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Six Nations Week Five Review: Last Stop Before France

And just like that, another Six Nations tournament has come and gone. While it may not have been the most memorable Super Saturday of all time, it certainly was a historic one. Italy played like they have all tournament in the early kick-off, Wales surprised some by bringing a fight to one of the world’s best, and Ireland sealed the title and a first Grand Slam won in Dublin. As well as this, it was the last time we’ll potentially see some of the modern-day greats don their international jerseys in the Six Nations for the last time with retirements after (or maybe even before) the World Cup seeming inevitable. The final whistles have been blown, the tv cameras have switched off, and the final pints of squishy cup Guinness have all been drank for another year. Before the small matter of a World Cup in September, where maybe one or two of the favourites play in the Six Nations, there’s still a grading to get done. And because it’s the last one, each team can get a grade for their respective performances and one for the tournament overall, don’t say I never treat you. So, for the last time in 2023, let’s get into the grading!

Scotland: Blair is King(horn)

Phew, that close. In an earlier than usual first game of Super Saturday, Scotland had a bit of a shaky start in Edinburgh which became the story of the afternoon. They gave away quite a few silly penalties and were lucky that Italy couldn’t capitalise more than they did in the early stages. Sometimes teams just need that bit of quality, and Duhan van der Merwe brought it in abundance with an absolutely incredible try. Add an Italian yellow card and Blair Kinghorn’s first of three tries, and Scotland looked to be somewhat in control going into the second half, but they didn’t half have to work for the win. Through some questionable defending and poor penalties, Scotland let Italy back into the game and with 5 minutes to go I thought we’d be seeing a repeat of last year’s Super Saturday encounter in Cardiff. But as has been the case with Italy this tournament, they just couldn’t get it done, with Blair Kinghorn wrapping up the bonus point with his hat-trick late on. It wasn’t the prettiest performance, but it’s difficult to criticise a team too much that got a bonus point win to finish third in the table. In what has been an eventful Six Nations, Scotland will have been happy to have improved on last year and finish the tournament on a high.

Match grade: B-. Made that far more difficult than it needed to be, but it would be harsh to give anything less than that for a bonus point win.

Tournament grade: A. Unrecognisable compared to last year. There’s a great unit here, keep it going and who knows where it can take you!

Italy: Agonisingly close… again

This game just summed up Italy’s entire tournament. Looked competitive after a poor start, start to make the opposition worry, let a few chances go, come very close to winning it with only a few minutes left, concede a late try and make the score look more flattering than it should’ve been. While Italy have been fun to watch this tournament with how far they’ve come over the last 20 years, at times it’s been equally frustrating. As an advocate for Italian rugby and for them to keep their place in the Six Nations, it can get a bit annoying seeing them not make the most of golden opportunities. They have some incredible players who have shone on Saturday and all tournament, players like Sebastian Negri, Paolo Garbisi, and Tommaso Allan to name a few, but for whatever reason it’s not quite clicked in the crucial moments when they needed to. Their late charge made for an incredibly exciting finish in Edinburgh, but there were plenty of opportunities throughout the game where they could’ve won it. It’s another bottom placed finish going into the World Cup, but they’ll still be looking forward. While it’s unlikely that they’ll get out of the initial stage with New Zealand and France in the same pool, it’s an opportunity to test themselves against two of the world’s best teams and get some wins on the board against Namibia and Uruguay. They’re a team in development, and the sky really is the limit. While I’m not saying they’re going to win the Grand Slam next year, I can definitely see them getting a Six Nations top 3 finish within the next 5 years.

Match grade: C. Not a bad performance, but you need to start making the most of these opportunities when they come.

Tournament grade: B-. Whilst the results may not have come, you definitely proved why you deserve a seat at the table by running Europe’s and some of the World’s best clubs incredibly close. Build from this and next year could be even better!

France: World Cup fever starting to brew

After a demolition job in Twickenham the previous weekend, all eyes were on Paris to see if the same could be done again. Even though they came away with the win, it wasn’t quite the mauling that some thought it would be. It was still a great French performance in this Six Nations, but it was out of their hands as to whether they’d be champions or not. After going a try down early on, Les Bleus began to work through the gears and pulled together a great first half performance with tries from Damian Penaud and Jonathan Danty. With the ever-reliable Thomas Ramos there to kick points it meant France went in 20-7 up at the break. It looked as if it would continue in the second half with an early Uini Antonio try, but Wales fought back with some tries of their own. However, France made sure that this wouldn’t happen with two hammer blows of their own with tries from Gael Fickou and Penaud. While it wasn’t the drubbing some thought it would be, France never really looked in great danger. They still played some brilliant rugby and were too much for a stubborn Welsh defence to handle. Second place won’t feel too amazing after last year’s Grand Slam, however 2023 is always going to be about the World Cup for France. I personally think they’ve not peaked too early, and instead are getting back to their best in time for September, but all eyes will be on them and that mouth-watering opening game between Les Bleus and New Zealand.

Match grade: A. Second good performance in a row even if not as good as last week, but that was always going to be hard to top.

Tournament grade: A+. Second best to the winners, but still played some incredible rugby. Plenty to be confident about ahead of September.

