Guinness Six Nations 2023 Rugby Coverage

Guinness Six Nations Round Four Recap - Irish Grand Slam Remains On Track

Guinness Six Nations Round Four Recap - Irish Grand Slam Remains On Track

Ireland defeat Scotland 22 - 7 at BT Murrayfield to retain the Triple Crown and keep their 2023 Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam hopes alive.

Mar 12, 2023 by Philip Bendon
Guinness Six Nations Round Four Recap - Irish Grand Slam Remains On Track

Error Prone Italy Slip-Up In Rome

Much was promised, and little was delivered is the best way to summarise the Italian’s round four performance.

Entering a fixture as favourites for the first time in nearly a decade, the Azzurri bumbled and fumbled their way to a disappointing 29 – 17 loss to a struggling Welsh side. 

Starting with the positives, Warren Gatland’s Welsh team showed some glimpses that perhaps the future might not be as bleak as previously thought. 

All five players had their moments in Rome as they proved they are acclimatizing to the pace of international rugby. Whilst their performance as a team was nothing to write home about, several young players stood up and showed their potential. Names such as Dafyyd Jenkins, Joe Hawkins, Mason Grady, Rio Dyer and Jac Morgan will likely form the backbone of future Welsh squads.

Gatland will, however, be concerned by the severe lack of fitness in his squad as they teetered out with twenty minutes left to play. This is fixable and will likely be a key focus point as they build towards the World Cup. 

Italian head coach Kierand Crowley and captain Michele Lamaro were left fuming at their performance and the match officials.

There can be no doubt that the Azzurri were their own worst enemy as they squandered double-digit scoring opportunities. Playing with a level of exuberance and flair is all well and good, but the inaccuracies they displayed were unforgivable at any level of the game.

Switching the focus towards the match officials, referee Damon Murphy and television match official Joy Neville were both heavily criticized for their handling of proceedings. 

Lamaro and his Italian teammates felt incensed on several occasions as they seemingly couldn’t get a call to go their way. 

Next up for both sides are daunting fixtures they will enter as heavy underdogs. 

Italy will travel to Edinburgh to Scotland to tackle a rather dejected Scotland side looking to end the Championship on a high following their back-to-back losses to France and Ireland. 

On the other hand, Wales will travel to Paris to take on a French side who ruthlessly put England to the sword at Twickenham. 

In summation, neither side was particularly impressive and looked a long way off the pace of the top teams in the Championship.

France Blow Derail England's Chariot

Those who thought France was in a funk (including this writer) were emphatically proven wrong on Saturday.

Posting a record 53 – 10 victory over a beleaguered England team at Twickenham highlighted once again that when this team get it right, they are just about unplayable. 

From the off, there was only one team in the contest as the French ran into a ten-point lead inside ten minutes. 

Never in the contest, this was the worst English performance in the Six Nations since their 43 – 13 drubbing by Ireland in 2007. 

Such was their performance; picking a player from the match from the French team was nearly impossible. Scrumhalf Antoine Dupont was sublime as ever, but so too was fullback Tomas Ramos, centre Jonathan Danty, winger Damien Penaud and the whole French forward pack. 

In a throwback to their 2022 form, the French line speed in defence was immense. Keenly aware of the threat that Marcus Smith could bring given time, the French swarmed the English flyhalf. This constant pressure saw Smith drop deep into the pocket and provided the English ball carrier little chance of breaking the gainline. 

In attack, the French went through the middle of the English defence with their big ball carriers before creating mismatches out wide. With the damage being done in the first half, the French fitness told in the second half as they had their hosts out on their feet. 

Unable to match the ferocity of their visitors, England were left in tatters as head coach Steve Borthwick looked on dejectedly. 

Rarely has an English pack been so overpowered that there was no chance of front foot ball for the backs. In this instance, scrumhalf Jack van Poortvliet looked decidedly average as he struggled to create any speed around the ruck. His removal at halftime saw Alex Mitchell briefly inject some pace into the game as England got their sole try of the contest. 

