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Insightful News

Insightful News

Insightful News

Six Nations: tactics, star players and Lions – Andy Robinson’s verdict so far

The story so far

England are the only unbeaten side left after the first two weeks with one point separating Ireland in second and Scotland in fifth

Andy Robinson’s view: “Ireland will be kicking themselves for their first 40 minutes against Scotland, England are simmering, France will be patting themselves on the back and Wales will be saying that they stood up to England and performed well. Scotland will be disappointed with the result against France but the great thing for them is that they’ve been competitive in the first two games. The relentlessness of Ireland against Italy was tremendous. They were poor in the first half in Scotland, sorted it out in the second half and took that on into the Italy game. Italy have had one half, haven’t they? The first half against Wales. And even then they were under the cosh. It’s similar feelings with Italy.”

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Defences have been largely on top but not to the detriment of the tournament

AR: “If you look through the history of the Six Nations and this year’s competition, it has been pleasing to see that we’ve had one-score games. One of the mantras I’ve always liked is that if you can keep a team under 20 points, you’ve always got a chance to win the game. Wales v England was a cracking game of rugby and it’s testament to the two defences, how well both teams performed and the level of commitment and fitness. And if you look at the defensive performances of all these sides – if Ireland had defended better in the first half against Scotland they’d have had an opportunity to win the game if they had kept them under 20.”

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Resurgence of Scotland and France

It is the first time in four years that five of the six nations have achieved at least one victory in their opening two matches

AR: “If you look at the French side, it’s back to the traditional qualities of French rugby. To be able to play with joie de vivre, with width and offloading at will but also having a very good scrum and maul. All the best French sides had a pack that people feared and this pack is starting to get to those levels. Where France were being done is their discipline. What you saw against Scotland was a much cleaner performance in their accuracy and their defence. They looked like they wanted to tackle. It’s a shame for Scotland that they lost their leadership early on but in the end the French power came through and it was back to early 2000s where the French pack could see out the game. But credit to Scotland, their back line is really exciting. Stuart Hogg just goes from strength to strength, he can do anything on a rugby field. He’s a really exciting talent to watch.”

Match report: France 22-16 Scotland


France are reviving some of their former fear-factor, through the physicality of their pack in particular. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

The influence of the looming Lions tour

Warren Gatland has so far been in attendance in Edinburgh, Rome, Cardiff and Paris

AR: “I don’t buy into the theory that the Lions tour influences players. When you look at the England squad, players are playing for places. There’s a real pride to playing for their country and the Six Nations is a special tournament to be involved in. Because England won the grand slam last year, not that anybody needs a reason for wanting to beat England, but everyone else wants to be the team that knocks England over. Because of this run that they are on, you’re always going to see intensity in these England games. France aren’t playing for the Lions tour and they are playing outstandingly well.”

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Stand-out players

Stuart Hogg’s showing against Ireland earned rave reviews and Owen Farrell has been excellent, but locks and back-rows have also caught the eye

AR: “I’ve really liked is Hamish Watson, playing at No7 for Scotland. He’s competed, he’s carried. He’s not the biggest of men but he’s made yards. I think he’s one that has gone under the radar a little bit; without some of the turnovers he won, France were looking likely to score a lot more points. We’ve all talked about the second rows and the way they are performing, like Jake Ball and the way he carried against England. And there have been some great back-row performances. We’re now seeing forwards offloading and carrying and creating space for the backs to play in. That’s been the beauty of this tournament, that it’s not forwards carrying up and falling over any more. We’re now seeing forwards looking to offload or run into space.”

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The standard of refereeing

Despite concerns over whether World Rugby’s clampdown on high tackles would lead to a flurry of cards, there have been just three yellows so far

AR: “It’s been very good. They’ve hardly used the TMOs. But I think credit the players as well: they have dropped the height of their tackles. The high-tackle law has always been there, it just hasn’t been refereed. Players have been allowed to get away with it but they are now saying there are high tackles and there are sanctions. So of course the players change their behaviour. It’s pretty simple, players will always do what they are allowed to get away with. It’s pretty common sense really. If we did the same about rolling away in the tackle, if we cleared the tackle area a little bit more, we’d see even quicker ball.”

Match report: Italy 10-63 Ireland

England’s fly-half George Ford

England’s fly-half George Ford, in white, was penalised for this high tackle on Wales’ Rhys Webb but notable indiscretions have been few and far between. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

What week three might bring?

England host Italy, Wales travel to Scotland and France face Ireland in Dublin

AR: “England won’t experiment that much. They have a squad and you know they won’t risk anybody. It might mean the guys on the bench start but I’d surprised if Eddie Jones made too many changes. One of the things he has said is that he doesn’t want to give away easy caps. What makes England strong is the competitive nature of trying to get into this team which is important. Italy will be looking for damage limitation. They have nothing to lose so that might help them. The two key games are Scotland v Wales and France v Ireland. Wales up in Scotland, the amount of Welsh fans that travel is incredible. They all go to all the clubs and watch the game in the surrounding areas so that’ll be a high octane game. And I think France v Ireland traditionally produces phenomenal games of rugby.”

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