Wales: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

With how this tournament has gone for Wales and France respectively you’d be forgiven for thinking that this would be a bit of a drubbing, but it turned out to be anything but. Before the game I said France by 12, and I was completely wrong as in the end it was France by 13, absolute howler from myself there. The Welsh team came to Paris with nothing really to play for, yet they still took it to the French. In what will probably be the last dance for many of the Welsh pack including heroes like Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, and Leigh Halfpenny to name just a few, they went straight for the French jugular early. Instead of opting for a more conservative approach, they tried to beat France at their own game with a high intensity attacking display, culminating in George North’s 44th try for his country. As it went on, France predictably grew into the game as Wales struggled a bit to keep up with the sheer quality of some of the French players, and there’s absolutely no shame in that. Any hopes of an upset were quashed fairly quickly with how ruthless France were throughout the first half and most of the second, but to give Wales their credit they didn’t give up or feel sorry for themselves. Was it the way that some of the older players would’ve wanted to end their Six Nations careers? No. But can things be taken from this performance as a bit of a learning curve? Absolutely yes. Although overall it’s been a disappointing tournament to say the least, maybe it can act as a way of getting these performances out of the system before the World Cup. I know that’s beyond optimistic at the moment, but I need something to grasp on to, because lord almighty that tournament needs to go better than this one.

Match grade: C-. Just a difference in quality at the end of the day, didn’t disgrace yourselves by any means.

Tournament grade: F. I wasn’t expecting wonders but even still that was disappointing. Much to work on.

Ireland: History makers

For the first time in their history, Ireland have won a Grand Slam in Dublin (which seems like a mental stat). The game basically summed up how well they’ve been all tournament. It was quite a nervy start for the Boys in Green with maybe the pressure of the occasion getting to them slightly. After two early England penalties, they managed to get back with a very well worked try for Dan Sheehan and another from Gary Ringrose to lead by 8 at the break. There’s also the small issue of the Freddie Steward red card to talk about but I’ll get into that later. With the English team wounded and down to 14, some gaps started to appear in an otherwise tight England defence leading to Sheehan to score another try before Rob Herring got the last of the game to confirm the bonus point. They’ve been a league above any other team during this tournament and are the world’s best ranked team for a reason. Even though France played as well as they did at times this year, even they didn’t look like they’d threaten Ireland for the title this year. Now all eyes will be on the World Cup where they will undoubtably be heading to France as favourites. Ireland have never made it further than the last 8 of the World Cup, and there’s a very real chance that the first time that they do so will be the time that Andy Farrell’s men end up taking the Webb Ellis trophy to Dublin to kick start a potential golden generation in Irish sport, but that’s a post for another day.

Match grade: A-. Star of the week for winning the Grand Slam. Let’s see if you can do it again in the Autumn.

Tournament grade: A*. Grand Slam winners, and the best team in this year’s tournament bar none. A cut above the rest.

England: Was it a red though?

I don’t like to be that guy who says that single instances of a game lose it, but the Freddie Steward red card certainly didn’t help. Up until that point England were well in it. They were strong in defence and made Ireland concede some penalties whilst Owen Farrell kept the points ticking over from penalties. Then came the red card… For me, I thought it was a yellow. Hugo Keenan was straightening himself up whilst still bent over, Steward had nowhere near enough time to avoid collision so was naturally bracing for impact, and it was bicep, not shoulder or elbow, to head. There alone are three mitigation points that should’ve been considered, but I digress. It unfortunately overshadowed what was an otherwise good England performance. Sure, they didn’t get the win, but they kept it tight for most of the game, before and after the red card, and were miles better than their performance against France. It was a resilient display for a team that were up against it for the last 40 minutes, and their grit was rewarded with a Jamie George try in the second half. A bit like the Welsh game, there was just an obvious difference in quality between the teams on the day. Ireland have been in a league of their own, so to perform like England did is by no means a disgrace. While it may have been an underwhelming Six Nations overall, there have still been signs that things will continue to improve under Steve Borthwick and co. As for the World Cup, I have absolutely no idea how it will go. That’s just England rugby at the moment, nothing surprises me anymore. They could go out in the pool stage, or they could win the entire thing, and I’d be equally unsurprised. Well maybe a little bit surprised if they won it.

Match grade: C+. Gutsy display against the world’s best when you were up against it. Well done.

Tournament grade: E. Pretty underwhelming as a whole, but there were a few glimpses of what the team can achieve. Be patient and stick with it and I’m sure the good times will come back.

Class Clown of the Week: The entire officiating team for the Ireland-England game. This one was hard as nobody did anything particularly stupid or funny, or maybe they did and I don’t remember because there was a lot of rugby played by the end, so I have no choice but to beat the Freddie Steward red card dead horse a bit more.

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Six Nations Week Three Review: The good, the kinda boring, the mental

In the words of Bon Jovi, we’re halfway there, or over halfway if you want to get technical about it. After it feels as if we’ve only just started, another game week is down in the 2023 Six Nations championship. We had three very different games with arguably some flattering score lines. Whilst the tournament is far from over and some teams might not be on the beach just yet, there may be one or two starting to think about making their way down the pebble slope (for better or worse). As the teams go into another break before the final two fixtures, it’s time to get on with the grading!

Italy: Down, but far from out

No matter who Italy play nowadays you know for a fact that it won’t be boring, and it will damn sure be competitive. After a shaky opening 5 minutes with a disallowed James Lowe try and an allowed James Ryan try, you’d be forgiven for thinking it might end up as a bit of a drubbing, however that didn’t happen. The days of Italy getting battered by everyone are over, and this game is proof of it. It seems weird saying that after they lost a game where they conceded five tries, but in all honesty, it was a bit of an unfortunate result. With what’s becoming very much a reoccurring theme for the Azzurri, they didn’t give up when they were knocked down and very much took the game to the world’s number 1 ranked team. Lorenzo Cannone had a fantastic game breaking through a very strong Irish defence on more than one occasion while Pierre Bruno looked incredibly dangerous on the wing. Like they’ve grown to do this tournament, this Italy team will make the most of their opportunities when presented them and in all honesty were probably unlucky not to get anything out of this. The intensity was yet again incredibly high with some lightning fast paced rugby, but it just wasn’t enough. 

