Bernard Jackman: Ireland’s ‘golden era’ eye Six Nations glory against the last ‘good’ Scotland team for ‘a while’

James While
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Ex-Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman preview the final round of the 2024 Six Nations.

Ex-Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman preview the final round of the 2024 Six Nations.

Round Four of this year’s Six Nations was by far the most entertaining thus far, and it sets us up nicely for the crescendo this Super Saturday.

We have teamed up with eToro, the official investing and trading partner of Premiership Rugby, to cover the 2024 Six Nations, previewing and reviewing the entire tournament.

Ex-Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman joined Planet Rugby’s James While to discuss the final round of the Six Nations and recap what was a thrilling penultimate weekend.

In Round Four, England stunned Ireland, Italy shocked Scotland and France blew Wales off the park after a close opening hour.

Reaction to Round Four

“It was like the six head coaches had a call over the fallow week and said, ‘Enough of the trench warfare and kick battles, why don’t we let them play’,” Jackman remarked.

“I was lucky enough to be in Twickenham and the Principality, and both stadiums were buzzing, and some great tries were scored. I had heard so much about Twickenham being soulless recently, but it just shows that when what happens between the white lines is entertaining and competitive, then the crowd will become engaged.”

Jackman was particularly impressed by the performance of Steve Borthwick’s charges as they denied Ireland the opportunity of becoming the first team to claim back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slams.

“The performance of the weekend was by England, who looked like a team with a complete understanding of how they want to play and had the motivation and drive to implement it,” he said.

“Their new defensive system has been building nicely since Round One but their new attacking game had been slower to come to hand. However, against Ireland, it was like England were Ireland in white shirts. From the first counter-attacking opportunity that led to Ollie Lawrence’s try to the brilliant attack from the lineout, which led to Immanuel Feyi-Waboso breaking tackles down the right wing and forcing Ireland into conceding the penalty that led to the opportunity for the Marcus Smith drop-goal, England looked like a very dangerous team with the ball.

“I thought that Alex Mitchell was brilliant in terms of his speed and quality of pass, which meant that Ireland struggled to get their defensive line set, and with the pace and power along with the running lines and deception that England were running onto the ball with, Andy Farrell’s men were constantly stressed and uncomfortable.

“Much of Ireland’s attacking prowess is built around the lineout as the primary source, and again, England had done their homework here and either gave Ireland the ball where they didn’t want to win it or disrupted the quality of the delivery elsewhere. It was from one lost Ireland throw that Ben Earl made a brilliant line break that led to the Peter O’Mahony yellow card, which was one of the key moments of the game.

“O’Mahony and (Caelan) Doris struggled to make the kind of impact that the English back-row had, and the decision to play Ollie Chessum at blindside really paid off. We have seen George Martin have big games for Leicester and England, but once again, he confirmed that he is the type of aggressive lock forward that Borthwick can build a pack around for many a year.

“The six-two split on the bench backfired due to the early injury to Calvin Nash and then the player that replaced him, Ciaran Frawley, getting injured himself. I am not sure Ireland would have won anyway but it will be interesting how often Farrell will use this tactic in the future. I do feel that it suits the Springboks a little more than other teams.

“France bounced back to something like their best to beat a young Welsh team in Cardiff, and Gregor Townsend must be the most patient head coach in World Rugby not to lose his mind as his team again showed their inconsistent side against the Italians in Rome.”

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Wales v Italy

Wales and Italy clash in Cardiff in a game that will decide who finishes bottom of the table. Despite the Welsh’s struggles, Jackman believes there are some plusses to take from their campaign.

“There have been some positives for Warren Gatland and his coaching staff, with the performances of Elliot Dee, Aaron Wainwright, Tommy Reffell and Cameron Winnett giving them hope for the future,” he said.

“This young Welsh team have been incredibly brave in all their games and are giving their absolute best, but they are really struggling to deal with the power game of their opponents. In particular, the last quarter has been a weakness, with their bench struggling to match the impact of their opponents. Even in the Scottish game, while the second half was won by the Welsh, I felt that Scotland were there for the taking, but Wales ran out of gas and missed a big opportunity to get a win. Now they need a win to avoid the dreaded Wooden Spoon, and it is hard to see them getting one against an Italy side that is reformed under first-year head coach Gonzalo Quesada.

“They reacted brilliantly to what could have been seen as an opportunity missed in their draw with France by putting in an even better performance to beat Scotland in Rome. Louis Lynagh has come in and added to what was already a super-talented bunch of young backs, and they do look to have the talent and momentum to beat a Welsh side in total rebuild mode.”

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Ireland v Scotland

The Six Nations title is on the line in the second match on Super Saturday as the defending champions look to bounce back from the disappointment of losing to England when they host Scotland at the Aviva Stadium.

The Scots have a slim chance of winning the title themselves but also have the opportunity of claiming an elusive Triple Crown.

“Ireland look like they are in pole position to win the Championship title in the Aviva on Saturday. This is a golden generation of Scottish players, but they don’t have many tangible things to show for it,” Jackman said.

“Two exits in the group stages of Rugby World Cups and not even a Triple Crown in between is a poor return, and when you look at their underage results, this team may be their last good one for a while. When I look at this Scotland side, I see a team that is lopsided in terms of their backs over their forward strength. Their back-row isn’t too bad, but collectively, as a front five, they tend to struggle, especially against this Irish team who, on paper, have their number.

“Finn Russell is the key to Scotland, and I often feel that they overely on him. Simon Easterby has improved Ireland’s defence even more this year and I think we get to Russell and disrupt the supply to their outside backs who individually have a lot of talent and X-factor.

“You would have to imagine that by the time the 2025 Six Nations comes around, some of the wonderful servants to Irish rugby that will play Saturday will have moved on, and it would be a great way for them to finish their careers if that’s the case by winning another Slam. Let’s not forget Andy Farrell, the man that has overseen this golden era of Irish rugby, will be on a sabbatical too as he takes charge of the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.”

France v England

The Six Nations may be decided by the time that France and England lock horns in the final game of the 2024 Championship but Jackman is predicting another mighty Le Crunch as both teams look to end on a high.

“Two of World Rugby’s most powerful teams get the chance to close out the 2024 Six Nations in Lyon, and it should be a fascinating contest. Both come into the game on the back of impressive form, but when we look at the tournament as a whole, their form has been mixed. Both Fabien Galthie and Borthwick will know that a positive performance and result will dictate a lot of how we will feel about their charges, and I think England look the stronger side,” he remarked.

“Galthie and France were certainly better in Cardiff, and to score more than 40 points will be very pleasing, but it’s their defence that, for the first time since Shaun Edwards came in, has started to look a little patchy. Thomas Ramos was outstanding at out-half and played with a sense of composure and calmness which Matthieu Jalibert was missing. It’s ironic that Ramos and (Nolann) Le Garrec played with a better understanding and cohesion than Maxime Lucu and Jalibert, who play together for Bordeaux, managed to do.

“France, with Damian Penaud and Louis Bielle-Biarrey back in form, are dangerous; however, they just look vulnerable if England can replicate their attacking performance from the Ireland game. France have a huge pack, and Emmanuel Meafou could be a real star for them now he is a French citizen, but I don’t see this English pack taking a backward step, and I think they can finish with four wins from five games.”

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