Six Nations talking points: Reduced role of TMO not protecting players
Warren Gatland seems to be looking ahead to the Rugby World Cup the most
Referee Nigel Owens speaks to French players Guilhem Guirado and Arthur Iturria in Twickenham. Photograph: EPA
Less leading to more mistakes from officials
A pre-tournament directive from World Rugby to reduce the role of the TMO has led to more errors being made by the officials. Think back to Henry Slade’s forward pass to Jonny May for England’s third try in the Aviva.
At Murrayfield last Saturday, between them the officials missed Sean Maitland playing Conor Murray’s box kick before it crossed the touchline, wrongly decreeing the kick went out on the full.
Going back to week one, how was Maro Itoje not carded for clattering into Keith Earls, or Manu Tuilagi mot cited for his high ‘hit’ on Jacob Stockdale? The reduced role of the TMO also runs counter to the early season clampdown on high hits in protecting players. Gerry Thornley
Ireland’s finishers could do with more minutes
Replacement, substitute, impact sub, finisher, the cavalry, call them what you want. Against Scotland John Cooney got four minutes, Jordan Larmour and Sean Cronin nine, Ultan Dillane and Andrew Porter 13, Josh van der Flier 17.
It’s difficult to make an impact in a length of time less than 17 minutes, although Cronin and Cooney did the previous weekend against England with the Ulster scrumhalf dotting down inside the 10 minutes he was given at the end of the game.
That’s 14 minutes played over two matches for Cooney with Conor Murray still not at the top of the game that everyone knows he has in his locker. The difficulty for the players coming from the bench is that they are now wondering how much time they will get when Johnny Sexton or Murray are back to top form and injury free. Traditionally Murray has finished out matches and Kieran Marmion has had to sit on his hands.
You can see how Joe Schmidt’s mind is working. He needs Murray to be at his best and wants to keep him on the pitch to try to build up the minutes towards sharper form. But that raises the question as to what message the bench players are hearing about their importance. In the game of risk reward, a world class player may be kept in place even if he is struggling to hit his ‘A’ game.
England coach Eddie Jones calls them ‘Finishers.’ He believes that his eight man bench will more often than not play a critical role in the pursuit of a win. It’s far from a new way of thinking but Jones has made it part of his ‘Band of Brothers’ concept. Substitutes are not replacements, or second best, inferior versions of the starting players.
They are there for jail breaks. They are get out of jail free cards and they have to approach the match with a different mindset. In fairness to Joe Schmidt he has said that too and often talks about the strength of the Irish bench.
From the coaching point of view it has worked for him before and woe betide anyone who will second guess him or assume they have put more thought into it than he has. That’s highly unlikely. Nobody knows what the ideal time is to come into a match. But after watching a team struggle in certain areas, an average of seven minutes for each game, or even nine minutes or 14 minutes is asking a heck of a lot from bench players who are expected to make a significant positive impacts. Johnny Watterson
Gatland playing the long game
Of all the Six Nations coaches, Warren Gatland seems to be the one who is looking ahead to the Rugby World Cup the most. After Wales’ opening victory over France, he took a 31-man squad to a training camp in Nice before Saturday’s second round clash in Rome.
The Kiwi then made 10 changes to his starting XV, as the Welsh flickered sporadically en-route to a 26-15 win at the Stadio Olimpico. But although Wales’ victory wasn’t overly impressive, it was crucial. Gatland was able to give a number of new faces a run out, while also maintaining his side’s push for a first championship since 2013.
Despite injuries, Welsh competition in the backrow is fierce - Thomas Young, Aaron Wainwright and Josh Navidi were among the better performers. Aled Davies was ponderous at scrumhalf, and looks to be the third choice behind Gareth Davies and Tomos Williams. The strength in depth, though, is clear. Wales have two weeks to prepare for the title-defining visit of England, and some of their key players will be refreshed after three weeks rest. Patrick Madden
Les Bleus trapped in the dark ages
Ireland winning with plenty to spare at Murrayfield was expected so picking over that carcass is unnecessary. Conor Murray will eventually rediscover his mojo and Johnny Sexton will eventually recover, right? Moving swiftly on, France’s capitulation at Twickenham was a sorry and sad sight.
Midi Olympique’s front page screamed “Waterloo” but it’s worse than that. Who is their Napoléon? Jacques Brunel’s tactical ineptitude was laid bare as England grubbered in behind a defence that disgracefully jogged after Jonny May en route to the England winger’s first-half hat-trick. When a coach makes 10 changes, as Brunel did after blowing a comfortable half-time lead to Wales in Paris, and the performance plunges to new depths then, well, drastic reaction is required.
Julien Bonnaire and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde are assistant coaches with serious reputations as lineout and scrumhalf generals during their playing days. Bonnaire was part of the player revolt that guided France to the 2011 World Cup final while Elissalde had an inspirational role on that Cardiff night in 2007 when the All Blacks were toppled.
Maybe FFR president Bernard Laporte is eyeing up the jobless Joe Schmidt or Steve Hansen (or both!) post Japan 2019 and knows the number of foreigners in Top 14 clubs needs reducing before a wily Kiwi accepts the task of rebuilding the crumbling kingdom. Can’t see France fixing this mess before visiting Dublin on March 10th. Tactically, culturally and fitness-wise, they are trapped in the dark ages. Gavin Cummiskey
Ireland still misfiring in attack
A key for Ireland going forward is to rediscover a playing rhythm in the tournament so that they can engineer some momentum coming out of the Six Nations and ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Ireland’s performances generally improve as the tournament progresses and that is the challenge ahead of the next match against Italy in Rome on Sunday week, ensuring that progress with better cohesion and flow to their patterns.
Striking a balance between giving players an opportunity and examining squad depth in a practical and realistic way as well as trying to recalibrate performance issues that have arisen in the first two matches is an important consideration. Ireland collectively gritted their teeth in Murrayfield and got the result.
The need to get back some shape, accuracy and animation in attack is a priority, a responsibility that lies with the individual and the collective if the team is to rediscover their best form in every meaning of the word. John O’Sullivan