Grade: B-. Shaky at times. But in all honesty, I can’t nit-pick too much.

Ireland: Keep plodding on

It was hardly the demolition job that we’ve seen against Italy in years gone by however the Boys in Green still did what they needed to do. They started bright with early tries from James Ryan and Hugo Keenan followed by tries later in the half by Bundee Aki and James Lowe, but they still let Italy into it and made it a lot closer than it had to be. If Ireland are a team that are going to go for a Grand Slam and a World Cup later this year, then these are games that they should be using to make big statements. It feels weird to dig into them too much when they scored 5 tries and won by 14 points, but it wasn’t the most comfortable performance. With that being said you can’t expect a team going for the Grand Slam to be firing on all cylinders every week, just look at France’s performance against Wales in Cardiff last year. While it was close, it does show how solid and stubborn the Irish defence was. I gave a lot of praise to Italy, but they still only managed 3 points in the second half as Ireland frustrated the usual free-flowing Italian style of play, all for Hansen to deliver the final hammer blow 9 minutes from full-time. The break comes at a good time for Andy Farrell’s men as they can work on what went not so great in time for a trip to Edinburgh in a fortnight’s time, as the Grand Slam dream carries on.

Grade: B+. Not the dominance you showed in the first two games but still did what you needed to.

Wales: “Solidarity foreeeevvvvverrrr for the union makes us strong”

Honestly, I can’t be mad at that. Was it good? Far from it. Wales really didn’t see enough of the ball and didn’t threaten enough in attack for my liking, but there are some huge asterisks here. If you put yourself in the players position, not knowing if they have a future in rugby full stop because of something as ridiculous as the WRU wanting to put a cap on regions wages to the extent where it wouldn’t be financially viable to play in Wales anymore, then you understand why they might’ve had other things on their mind. In terms of what happened on the field, it wasn’t too pretty. It looked a bit static and one dimensional. Wales kicked the ball away far too much for my liking which hindered any kind of attacking threat. It was a big statement from Warren Gatland to change the team as much as he did. I get the point to try and show that nobody’s too big to be dropped, and Joe Hawkins and Mason Grady are the future at 12 and 13 so I’m really pleased that they both started, but to change the squad that much was a bold strategy that didn’t pay off. Tommy Reffell and Jac Morgan have been two of Wales’s best players, so I really don’t get the reasoning behind them being dropped. To try and get some positives, it was much better than the opening two games. I thought the front row looked strong again, both pre and post substitutions, while Christ Tshiunza is getting better with every game. Next is a trip to Rome in a massive game against Italy where the Welsh team will be desperate for their first win of the tournament.

Grade: D. Fairly poor on the pitch, but absolute legends off it. To stand their ground against the salary cap and the 60-cap rule with threatening strike action and still going out on the field on Saturday shows how mentally strong this squad is. Even though you lost you can still be proud.

England: Slowly but surely getting there

As the Borthwick Revolution continues, England get their first win in Cardiff since 2017. It wasn’t particularly the best performance of all time, but they did what needed to be done. It really shouldn’t have been that close, especially after the first half. In what was a bit of a boring game overall, there were some definite diamonds in a bit of a proverbial rough. Ollie Lawrence and Anthony Watson put in some great performances. Freddie Steward continued to show why he’s one of the best fullbacks under the high ball, while Lewis Ludlam played yet another stormer. He and Jack Willis were an absolute menace at the breakdown and I thought rucked brilliantly. With this being said, England should’ve won by a much higher margin. It would be easy to point the blame directly at Owen Farrell for his questionable at best kicking, and that was obviously a contributing factor, but England still fell into the trap of kicking it away far too much. There were a few times where the kick and chase wasn’t really working at times which became quite predictable and frustrating to watch, but Steward is a terrifyingly good under the high ball. As I’ve kept saying all along, this is part of a wider plan with long-term goals. It’s scarily reminiscent of early Tigers under Borthwick, which should be promising for England fans. I just hope that the RFU stick with him for the long term, because I can honestly see Borthwick and co. take this England team very far.

Grade: B. Not the most exciting but managed to get a result, it shouldn’t have been that close though.

France: Bouncebackability confirmed (probably)

After a bit of a drubbing in Dublin, and probably a stern lecturing from Shaun Edwards, France would’ve been desperate to get back to winning ways. After jumping into a 19-0 lead with tries from Romain Ntamack, Ethan Doumortier, and Thomas Ramos and Scotland down to 14 men, it looked as if it might’ve been a bit of a drubbing. However that didn’t happen, with Mohamed Haouas deciding to do his best Zinedine Zidane 2006 World Cup Final impression and came flying in with a headbutt on Ben White for… reasons, thus making it 14 against 14. Scotland managed to get back into it with a few tries of their own, but France were able to strike back through Gael Fickou to confirm the bonus point win. If the Wales-England game was a bit disappointing, then this one more than made up for it. The attack was free flowing, and the French defence was much better than it was in Dublin a fortnight ago. It was a game of fine margins, and France managed to make the small things matter. From the odd turnover to forcing the occasional penalty, it was all part of the bigger picture. The defence also turned up when they needed to, after stopping two almost certain tries from Duhan van der Merwe and Zander Faegerson. A bonus point win was going to be crucial if Les Bleus wanted to still be in contention for the title, and that’s exactly what they got.

Grade: A. Star of the Week! Did very well to bounce back, well done.

