This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a whole host of action from both hemispheres. It was that kind of weekend!
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a whole host of action. It was that kind of weekend!
Takeaways from the Six Nations:
England are a few nerves/mental toughness/shreds of finesse away from being a significantly bigger deal than they are now. The opportunities are being created, but how often are we seeing them make a mess of overlaps, throw a bad pass under pressure or kick when passing would have been a better option? But if this team learns it has a stack of potential, and in Billy Vunipola – knee injury permitting – Mike Brown and Danny Care, have game-turning talents.
Ireland are a few tactical tweaks away from the same, but really need to look hard at why they are doing what they do. The New Zealand game last November, and now this England game, have both been lost on account of either an unwillingness to take risks or a lack of a plan B – New Zealand the former reason, England the latter. There is so much talent outside Jonathan Sexton and Connor Murray, yet the kick and pressure game-plan limits Ireland's potential, particularly in the face of such stifling defence. A first win over the All Blacks and now a Grand Slam have gone begging as a result. Ireland need to learn how to play what's in front of them, as well as what they had planned.
Scotland are not quite as down and out as all feared, but there definitely needs to be some stability at the top. Scott Johnson does not look to be comfortable holding time before Vern Cotter's arrival, while the chopping and changing of senior players seems a little over-experimental. Now the Scots have bagged a win, are we going to see something a little more settled and happy?
Italy's team might end up being the deepest-affected by the European club mess. With no more teams in the Pro12 and an uncertain domestic team future, the Azzurri looked just very unhappy.
Wales need to beware false dawns. Better though they were, France were so poor that Wales' improvement needs to be taken into context. England at Twickenham will be a much more realistic yardstick.
Philippe Saint-AndrÃ© is the coach most under pressure in Europe right now. You can look at individuals for poor performance – starting with the beleaguered Jean-Marc Doussain – but the disorganization right across the field, clumps of players uncertain who was running where, hesitancy in offloads, two players going for the same bouncing ball, mouthing off at the referee… it smacks of players either unwilling to play for a coach or not understanding what it is the coach wants them to do. Of course, the ongoing feud with the clubs about when players play, on top of the sheer fatigue of the players, cannot be helping. But there is an alarming lack of leadership within the French team, seemingly starting at the top.
Moving across the equator and a warm welcome back to Super Rugby, even if the opening weekend was more lukewarm than red hot. The pick of the performances were in Otago and New South Wales, with the Highlanders especially impressive, while the Blue Knights (Sir Graham and Sir John) clearly have some work to do.
The three second-half tries will have given hope for the Blues though, something that may be in short supply in South Africa's Western Cape. It's been quietly spoken of for some time that the Stormers have not moved forward for a while, and the abject defeat to the Lions presented clearer proof that the team just has not progressed in terms of skills or philosophy, while the pool of talented runners is being wasted terribly.
Finally, it is once again time to open a debate on the scrum. On Friday already, we had lost count – watching three games simultaneously admittedly – of how many scrums were reset or penalized or ended up being played from despite having collapsed.
Alain Rolland took the unusual – but ultimately correct – measure of sending off two props who 'could not keep their footing' or whatever, but even without the hit, we just do not seem to be able to find a way of making sure the scrums stay stable. It is costing too much time, causing too many penalties for grey area offences, and making too many people frustrated.
A few ideas have been bandied around – the most popular one being for the scrums to bind with no form of forward pressure and for the referee to call when the ball should be put in – but none of them have really left us enthusiastic.
So we are opening up the debate to you, the rugby public. Do we change it? Do we need to change it? What could we do? The best of the answers will be discussed and responded to in next week's LP.
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson