Who’s hot and who’s not: Ireland close in on Grand Slam, France humiliate England and a big victory for Pacific Island rugby

Colin Newboult

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.


Classy Ireland overshadow Scotland’s milestone man: First of all, congratulations to Stuart Hogg, a genuine Scottish rugby great who earned his 100th cap on Sunday, but even his quality could not stop the Irish juggernaut. The visitors had to overcome a number of setbacks at Murrayfield, which included seeing both hookers leaving the field, but they still proved too strong for a good Scotland outfit. Ireland have simply been a class above in this year’s Six Nations.

France are back: After some mediocre performances in the Autumn Nations Series and at the start of this Six Nations, Les Bleus produced their best display for some time. They were simply mesmeric with the ball in hand, finding so many gaps in the English defence, but ultimately the hard work was done upfront. For the first time in this year’s tournament, they well and truly dominated the collisions and did so for the full 80 minutes. The hosts could not handle them and, on that evidence, France will be difficult to stop in their home World Cup.

Rhys Webb and Wales: His first Six Nations start in six years, Webb played his heart out and was understandably emotional in his post-match interview on ITV Sport. The Wales scrum-half was the catalyst of much of his side’s performance as they picked up their first win in this year’s Championship and, in doing so, exacted revenge against Italy for Cardiff, 2022. Webb, 34, will be delighted with his showing and clearly wants to keep hold of the number nine jersey next week in France, which will be a significant step up for this improved Wales side.

Fijian Drua: It was a magnificent day for Pacific Island rugby as the Drua stunned the defending champions, the Crusaders, with a magnificent effort in Lautoka. They produced an excellent display and were in control when the visitors mounted a comeback, scoring two late tries through Sevu Reece and Ioane Moananu, but the hosts mounted one last attack and Kemu Valetini proved to be the hero. A huge result for Fiji and Super Rugby Pacific as a whole.

Chiefs continue fine start: The Waikato-based outfit have kicked on impressively since their outstanding opening win against defending champions, the Crusaders. Not content with that victory, the Chiefs thrashed Moana Pasifika in Round Two before they easily overcame the Highlanders at the weekend. They controlled the majority of the match, earning a 28-7 triumph for their third bonus-point win in succession. On this form, they look very difficult to stop and will be a significant threat for the Super Rugby Pacific title if they can keep their stars fit.

A hero in England and France: Considered a great by England fans after his World Cup heroics in 2003, Jonny Wilkinson also has a lot of admirers in France and was inducted into the Toulon Hall of Fame. It’s rare for an Englishman to be so eulogised by the French, but Wilkinson became a hugely popular figure at Toulon. He was influential as they won two Champions Cups and a Top 14 title before finishing his career at Stade Mayol. His ability to speak French fluently also endeared him to the supporters and his inclusion is thoroughly deserved.


England get schooled: That was pretty embarrassing from England as they were taught a very harsh lesson by a much bigger, stronger and more intelligent side in France. Steve Borthwick said afterwards that it shows how much work needs to be done with his side, and that’s an understatement, as England were beaten in all areas against Les Bleus. A record loss at Twickenham where empty seats late on said it all. The U20s didn’t fare much better either, as they were smashed by their French counterparts on Friday.

Ireland injuries a concern: Andy Farrell’s men really can’t catch a break on the injury front in this year’s tournament. It is to their great credit that they have managed the situation impressively, securing four victories despite suffering a number of setbacks. They had hoped that it was relenting with Garry Ringrose, Tadhg Furlong and Johnny Sexton among those to return against Scotland, but there was a high attrition rate in Sunday’s contest. Ireland could well be without hookers Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher, important number eight Caelan Doris, lock Iain Henderson and centre Ringrose, who suffered a nasty-looking head injury late on, for their Grand Slam decider against England. They have dealt superbly with it so far during the tournament but that is a lot of disruption to contend with.

Italy not at the races: After the promise they showed against France and Ireland, the Azzurri produced a hugely disappointing display against Wales on Saturday. There were far too many mistakes from the Italians due to their incredibly frantic approach, which let the Welsh off the took on several occasions. They played some nice rugby at times, especially in the second period, to threaten a comeback, but once again errors halted any momentum. There were high hopes that Italy could claim at least one win in this year’s tournament but with Scotland up next away from home, it is back to the drawing board for the Azzurri.

Kieran Crowley’s post-match comments: Speaking of Italy, their head coach was not very happy with the refereeing of Australian Damon Murphy, revealing his frustrations in a post-match interview. Crowley, in a Rassie Erasmus-esque rant, was frustrated with the officiating, believing that it contributed to their defeat. It was not a good look and World Rugby should be having words with the Azzurri boss. Ultimately, Murphy was not the person making the handling errors or losing the physical battle with their opponents.

Crusaders: You have to wonder whether all the talk over Scott Robertson has affected the defending champions. Following their shock heavy home defeat to the Chiefs, the Crusaders succumbed to yet another loss when they were beaten by Fijian Drua. Although the Christchurch outfit left out Richie Mo’unga, it was still a very strong team that was fielded. Usually, Robertson gets it sorted out when they have had their setbacks in the past, but this has been a particularly poor start from his side.

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