Scotland: So very close

This one’s going to sting if you’re a Scotland fan. It was a huge opportunity to send shockwaves around the rugby world with what would be a huge statement win, but alas it didn’t come. In all honesty, 32-21 is a bit of a flattering score on France’s behalf, because it gives the impression a bit that it was a tad one sided when it was anything but. Scotland were wounded in the opening 8 minutes with two French tries and a red card for Grant Gilchrist, but they managed an amazing near comeback. The French red card evened things, but it’s unfair to say that was the sole reason. The Scottish attack remained strong resulting in two tries for Huw Jones and one for Finn Russell, and Russell remained consistent with the boot, but it just wasn’t enough. Maybe on another day if they got a tad luckier with the Zander Faegerson and Duhan van der Merwe chances then they could’ve snuck the win, but it wasn’t to be. The championship is out of their hands for the moment with Ireland being the only team that haven’t lost; however, it can swing massively back in their favour with a win against the Boys in Green in Edinburgh in two weeks’ time. Considering Wales are out of any kind of contention for the title, I’ll support Scotland to win it because why not. It would be fun.

Grade: B+. Great performance overall, not too much at all that I can nit-pick at, just unlucky to lose.

Class clown of the week: Nika Amashukeli. He wasn’t awful by any stretch but I’m still in disbelief that he needed his assistants to confirm to him that there was a high degree of danger after Haouas did a diving headbutt into Ben White.

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Six Nations Week Two Review: Markers laid. Statements made.

Crikey, what a weekend that was. In a game week packed with action we saw some incredible tries, tough to break defences, and a slightly cross fly half. For the first time in forever, the two best teams in world rugby met in the Six Nations with the aim of putting themselves in the driving seat of this year’s championship. There was also the matter of two other fixtures which maybe weren’t as hyped as the early Saturday fixture, but they weren’t without their exciting moments. Even though the competition is still in its early days, the table is starting to take a little bit of shape. Ireland were many people’s pre-tournament favourites and are starting to prove why, the Borthwick revolution is very much underway at England, and Scotland managed to get over their bogey coach in the form of Warren Gatland with a huge win at Murrayfield. As I try and do absolutely anything to take my mind off the fact that the Philadelphia Eagles lost the Super Bowl and Cardiff City are looking more like relegation shoe-ins by the second, let’s get on with the grading!

Ireland: The unstoppable force

Statement. Made. Ireland went into this fixture ranked number one in the world but without a win against France for three years. Andy Farrell’s men set out to justify their place at the top of the world rankings against the current Grand Slam holders. The pressure that Ireland put on from the first whistle was immense and forced France on to the back foot. Much like the Welsh game, Ireland got most of the work done points wise in an incredible first half. Hugo Keenan opened the scoring for the Boys in Green followed by an unbelievable finish from James Lowe and Andrew Porter. Should the Lowe try have stood? On a later angle it did look like his foot was in touch so maybe Ireland were lucky, but at the same time France were lucky to not get Uini Atonio sent off so equals pequals on that front. Much like the Welsh game, the second half performance was a lot cagier and felt quite tense at times which wasn’t aided with the losses of Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Beirne to injury. However, they kept calm and frustrated France throughout the second half with brilliant defence and having a strong breakdown. With there only being a converted try in it with 10 minutes to go, Gary Ringrose went over the try line to confirm the bonus point win. Overall, it felt like the perfect Irish display. Free flowing in attack, tight in defence, and managed to keep their cool when they were under pressure from one of the world’s best teams. Perhaps the kind of performance from a team that could maybe, oh I don’t know, go far in a World Cup? We’ll see as it’s early days yet, but the signs are promising.

Grade: A*. Perfect yet again! Start of the week.

France: The moveable object

For the first time in forever, this French team looked human. The 14-game winning streak is over, as their grip on the Six Nations title started to loosen. To give them their dues, the French responded pretty much perfectly to everything Ireland threw at them in the first half leading to one of the all-time great halves of Six Nations rugby. Keenan’s opener was met by an unbelievable early try of the year contender from Damian Penaud, where flanker Anthony Jelonch stormed through the middle of the park before laying off to Penaud who split the defence in two in a move akin to Moses with the red sea. Penalties and the conversion from Thomas Ramos made sure that they were never out of sight in the first 40 and kept the game within touching distance. The defence improved since last week, most notably for Antoine Dupont’s unbelievable certain try stopping tackle on Mack Hansen, but in the end it just wasn’t enough. They couldn’t beat Ireland at the breakdown and struggled against a strong Irish defence. It wasn’t an awful performance; Ireland just had the perfect game plan to deal with them. Thus, the majestic streak is over. A run which saw Les Bleus win a Grand Slam, dismantle New Zealand in Paris, and get the better of the World Champions South Africa in the autumn. The nuclear button is far from being pressed, and perhaps it’s better now to get a loss before the World Cup, but it’s a reminder that no team in international rugby is perfect.

Grade: B-. Not bad, but not amazing. Don’t let this undo your hard work.

Scotland: Rejoice!

Finally, after so long they finally did it. For the first time ever, Scotland won against a Warren Gatland managed Wales team. I was reserving judgment because we’ve seen this from Scotland for the last two years. Get a win against England and look promising before bottling it against Wales and setting them on a poor trajectory for the rest of the tournament, but that didn’t happen. It looked early on that it might be a close affair, with Ken Owens responding to fellow hooker George Turner’s try to make it 13-7 at the break, but once the Scots put the pedal to the floor, they never showed any sign of slowing down. Finn Russell was instrumental in pulling the strings as Scotland started to pile on the pressure. They forced Wales into giving away silly penalties with Kyle Steyn, Blaire Kinghorn and Duhan van der Merwe starting to take the handbrake off in a big way leading to a massive 35-7 bonus point win. Who would’ve thought when you abandon the plan of make chances out of nothing and actually play to your players strengths that you’ll end up getting a great result? Crazy. On paper, Scotland probably are contenders but that might be a bridge too far at the moment. I can’t see them winning it this year, however a top 3 finish is definitely on the cards which would be a massive improvement on last year.

