As Round Two of the Six Nations concludes, Planet Rugby's Expert Witness welcomes back former England skipper, Martin Corry.
As Round Two of the Six Nations concludes, Planet Rugby's Expert Witness has great pleasure is welcoming back former England skipper, Martin Corry.
The big Leicester back-row forward represented his country 64 times, and is the most capped British and Irish Lion in the professional era, representing them seven times.
After some scintillating rugby in Round One with England and Italy displaying some wonderful skill levels, with Arctic conditions sweeping across Europe, the second week of Six Nations rugby was always going to be a weekend for the piano pushers rather than the piano players, with the results being very tight. Corry believes, certainly in the case if the Ireland v England fixture, that was always going to be the case.
“When all the Bookmakers have the sides as joint favourites, that surely tells you something!', quipped the former England back-rower.
“Although Ireland had home advantage, as soon as you saw the forecast, you realised it was going to be a battle of attrition. It was a very even contest; look at the scrums as an example. First Cole gained superiority, then Healy came back right at him. It was a monumental duel and almost a microcosm of the game itself.
“England had not won in Ireland since their World Cup-winning year of 2003, so that should tell you how hard it is to win in Dublin. This was a game that showed the character that Stuart Lancaster is developing in this side, and Owen Farrell's maturity absolutely epitomised this.
“One of the keys to the win was the defensive line speed showed by England. Led by the criminally underrated Brad Barritt and England's superb back-row, the number of times Ireland were tackled behind the gain was legion. Interestingly, England used their ruck pillars to 'rush' up into the faces of the Irish attackers, with the drift following up behind. I am sure this is something from Andy Farrell's thinking, as it's a tactic commonly used in Rugby League after a tackle stoppage.
“For Ireland, I think they now have to really examine their selection. It's true to say they only have three or four sides to pick from, which limits their options, but they need to blood new talent and fast. Too many players have been held onto too long, whether through necessity or loyalty. They are at a watershed and need to accept that.
“They have some good young talent, and now need to build around that. Sean O'Brien, Keith Earls, Johnny Sexton and Cian Healy should be the core of their team for years to come, but I am sure the Irish lads will learn from their defeat on Sunday and move forward.”
In Scotland, we finally saw a win for the home side. At times it was closer than the scoreline suggested, but with a commanding display from scrum-half Greg Laidlaw and tireless work from Kelly Brown, Scotland emerged on the right side of the scorecard.
“People talk about game changing moments! There was a point, at 20-3, when Italy were literally one pass away from seven points, under the posts and a scoreline of 20-10. Instead, the pass was brilliantly intercepted by Stuartl Hogg, who showed his pace for a 100m score. It's moments like that that really do crush a side's morale, and I have to say the Azzurri never really threatened after that moment,” noted Corry.
“Scotland are not the whipping boys people think. They have some highly gifted players and a huge pack and line out presence. I really felt Scotland showed that they 'wanted it more' in this instance.
“It really was a tough game. We used to joke that playing Italy should carry a health warning, such is their physicality, and ability to disrupt at the breakdown. However, the new Scots coaching team, and forwards coach Dean Ryan in particular, will be delighted by the character shown by the Scots.”
Over in a chilly Paris, Wales finally ended their eight-game winless run against a lacklustre French side. Both teams appeared to be determined not to lose, rather than actually attempt to win, and, when the teams went in at 3-3 the partisan Parisian crowd voiced their displeasure with howls of derision and displeasure ringing around the Stade de France.
“It's been a tough few months for Welsh rugby. They've been disrupted hugely through the inability of French-based players to attend training, and also have an injury list that seems to keep growing,” remarked Corry.
“However, they showed a lot of character to go to Paris against a huge French side and emerge victors. Yes, they won ugly, but with the pitch cutting up like that and with the weather barely above freezing it was not going to be an oil painting of a match,” laughed Corry.
“I thought Wales dealt with the conditions superbly, and it was fitting that the outstanding George North went over in the final moments. A word also regarding those pitch conditions; this now appears to be endemic in rugby, with the top layer of turf delaminating. Both Stade de France and Cardiff suffer hugely with this issue. The ground authorities need to sort this out before someone gets seriously injured. When you have props of the quality of Adam Jones and Nicolas Mas applying tremendous pressure, an unstable surface is very dangerous and action needs to be taken.
“The French, who seem to be picking on size rather than quality, need to really examine their strategy and selection. Michalak has been playing brilliantly for Toulon, but at 9. Yes, he plays at 10 occasionally, but, excuse the pun, fly-half is a pivotal position and you need a man that's playing there regularly.
“France will pick themselves up for England. This is a one off and form doesn't count for much when these two old enemies collide, and France always up their game and their intensity. I'll be interested to see if they recall Trinh-Duc and Parra to the starting line up, or perhaps move Michalak back to 9. What I am sure of, however, is it'll be a collision of epic proportions.
“On the other hand, England, whilst still having the huge challenges of France and Wales ahead of them, have a lot to feel good about. Stuart Lancaster's selections have, at times been outstanding. Just look at the decision to cap Billy Twelvetrees. A few years ago, we'd have gone back to an average player with a few caps as a stopgap measure.
“Lancaster uses unavailability as a positive rather than a negative, an opportunity to look at new talent, and the fact England now have competition for places in almost every position is testimony to this. In short Lancaster is being forced to select, rather than pick a side, which is very healthy.
“I expect a win for England in the next round but the other two games are very tough to call. No-one would bet against Italy at home, especially with the growing stature of their less-vaunted players such as Masi and Zanni, but I think Wales will sneak it by a score. Scotland v Ireland could be a corker however. Two sides that have nothing to lose and plenty to prove, but I think Ireland's experience will