World Rugby

Six Nations R3 Recap: A Kick In The Teeth, Grand Slam Live, Flying Duhan

Six Nations R3 Recap: A Kick In The Teeth, Grand Slam Live, Flying Duhan

See the talking points from Round 3 of the 2024 Six Nations. Ireland one step closer to a Grand Slam, England loses to Scotland and Italy draws with France.

Feb 27, 2024 by Philip Bendon
Six Nations R3 Recap: A Kick In The Teeth, Grand Slam Live, Flying Duhan

Round 3 of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations felt like the first real tipping point in this year’s championship.

Entering the weekend, two sides remained in live action for a run at a Grand Slam. Both Ireland and England knew that if they could come through Round 3 unscathed, it would set up what likely would be a title shootout in Twickenham in Round 4.

First up were Andy Farrell’s men, who were made to work for their points against a plucky young Welsh side at the Aviva Stadium. 

In the end, the men in green simply had too much power for their visitors, as Tadhg Beirne barged over with the clock in the red to secure a 31-7 bonus-point victory. The win sees Ireland depart the first three rounds with a perfect 15 log points.

As the action drew to a close in Dublin, the temperature rose in Edinburgh, as Scotland looked to get back to its winning ways after a crushing and controversial loss to France in Round 2

Taking the early initiative, England ran out to an early lead, as fullback George Furbank glided over for his first test try.  

Scotland showed its class and composure, wrestling back control in no small part thanks to Duhan van der Merwe, who scored a hat trick of tries to round out a relatively comfortable 30-21 win.

Concluding the weekend’s action was a tussle of gargantuan proportions, as the two mainland European sides, France and Italy, did battle.

This clash proved to be very much a clash of two halves, with the French dominating the opening 40, while Italy was in control for the second stanza.

Despite making all the plays in the first half, France led by a mere seven points at halftime and ended up playing the second half a man down, as Jonathan Danty was sent off for his high tackle on Ignacio Brex.

In the end, the two sides could not be separated and would have to settle for a 13-13 draw, as Paolo Garbisi’s penalty ricocheted off the right upright.

Not all draws are equal, with this one feeling more like one that got away for Italy, while simultaneously feeling like a kick in the teeth for a French side that has drastically regressed since the 2023 season.

In a week that was stacked to the gills with talking points, here are five takeaways from the week that was in the Guinness Six Nations.

Contrasting Fortunes On Display In Dublin

Ireland kept its ambitions to become the first back-to-back Grand Slam champion alive with what felt like a relatively run-of-the-mill win over Wales. 

Taking to the Aviva Stadium pitch, there were two sides at very different points of their development on Saturday. 

Ireland is a side that now feels ultra-comfortable with who the team is and what it is capable of accomplishing. 

Falling back on a rock-solid base, Ireland goes through its processes with mechanical precision, while steadily adding layers to its game. 

Wales, on the flipside, is at the beginning of what has the potential to be an exciting journey under Warren Gatland. 

Still, very much a team at Stage 1 of what essentially is a full rebuild, Wales showed glimpses of what it could become by frustrating Ireland with an in-your-face defense. 

Ultimately, Wales lacked the power and attacking direction to match Ireland, but the signs are positive that the Welsh will become a force once again in the coming years.

Duhan Does It Again

Scotland’s powerhouse winger Duhan van der Merwe certainly enjoys playing against England… Adding to his wonder try from a season ago, the 6-foot-4 flyer scored a hat trick Saturday to will his team over the line. 

Coming off a quiet outing a week before against France, van der Merwe was on the warpath early, prowling around the Scottish backline. 

Now, at a point where he has a level of telepathy with fly-half Finn Russell, DVM is entering the realm of being a truly world-class operator. 

For this statement to become completely true, the South African-born Edinburgh star will need to put on these kinds of performances against the game's big three: Ireland, South Africa and New Zealand. Fortunately, he will get a chance to do so in three weeks.