Grade: A. Fantastic effort and great work, well done. Keep it up!

Wales: Yikes…

So that was… yeah. Simply put, that wasn’t great. Wales saw plenty of the ball in the first half and had some decent opportunities but couldn’t really get anything going, much like the second half against Ireland but both sides were far scrappier. Rio Dyer had a great opportunity just before half-time to score but couldn’t quite make the catch. The second half speaks for itself really. Wales just couldn’t keep up with the Scottish pressure. They gave away silly penalties when they didn’t need to and were punished for it massively, and when you pair that with how clinical Scotland were with their chances and the performances that Finn Russell and Kyle Steyn had it was only going to go one way. This being said, there are some positives. I thought the front row looked strong yet again with Wyn Jones, Dillon Lewis, Ken Owens, and Leon Browne scrummaging very well while Rhys Carre had some great carries when he came on (Scott Baldwin only played about 10 seconds so he didn’t have much of a chance to do much). I was also impressed with Christ Tshiunza, Tommy Reffell, and Jac Morgan who should 100% be Wales’s starting flankers and number 8 going forward. I’ll put my neck on the line and say that those three will be the Dan Lydiate, Sam Warbuton, and Taulupe Faletau of this team. The break has come at the perfect time for Wales, as they’ll need a time to fully reassess from two poor games. Also, up next is England and as people always say, form goes out the window when you play your biggest rivals*.

*Absolutely not true in the slightest but hey it’s a fun cliche

Grade: D-. Poor yet again. Take some time over the break to work on weaknesses before the big one in two weeks.

England: The Borthwick revolution is underway (take 2)

On what felt like the most Sunday England v Italy game of all time, Steve Borthwick got his first win as England coach. It reminded me of an early Leicester Tigers type of performance under Borthwick, inoffensive, hardly set the world alight, and sometimes a bit scrappy, but they did what they needed to do. The defence improved massively since last week’s opener with Jack Willis being a huge addition to the side. There were periods where Italy really struggled to make any dent in the England team and lost a lot of territory. Ellis Genge had some brilliant carries yet again while Ollie Chessum is growing more and more into this England team with each game. The same can also be said for Ollie Lawrence, who surely must be a shoe in at 12 now. Going for 80 meters from 10 carries meant he was deservedly the player of the match in what was his best England performance yet. Although if I’m going to nit-pick, and it’s my blog and I usually do so I will, England still kicked far too often. On more than one occasion they’d find themselves in decent field position only for Owen Farrell or Freddie Steward to kick it away to either try and put pressure on the Italian attack or create some cute chances, with neither of them happening often. But I digress. It was a bonus point win and the kind of result that England needed and will hope that they can get some confidence to take to Cardiff for the big one in two weeks’ time.

Grade: B+. Even if it’s not the most memorable or exciting display you did what needed to be done, well played.

Italy: Not the Italy of old anymore

Strange one. After coming so close against France last week Italy probably won’t really feel too satisfied, but it still wasn’t a bad performance at all. The intensity was still high and despite the England tries, they didn’t give up like the Italy of old might’ve. Ill-discipline ended up becoming a bit of an Achilles heel with Lorenzo Cannone and Simone Ferrari both being shown yellow cards, with England scoring two tries whilst Cannone was in the sinbin and England getting a penalty try as a result of the Ferrari incident. But overall, it was still a performance that we’d come to expect from Italy nowadays. The rugby was fast-paced and free flowing, whilst Ange Capuozzo remained a menace with some silky moves and was dangerous going forward. Up next for the Azzurri are the world’s number 1 team, Ireland. After the first two games you’d expect Ireland to win this one convincingly just because of how good they are, but in the words of our friends from across the pond, any given Sunday (even though the game will be on a Saturday, just try not to think too much about it).

Grade: C+. Good, but couldn’t quite piece it together. Can still be very proud of how far you’ve come though. Well done.

Class clown of the week: Dan Biggar. To talk that smack in the build-up and only back it up with swearing at the opposition and shouting at Rio Dyer because he misplaced a pass is legendary status class clown of the week material.

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Six Nations Week One Review: New eras, same old reviews

12 months is an awfully long time in rugby and the transition from 2022 into 2023 has proven to be no different. Since the start of last year’s tournament we’ve welcomed new (and old) coaches, seen northern hemisphere teams get big wins against southern hemisphere giants, welcome new players called up, and a certain team in azzurro make one or two people look silly for calling for them to be replaced in the Six Nations (not me though, I even have the receipts of singing their praises for the last three years). And it’s not just new eras within rugby that we’re welcoming, as this is the first post that I’m writing on a new laptop (snazzy, I know). With a World Cup not too far away, it’s one of the last chances for six of Europe’s biggest teams to put a marker down before heading to France in September with the Webb Ellis trophy on their mind. The fans flooded stands with pints in their hands and ready to cheer on their team with the travelling Irish hopeful belting out ‘The Fields of Athenry’ to get behind the Boys in Green, England supporters giving renditions of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ to carry their lads home, the Scottish faithful bellowing an impassioned cry of ‘Flower of Scotland’ at Twickenham, and the Welsh fans singing along to Tom Jones classic Delilah Max Boyce’s ‘Hymns and Arias’. With the dust having settled from the opening weekend there’s only one thing left to do and that’s give some reviews and predictions that will undoubtably age horrendously, let the grading commence!

