possession, no counter-attacks: Les Bleus left all at sea
5) Robson kept waiting but may get his chance in Wales
Eddie Jones is renowned for pushing players mentally and he kept Dan Robson dangling before awarding him his first cap. The scrum‑half remained on the bench in Dublin and was the last off it against France, coming on with 11 minutes to go. Robson may be needed early in Cardiff but only a couple of weeks ago Ben Youngs’s worth was being questioned. As in Ireland, he was influential, getting the ball away quickly, allowing big carriers to run on to passes and hit defenders hard and he was quick to change the point of attack, confidence restored.
6) England’s formidable pack send a message to their rivals
England’s forwards coach, Richard Blaze, has to take a lot of credit for the dominance of the Red Roses pack in the 41-26 victory over the grand slam champions, France. Winger Jess Breach, a sevens specialist, caught the eye with two smart tries but it was the pack that provided the platform. Sarah Hunter, playing her 110th Test, was a major influence along with Poppy Cleall, who moved to the back row to help cover for the injured Marlie Packer. The scrum was immense and England dominated at the breakdown. The rest of their Six Nations opponents will not be able to withstand England’s forward power.