Are Scotland’s mistakes holding them back?
There is no doubting that Scottish rugby is currently on the up, and their improvements under Gregor Townsend over the last few years have been really enjoyable to watch. However, what is preventing them from really challenging for the higher Championship positions is their individual mistakes during play, and the game against France on Saturday had a number of these. At the end of the first half, Worcester Warriors winger Duhan van der Merwe made some brilliant advances through the French defensive line, but one chance saw captain Stuart Hogg fumble the ball when it was passed to him, whilst another saw a pass to van der Merwe go slightly behind him, making it difficult to gather the ball.
Townsend had spoken beforehand about the need for Scotland to be tidier and more accurate in possession, and he would have been frustrated by some of their missed opportunities, especially as they could have given his team a half-time lead. For Scotland to break into the top half of the table, they need to be better at making these chances count.
Have England turned a corner defensively?
England’s highly-anticipated home match against Wales did not disappoint, with plenty of action and drama right up until the final whistle. However, what was really noticeable was England’s good defensive performance, as this has been their biggest concern in recent years. At Twickenham on Saturday, they got up the pitch well, won balls in their own 22, regained possession a number of times around the field, and generally kept their composure and discipline, and it was a breath of fresh air to see them play with this much quality out of possession. Wales were on the back foot for most of the first half, and every time they did exploit some space, England used their bodies well to end the threat.
The first time they weren’t fully focused was when Cardiff winger Josh Adams scored Wales’ first try, and they did leave the wide channels more and more open as the game went on, so concentrating for the full 80 minutes is still something they need to work on. However, this was a huge improvement for them, with plenty to be positive about ahead of the visit of Ireland in a couple of weeks.
Ireland were good against Italy – but weren’t clinical enough
Ireland were obviously expected to win on Sunday against Italy, and did. Yes, they were helped by the visitors going down to 13 players after just 20 minutes, but they got the job done and that is important.
However, it wasn’t a perfect performance from them, and the main question surrounding them after this weekend is their failure to take all of the points available to them. Fly-half Joey Carbery will no doubt be a little frustrated with the kicks that he missed, especially as they were from good positions on the field and were shots that he would have probably scored on another day, whilst there were also some lineouts that went wrong and moments of poor accuracy with the ball. Put all of this together, and the conclusion is that Ireland need to be more ruthless in order to stay in title contention, especially as France scored highly for the third matchweek in a row.
Don’t be mistaken, this was an excellent Ireland performance, with 57 points on the board, but there is a feeling that they could have had more. When all is said and done, if they haven’t won the title (which is looking more and more unlikely with Les Bleus in such dominant form), then this might be a game that they look back at in regret.