Wales: Parts looked promising, other parts not so much…

Any Welsh fan watching on Saturday will agree that those 80 minutes were unarguably, a game. After the opening 20 minutes it looked as if it would be a result that mirrored a cricket score, but as the game went on it got somewhat better. The first half, put bluntly, was really bad. Wales made far too many defensive errors (which you cannot afford to do against this Ireland team), discipline was poor, and were too slow with their passing which came back to haunt them a few times, namely the intercepted James Lowe try. Things did improve in the second half as they responded early with a Liam Williams try, but the Irish defence stayed strong. The opportunities were there as Ireland’s discipline did start to go a bit shaky and Wales enjoyed a lot of possession and territory, but a mixture of not doing enough with the ball and a strong Irish defence meant that nothing could come of it and the campaign gets off to a poor start. There were some individual performances that deserve praise. I thought Joe Hawkins played really well and is starting to make that 12 shirt his own, Jac Morgan looked strong again, and Tommy Reffell, Dillon Lewis, and Alex Cuthbert impressed me when they came on. Many questions will be asked about who should start at Murrayfield next week, and I for one don’t envy Warren Gatland on making that choice.

Despite whatever was going to happen on the pitch on Saturday, it doesn’t overshadow what’s happened off it and the stories that have come to light in recent weeks. Everyone knows what I’m on about, and in all honesty it would be cowardly if I didn’t mention it. It sickens me to my core that any employee of a major organisation thought for so long that they could say the things they did and act in the manor that they did and attempt to pass it off as “banter”, let alone the people running the damn thing. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the all women who have come forward to share their stories of their harrowing experiences of bullying and harassment as well as the toxic and sexist culture that has existed within the WRU for so long and I sincerely hope that it’s the start of an enormous overhaul. Words don’t begin to describe how despicable this whole situation is.

Grade: E. Far from good, but signs of some potential.

Ireland: Big marker put down

What else can be said other than a perfect start. The Boys in Green haven’t won in the Welsh capital since 2013 but they weren’t put off by that in the slightest. They absolutely steamrolled Wales in the first half with tries from Caelan Doris and James Ryan coming in quick succession, James Lowe capitalising on some poor passing to score a try from an interception, and Johnny Sexton kicking 12 points from penalties and conversions. The passing was quick and and concise and they were willing to commit men against a Welsh team that were left chasing shadows for the first half. The attacking intensity wore off slightly in the second half, but what they lacked in attack they more than made up for with a great defence. Barring the Liam Williams try, they weathered Welsh storms by absorbing the pressure and turning the ball over fantastically, all leading to Josh Van der Flier’s late try to confirm the bonus point. All in all, it was a perfect game from Andy Farrell’s men as they displayed how dangerous they can be in attack and how tight a defensive ship they run when under pressure. It was the type of display that we as rugby fans would expect from New Zealand, and if it carries on for the rest of the tournament then the type of form that they’d want to carry into the World Cup. Is this the time they finally get further than a somewhat disappointing quarter final defeat? You wouldn’t bet against it. Up next for the Boys in Green is a visit from France in what isn’t unfair to call an early championship decider and I’m already beyond excited for it… so naturally it’ll probably be a snooze fest 12-12 draw.

Grade: A*. Absolutely perfect performance, star of the week!

England: What even is tackling?

I don’t know why I bother getting my hopes up. Expectations were high for the first game of the Borthwick era but it ended in (another) Calcutta Cup defeat. When England played a bit of rugby and strung some passes together it worked fairly well, but they didn’t do it anywhere near enough. They were wasteful with their chances and weren’t clinical enough, which was the exact opposite for Scotland. It wasn’t an issue of not having enough of the ball, it was just a matter of being wasteful when they had it. A number of unforced errors turned out to be England’s achilles’ heel at times, most notably the turnover from a poor ruck which lead to THAT first half Duhan van der Merwe try. Speaking of said try, while it was an incredible run the tackling, or lack thereof, was nowhere near good enough. Without taking anything away from van der Merwe, that should’ve been easily preventable if the defence did their job. Cynicism aside, there were some positives to take from the game. There were some great individual performances from Max Malins, Lewis Ludlam and Ollie Chessum, and the scrum greatly improved when Dan Cole came on (what year is it again?). There are lessons to be learned before another home clash next weekend, this time to Italy. You’d favour England in that one but with how both teams performed in their opening fixtures, eeehh I’m not so sure.

Grade: D+. Disappointing result, definitely should’ve done better.

Scotland: Duhan van der JESUS LOOK AT HIM GO!

The Scots came with a clear and obvious plan and executed it perfectly. They were never going to dominate in possession as that’s rarely their style when playing England but like last year’s encounter, when they got the ball they used it well and made the most of it. The team selection was perfect to execute this. While some eyebrows were raised at Sione Tuipulotu getting the nod over Chris Harris, he didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon. He looked dangerous every time he had the ball and timed his kick to perfection for Huw Jones’ try. All of the backs had a great game, perhaps none more so than Duhan van der Merwe. While there was some questionable tackling in the lead up to his try, it was still something special. The forwards had a great showing as well, especially the front row. George Turner and Pierre Schoeman made some great carries while WP Nell had some great scrummaging battles with Ellis Genge. With all this being said, I am reserving a bit of judgement for now. Don’t forget that this happened last year before a loss in Cardiff in their second game, and look how the rest of that campaign went. Looking ahead to Wales next week the main area for improvement would be possession of the ball. While not seeing much of it worked against England, Wales will have a huge point to prove after the Ireland game and if this Scotland team have the ball more often they could put up some serious scores this tournament and give France and Ireland some real challenges

Grade: B+. Very impressive, but don’t get complacent.