Removing Eddie Jones less than a year out from the World Cup has further destabilized an already struggling squad. In every position, there are question marks about the best options available. 

With just a single competitive test match before the World Cup, England looks on track to have a battle on their hands to get out of their pool. Neither Argentina nor Japan will be pushovers in Pool D, whilst Samoa will surely bring a significant physical edge. 

Next is a trip away to an Irish team on track for a fourth-ever Grand Slam. Playing in Dublin is tough at the best of times, but given the disparity between the two sides now, England may again be on the receiving end of some unwanted history. 

Injury Stricken Ireland Outclass Scotland 

Billed as a potential game of the Championship as history beckoned for both sides, Edinburgh did not disappoint for drama. 

At 8 – 7 in favour of Ireland at halftime, the stage was set for yet another tense affair between the two at BT Murrayfield. 

Having seen several of their key players limp off injured inside fifty minutes, Ireland showed just why they are the number one ranked team in the world. 

Shorn of both of their hookers in Dan Sheehan and Ronan Kelleher as well as a British and Irish Lion in secondrow, Iain Henderson and perhaps most crucially star number eight Caelen Doris. Ireland could’ve been forgiven for showing signs of imperfection against an in-form Scotland team. 

Yet, what transpired was nothing short of exceptional from Andy Farrell’s team as they completely shut down their hosts. 

In the end, the final score of 22 – 7 in favour of Ireland almost did the men in green a disservice. 

The Irish set piece continued to dominate their hosts. Packing down with three props in the front row whilst backrow Josh van der Flier through into the line-out. In fact, their scrum was so powerful that it routinely blew the Scots off the ball. 

As if the injuries to the forwards wasn’t enough, star centre Garry Ringrose went down in a terrible-looking collision that saw him leave the pitch on a stretcher. Once again, Ireland dealt with the blow and continued hammering home their advantage. 

Scoring three tries, Ireland came up just short of a bonus point victory in the face of exceptional adversity. 

Any doubts that this side is fallible to the failings of past Irish teams in a World Cup year at the present moment appears entirely unrealistic. 

Now on the precipice of a fourth-ever Six Nations Grand Slam, Ireland will enter the Rugby World Cup deserving of their ranking as the best team in the world. 

Focusing on the hosts, frustration will be the key feeling for Gregor Townsend’s side. Promising so much this season before ultimately faltering when met with quality opposition, it is back to the drawing board for Scotland. 

Yes, they looked dynamic in the first half, but their inability to make any inroads in the second half is a worrying sign. 

History was within reach as they let slip a golden opportunity to pick up a first piece of silverware in thirty-two years. 

For all their bluster and ambition, Scotland were inaccurate when it counted and enter the World Cup, knowing that they will face two of the tournament’s favourites in the pool stage. 

Pool B opponents Ireland and South Africa will know that if they get on top physically, the dangerous Scottish backline will be removed from the equation.

Today was a prime example of how to negate the Finn Russell effect, as Ireland picked when to rush the playmaker with multiple defenders. Often having one tackle low whilst another wrapped him up to avoid the offload. 

Russell still managed to show his class as he made inroads, but they were not consistent enough. Outside of Russell, the much-lauded Scottish centre partnership was largely quiet outside of Huw Jones’s try, whilst the back three offered little and were a liability in defence. 

All three Irish tries came out wide as Ireland targeted Duhan van der Merwe and, to a lesser extent Kyle Steyn. Van der Merwe was beaten twice as Mack Hansen and Jack Conan each shrugged off his tackle attempts whilst James Lowe simply steamrolled Steyn. 

Indeed, this assessment of Scotland may appear harsh. However, it is worth noting the praise that has rightly been heaped on Scotland. Unfortunately for Townsend and his squad, the past two fixtures have been a reminder that they remain a tier below the top sides in the international game.

Written by Philip Bendon