Who’s hot and who’s not: Duhan van der Merwe try fest, Jonathan Danty red and England’s faltering playmakers

Colin Newboult
Split with Scotland's Duhan van der Merwe and France's Jonathan Danty.

Split with Scotland's Duhan van der Merwe and France's Jonathan Danty.

It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.


World-class Duhan: England must hate the sight of Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe, who once again tore them to shreds. He touched down three times as Gregor Townsend’s men claimed a 30-21 triumph at Murrayfield. The first and last were typical poacher’s tries, but his second showcased his incredible pace and balance as he raced fully 60 metres to touch down for a brilliant individual try. Just a magnificent display from the big man.

Ireland remain on course: It never seemed in doubt that Andy Farrell’s side would defeat Wales and the hosts did the job required of them. The Irishmen weren’t at their best on Saturday but that says a lot about their quality as they still ended up with a comfortable 31-7 victory. They are a class above every other team in the Six Nations so far and we can’t see either England or Scotland stopping them in the Championship run-in.

Scotland banish France memories: It was a strange game at Murrayfield as England did a lot of the running but the hosts were just clinical when the opportunities presented themselves. Credit must go to the Scots, who could have folded after what happened to them two weeks ago, but they always stepped up when the visitors threatened a comeback in the second period. It was a confident display from Finn Russell and co.

Italy impress with heart-breaking draw:  The clash against France started slowly for Italy but they grew in confidence after a solid defensive set in the first period. Jonathan Danty’s red card gave them extra energy in the second half as they clawed their way back to level the scores. A memorable win was only moments away but unfortunately the ball fell off the kicking tee as Paolo Garbisi was lining up his shot, meaning the fly-half had to quickly put it back on the tee and kick before time ran out. The hurried effort agonisingly hit the post in a dramatic finish. The draw was a tough result for Italy, who deserved the win, but there were still some positive signs for the Azzurri who were inspired on the day.

Impressive start for Rhys Patchell: The former Wales fly-half kicked off life in Super Rugby Pacific with a bang as he played a key role in the Highlanders’ win over Moana Pasifika in the season opener. Patchell’s best moment came in the second period as the playmaker ripped a magnificent pass out wide to assist a lovely try. At first glance he looks to be a good fit for the tournament.

Historic win for Italy U20s: For the first time at this level the Italians defeated France, and it was thoroughly deserved too. After a disappointing opening round defeat against an admittedly impressive England, they displayed their quality by almost shocking Ireland, so this result is not a surprise. The key to the win was no doubt the scrum, with tighthead Marcos Gallorini a real talent, but there is much more to them than that. At half-back, Lorenzo Casilio is an outstanding prospect, while also watch out for wing Marco Scalabrin, who is electric.


Jonathan Danty and France decisions: Sunday afternoon turned into a nightmare for France and in particular Danty whose yellow card for a dangerous tackle was rightly upgraded to red at the beginning of the second-half. In response Fabien Galthie rolled on some changes, including the entire tight five being replaced. It was a bold choice especially considering the performance of young Posolo Tuilagi up until that point. Ultimately, between Danty’s red and Galthie’s preposterous replacements, it cost them a win.

England’s playmakers: The intent was there from the Red Rose but the execution was absolutely appalling. Much of the blame must be laid at the feet of the ball players – George Furbank, Henry Slade, George Ford and Danny Care – who just could not find their targets in attack. Ultimately, they are trying to develop their style and that may well be a reason for their poor decision-making and handling errors, but vast improvements are needed both individually and collectively.

Disappointing reaction to mouthguards: As ever, there has been a complete overreaction from those in New Zealand when it comes to issues which revolve around concussion. The opening round of Super Rugby Pacific was their first time using the smart mouthguards, which came into effect on January 1 by World Rugby. And it did its job when the technology alerted to the matchday doctors on the sidelines that Quinten Strange and Anton Lienert-Brown had suffered heavy hits, even if they hadn’t received direct head contact. It wasn’t limited to the southern hemisphere, however, as Scotland also suffered a similar incident when Zander Fagerson was removed from the field following a heavy hit which sent a signal to the sidelines, forcing him to go off, and head coach Gregor Townsend voiced his displeasure. All three players were bemused by having to go off, but this is ultimately in place to protect those on the field from suffering long-term issues.

End of the road for Dan McFarland: When he went on a bizarre rant about the officiating following Ulster’s 19-17 defeat to the Ospreys, it seemed like the end of the road was near, and so it proved. Supporters of the Irish province have not been happy for some time, but there was a big backlash after his post-match comments and the hierarchy duly decided to act. McFarland was the longest-serving head coach at Ulster, but ultimately their results and performances have not been good enough over the past couple of seasons.

Heavy defeats for Force and Rebels: The first look at all the teams in Super Rugby Pacific for 2024 was not all good as both the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels copped more than 40 points apiece as they went down to the Hurricanes and Brumbies respectively. The Perth-based Force will be bitterly disappointed after making an effort to recruit ahead of the tournament whilst for the Rebels their on-field woes add to the off-field financial turmoil. It is a not a good look for the Melbourne side.

READ MORE: England legend blasts ‘fundamental failings’ of Steve Borthwick’s side after ‘inexcusable’ errors