Italy: Capuozzo is king

We were this close to greatness, *this* close. There was a lot of hype surrounding Italy before this, and it was justified. They had a great 2022 with impressive wins against Wales in Cardiff during the last Six Nations and a first ever win against Australia in Florence in the Autumn. After two early French tries, the Italy of old would’ve collapsed, however this isn’t the Italy of old. They kept their heads up and kept fighting on. At 19-6 down it looked as if the floodgates may open, however a moment of magic from Ange Capuozzo for his try and Tommaso Allan’s penalty meant that the Azzurri were only 5 down at half-time. A gutsy performance in the second half had the French nervously wiping sweat from their brow. With a penalty try and penalties kicked by Allan, Italy had the ball deep in the French half trailing by 5 with the clock red, however in the end it wasn’t to be. The intensity from Italy was something else and they weren’t afraid to go toe to toe with one of the best teams currently in world rugby. They were strong in the lineout and maul as well as looking dangerous going forward. In the end, France were just the better team. They didn’t disgrace themselves in the slightest, and that kind of performance could get them some decent results this tournament. Usually a trip to Twickenham would be a foregone conclusion before a whistle has been blown, but these are strange times we’re living in. Don’t be too surprised if we see a shock result.

Grade: B-. Honestly, I’m impressed. Keep that up and you’ll get a few wins this year.

France: Did what was needed

Bit of a weird one, but maybe that’s because we’ve come to expect the best from France every time they take to the field. It wasn’t the absolute steamrolling that some may have expected, but they were far from poor. Their discipline wasn’t the greatest, a point which Shaun Edwards alluded to after the game, and that perhaps made it closer than it needed to be. With that being said though, they turned up the tempo when they needed to and made the most of their opportunities. Thibaud Flament was fortunate with how his charge meant that the ball went perfectly into his hands but sometimes you need a bit of luck, while Sekou Macalou and Matthieu Jalibert were important additions from the bench. It says quite a bit that the general consensus was that the performance overall wasn’t the best yet France still won with a bonus point. They’ll want to be much more disciplined next week, in all they gave away eighteen penalties and Ireland showed on Saturday how they can harm teams that give them even a sniff of an opportunity, but I imagine a Shaun Edwards grilling on the issue of discipline will trigger a bit of a response from Les Bleus next week in Dublin.

Grade: B. Not the most convincing and a little too close at times, but got the job done in the end.

Class Clown of the Week: England’s tackling for the van der Merwe try. I’m still not over how bad that tackling was, and won’t be for a while.

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Rugby

Six Nations Week 5 Recap: All’alba Vinceró

“Although we’ve come, to the end of the road, still I can’t let go. It’s unnatural. You belong to me. I belong to you.” I mean, I assume that Boyz II Men were talking about the Six Nations when they made End of the Road. Yes just like that, the Six Nations are over for another year. All in all, that was a pretty good tournament. We’ve seen France put out a very solid statement 18 months away from a home World Cup, Ireland do their usual look great before eventually going out in the quarter finals of said World Cup, and Italy showing what they bring to the Six Nations (WOAH HOOOO we’ll get into that). Just as we thought many questions have been answered, a whole new bunch have been asked. The Graded journey has yet again come to an end for another year and as I thank you for joining for another fun tournament, let’s get into the last grading of the 2022 Six Nations!

Wales

When I say I would’ve loved to experience the 80s and 90s I meant experiencing stuff like the rise and prime years of Britpop, Thomas Hearns, Mike Tyson, and Marvin Hagler tearing up the boxing scene, and a first date going to see Titanic in the cinema. NOT the Welsh national team being naff. I’ve said all tournament that there were red flags in this team. The inability to take chances when given them (France) and starting slowly (Ireland and Scotland/England to an extent) became this team’s undoing on more than one occasion. But never in my wildest dreams though did I think Wales would lose to Italy. They just never seemed to get out of second gear. Whilst there were some individual moments of brilliance such as the tries from Owen Watkin, Dewi Lake, and Josh Adams, and the late defensive tackle from Adams which stopped an almost certain try, it never felt convincing. Italy were more than happy to soak up the fairly poor and one-dimensional Welsh pressure and managed to make them commit silly mistakes so that they could keep the points ticking over from penalties to stay in the game all before Capuozzo’s moment of magic.

It’s easy to point the finger at the coaches and players, but this isn’t on them. This exposed the cracks that have been in the WRU for decades. There’s never been a sniff of a contingency plan in place since the 70s. Why do you think there was such a slump in the 80s and 90s? The golden generation was coached perfectly under Warren Gatland but one day they’ll leave, and most of them have. What comes next? Much like the past, the WRU haven’t given a thought to it because things were going well for the national team. And when things are going so well in the present not planning for the future is easy to do but can also be disastrous. The regional game has no real depth to it, as was shown this weekend with the Blues and Scarlets losing in South Africa with their squads lacking their main players. You know who wouldn’t have got embarrassed like that? Premiership teams. Teams like Leicester, Saracens, and Harlequins who are missing major players but don’t get turned over when they have to play during the international window. The RFU’s system is incredible in having a smooth transition from the national leagues to the higher clubs and great funding and promotion for the English clubs all the while doing the same for the English national team. While we were concentrating on the glory of the national team over the last 15 or so years the regional game has gone into decline, and there’s no quick fix there.

Oh and the Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan? Last I heard he’s chained himself to the gates of the Senedd and isn’t leaving until Wayne Pivac is sacked. What a mess.

Grade: F-. This was painfully obviously going to happen. You’ve papered over the cracks for too long but now they’re there.