Kick Controversy In Lille

Undoubtedly, the biggest storyline to come out of Round 3 was Paolo Garbisi’s missed penalty kick that would have handed Italy a first Six Nations victory over France in France. 

A calamity of errors from start to finish, the ball first rolled off the kicking tee, leaving the 23-year-old with mere seconds in which to attempt the shot. 

Though conspiracy theories have flowed about how a ball can fall off a tee in an indoor stadium, more crucial was the now evident rule-breaking of the French players. 

Clearly caught on camera, the French players can be seen charging at Garbisi, while a member of the medical staff is hurrying around the pitch. As per the World Rugby kicking laws, the following should have been implemented by the match officials:

‘If the opposing team infringes while the kick is being taken, but the kick at goal is successful, the goal stands, and a further penalty is not awarded. If the kick is unsuccessful, the non-offending team is awarded a penalty 10 meters in front of the original mark. Sanction: Penalty.

“If the kicker indicates to the referee the intent to kick at goal, the opposing team must stand still with all hands by their sides from the time the kicker starts to approach to kick until the ball is kicked.”

Given the two laws above, Italy should have been allowed to retake the penalty shot, all the while moving the ball 10 meters closer to the posts to make what would have been a routine kick for Garbisi.

Parking this aside for a moment, this draw, combined with Italy’s promising underage teams, is further evidence that Italian rugby a coming force in what is a major development for the championship as a whole.

England Lacking Direction

Offering a fascinating breakdown of England’s attack on the BBC, former Scotland international John Barclay and former Welsh captain Sam Warburton highlighted some of the issues currently facing England. 

Seemingly unsure of themselves in both attack and defense, the English were outsmarted and outclassed by Scotland at Murrayfield. 

Facing top-shelf opposition for arguably only the second time since last year’s Six Nations (South Africa in the World Cup semifinal being the other time), England and, more crucially, Steve Borthwick’s game plan were found wanting. 

To be abundantly clear in this column, the players are not the problem, with several possessing truly world-class potential. 

The primary issues are the systems in place, which promote an ultra-safe game plan as Option 1, followed by a lack of time in their new rush defense system. 

Starting with the attack, England has been at the top of the charts in terms of kicking for ball retention over the past four seasons. Playing into this kick-first mentality is a slow ruck speed, which is the slowest in the competition, as they top the charts in terms of rucks taking six or more seconds at 19.92% (a full 10% more than Ireland). 

Defensively, new defense coach Felix Jones is looking to bed in a new system that saw South Africa secure back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles. This, of course, will take time. 

For the here and now, however, England has been found wanting with players attempting to predict where the ball will go and have been found wanting in this area. 

Now 19 tests into his time in charge, Borthwick has won 11 tests, which, on the surface, is an average return. In reality, the question of whether England has developed its game under him is fair at this moment in time.

Developing Welsh 

Laying the foundation this season for what Welsh fans hope will be a new era, Warren Gatland appears to have unearthed a few gems already. 

Across his back row, Tommy Reffell, Alex Mann, Mackenzie Martin, Taine Basham and Aaron Wainwright have been sublime so far in the Six Nations. 

Bearing in mind that the highly talented duo of Jac Morgan and Christ Tshiunza are injured, and uber-talented 19-year-old Morgan Morse is with the U20s, Wales could well have a world-class back row in the coming seasons. 

Elsewhere, Rio Dyer, Cameron Winnett, and Mason Grady all have shown flashes of brilliance that would lead you to believe they could form a potent back three. 

Finally, captain Daffyd Jenkins looks to be the real deal in the second row and has now become irreplaceable in the starting lineup as the second coming of Alun Wyn Jones. 

Certainly, there are concerns around the front row and halfbacks, but young players in this area simply need more game time. 

How long it will take for this squad to reach its potential is hard to tell, especially with the off-field issues surrounding the Welsh game. 

One thing is for certain: fears that Welsh rugby would disappear into the abyss certainly were premature.

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