Who’s hot and who’s not: Ireland remain on course for Grand Slam and Chiefs down defending champions
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.
THEY’RE ON FIRE!
Improving Italy and impressive Ireland: Matches involving the Azzurri have usually been dreary affairs but not now, with Kieran Crowley’s men developing significantly over the past 12 months. There is still plenty they need to work on, but Italy played excellent rugby in the 34-20 defeat to the Irishmen, suggesting that they could be a genuine threat over the next few years. Equally, although Ireland will say they weren’t at their best, Andy Farrell’s men did well to remain composed under pressure and eventually see off the hosts. They are still the team to beat in this year’s Six Nations and, following Scotland’s loss, are the only side who can still win the Grand Slam.
Chiefs down defending champions: The men from Hamilton look like genuine title contenders this season, if they can keep players fit. With Damian McKenzie back in the squad and pulling the strings at 10, the team that included Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Brad Weber and Samisoni Taukei’aho kicked off the campaign in style as they downed the Crusaders in Christchurch. The Chiefs were full value for their 31-10 win as their senior players impressed, while the likes of Pita Gus Sowaula and Alex Nankivell also stood out as they claimed a famous triumph.
Mark Telea stars: Despite it only being Round One, that could well have been the individual showing of the Super Rugby Pacific campaign. Telea was unplayable on Saturday against the Highlanders, who couldn’t live with him as he slipped, stepped and bounced off tackle after tackle at the Forsyth Barr Stadium. The All Black finished with a remarkable 202 metres that included 13 defenders beaten, two tries and two try assists.
Delight for Dobbo: Although the Stormers did not play this week, the Cape-based franchise gave their fans something to smile about with the news that head coach John Dobson has signed a new four-year deal with the side. Affectionately known as ‘Dobbo’ by the Stormers’ faithful, Dobson led the side to their first international trophy in 2022 as they lifted the United Rugby Championship title. They haven’t dropped off this season either as they sit second overall on the URC table and have secured a place in the Champions Cup knockout stages.
England and Ireland U20s Grand Slam hopes: Ireland kept their hopes of a double Grand Slam alive with the U20s securing a 44-27 victory over Italy. The Azzurri have proved to be tricky customers in recent years, but Ireland produced a comprehensive performance, with fly-half Sam Prendergast scoring 19 points from the tee to go with the five tries. Despite the win, Ireland are still second on the overall table, with England leading the way after three bonus point victories. The latest of which was a 37-21 win over Wales. The men in white ran in six tries to Wales’ three, with replacement winger Benjamin Waghorn scoring twice. The U20s action pauses until the second weekend of March when Ireland face Scotland and England play France before the two sides clash on the final weekend, which could be a Championship and Grand Slam decider.
COLD AS ICE!
Red-carded duo: Individuals are still making stupid errors when it comes to foul play. What Grant Gilchrist and Mohamed Haouas did wasn’t thuggish but they were reckless with their actions. Gilchrist was, quite frankly, fortunate not to connect with Anthony Jelonch’s head from the kick off but then, from the restart following Romain Ntamack’s try, once again charged into the tackle and this time made contact. It was just utterly needless and he was quite rightly sent off. Haouas’ act was similarly avoidable as he ‘headbutted’ Scotland scrum-half Ben White when attempting a clearout. The ball was lost and the prop simply wasn’t thinking about the impact of his actions. He has become the first player to be sent off twice in the Six Nations – the first coming in 2020, also against Scotland – which leaves his France future in doubt.
Welsh rugby a shambles on and off the field: It was positive to see there be a resolution to the dispute between the players and the Welsh Rugby Union, but it is obviously not the end of the matter. There will be more twists and turns over the next few months as Welsh rugby tries to find a way forward, but at least the players could concentrate on Saturday’s match, even if preparation had been severely disrupted. And to Wales’ credit, it was an improved performance against England at the weekend, with both intensity and fight, but those are bare minimum a team should have and ultimately Warren Gatland’s men are still some way off. Their only attacking reward came from an intercept and the Red Rose controlled much of the match, leaving Gatland with plenty to ponder.
Off-form Owen Farrell: The England captain will be delighted that his side were able to get over the line against a valiant Welsh outfit on Saturday. However, the fly-half’s performance was far from accurate. In fact, he was able to covert just 33 per cent of his shots at goal, missing two penalties and two conversions. Three of those four shots at goal were straightforward for a player of his pedigree, yet he could not find his radar. Had he got those three kicks, England would have claimed a 28-10 victory. It’s not a once-off for the 31-year-old, as he is kicking at a 56 per cent success rate in the Six Nations after three rounds. His inaccuracy was evident in open play, too; he made the poor decision to cross-kick for Anthony Watson, wasting a threatening attacking position.
Highlanders: Clarke Dermody took over the reins for his first game at the helm of the ‘Landers, and simply put, his side weren’t at the races. The Blues tore them to shreds scoring eight tries in a 60-20 demolition job. By half-time, it was 31-13, and the Blues did well to nearly double their tally in the second forty. The Highlanders faithful hoped that things could only get better after just four wins last year, but that was not the case in round one after a humiliating defeat to the men from Auckland.
Bath going backwards: At one stage, it looked like they were progressing under new head honcho Johann van Graan, but they have certainly taken a couple of steps backwards recently. After defeating Newcastle Falcons at the end of 2022, they have succumbed to four successive defeats in the Premiership. The latest was against fellow strugglers Bristol Bears, who came away with a 15-13 triumph at the Rec. They are lacking for invention and tempo in attack, making it far too easy for opponents to defend. Bath are now once again rooted to the foot of the table and the fans are frustrated.
READ MORE: WATCH: Scenes in Paris with TWO players sent off in the opening 20 minutes of the Six Nations clash
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