Italy

REJOYCE! THE STREAK IS OVER! 36 GAMES WITHOUT A WIN AND WE’RE BACK BABY! SEVEN YEARS OF HURT, NEVER STOPPED ME DREAMING! IT’S COMING HOME IT’S COMING! RUGBY’S CO… sorry wrong sport. The score-line may have been close but the Azzurri did anything but scrape a win. They were much the better team throughout and had their game plan nailed down to a T. The defence held strong and remained solid whilst they were lightning going forward. Montanna Ioane had probably his best game in an Italy shirt and although he wasn’t on the scoresheet he was an absolute menace all day. That run he made from the dead ball line in the second half was absolute *chef’s kiss*. The dynamic duo of Edoardo Padovani and Paolo Garbisi kept the points ticking over and it managed to build up for Ange Capuozzo going on the run of his life to put Padovani in to score and Garbisi to kick the winning conversion. Being Welsh this does sting quite a lot but this was always going to come sooner rather than later. It ends the debate surrounding where do Italy go next, because they clearly have a bit of quality about them. Call Georgia or Romania up by all means if you want to, but it should never be at the expense of Italy. This could be a turning point in Italian rugby’s recent history. They’ve upset a major player in their back garden, plus when you add their solid base of players and coaches into the mix who know where the future will take them.

Grade: A*. I’ve said for ages that you’ve had this in you! Star of the week!

Ireland

Triple Crown secured in what may feel like somewhat of a bittersweet celebration. There’s no doubt that Ireland would’ve wanted that Six Nations trophy but they’re on the right track. The first half started very well with Dan Sheehan and Cian Healey scoring for the boys in green. Even when Scotland scored just before half time their heads didn’t drop and came out in the second half firing. Josh van der Flier and Conor Murray managed to wrap up the game and the bonus point victory to secure the win and the first piece of silverware for Andy Farrell as Ireland coach. It was a disciplined display and they managed to do exactly what was needed of them. I’m particularly impressed with the strength of the Irish bench. To have players like Murray, Robbie Henshaw, Peter O’Mahoney, and Joey Carbery to come on shows how strong this squad is. Of course in the end it would be just not enough as the result didn’t go their way in the late kick off. This tournament has shown great promise for Ireland. There’s clearly a great team here with some quality players and the coaching staff makes them a world class side. If they can keep this going then there’s no reason as to why they can’t be in the conversation for the World Cup. Now I know that this is vintage Ireland showing up and looking great just before the World Cup for them to crash out in the quarter finals, they’ve done this before so I am throwing caution to the wind slightly, but it’s looking good on paper.

Grade: A. Faultless display. Keep it up for the big one in 18 months!

Scotland

Inoffensive, dull, couldn’t really get much going. The story of Scotland’s performance and campaign as a whole. They never looked particularly interested and even the Pierre Schoeman try didn’t feel like it would be a catalyst for a comeback. Whilst they were somewhat in it in the first half, the second was beyond poor and ultimately sealed their fate. Big name players like Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell couldn’t get anything going in the final 40 and Ireland comfortably took control of the game. There was a feeling that there may have been a point to prove after some of the negative press for key players in the week but it wasn’t really there. The defence looked solid enough at times but ultimately they gave away too many silly penalties and were far too ill-disciplined, all summed up by Ben White’s (not that one) late trip to the sin-bin for his deliberate knock on. This means that it’s a third consecutive 4th place finish for Scotland in a tournament where they should’ve done better. The team and players are good enough to push for championships or triple crowns at least but it’s just not come together, again. There’s plenty to work on for Scotland, but the task isn’t particularly massive. The quality is there, just play to your best players strengths and abandon the try and make chances out of nothing style.

Grade: E. Just a bit of a dud in the end.

France

After 12 long years, Les Bleus finally have their Six Nations championship and managed a grand slam in doing so. They’re deserved winners not only on the day but in the whole championship. Gael Fickou and Francois Crois managed to score in the first half to ease any early nerves while that man again, Mr Incredible, the man with the iron cheekbones, Antoine Dupont took France over in the final 10 minutes to confirm the win. This is something that’s been brewing for years. France have been one of the best teams and have played some of the best rugby for the last four tournaments and this would be the year it finally paid off. With a squad that’s not really been in the Grand Slam winning position before it could’ve been easy to fold under the pressure like the France of old may have, but this isn’t the France of old. They kept it tight at the back and were just better overall in attack, chances created, and with ball in hand. It showed how good France are, and they’ll be an excited nation looking into the future. I would say that it may be difficult to keep this consistency going after such a stellar campaign were it any other team, but France have performed like this for years. With a home World Cup looming after a tournament like that and having played New Zealand off the park last Autumn, South Africa’s grip on the Webb Ellis trophy might be loosening ever so slightly as the Springboks nervously wipe the sweat from their brow whilst looking at the oncoming French train of destruction behind them.

Grade: A. Icing on the cake for a marvellous tournament. C’est magnifique!

England

Another year of Six Nations mediocrity over, thank god. I really had hopes for this team, but Saturday’s game proved how far off the mark they are. The annoying thing is that the players are there. They’re more than good enough but it just hasn’t clicked this tournament. There were instances where they looked like they could maybe produce something, such as the Freddie Steward try and Joe Marchant had some decent breaks, but there wasn’t really that edge to them. In what will be irritating to Eddie Jones and co. it’s a third place finish in a tournament where England really should’ve done better. Even though it wasn’t the worst performance in the world because they didn’t get battered, what does that say about the expectation surrounding English rugby? Clive Woodward talked about Saturday’s game being a potential 2023 World Cup Semi Final, but in all honesty I don’t see this England team anywhere near the last 4 of that tournament. Not being battered by France isn’t enough for it to be a good performance, the expectation should be to be on level terms with teams like this.

The big question now is where do England go from here? Or more specifically, who do England go for from here? If they want a change before the World Cup then now’s the time to do it. There’s 15 games (give or take) until the World Cup which isn’t the longest turnaround but enough time to get the ball rolling for a cup run. The bookies always have people like Rassie Erasmus and Warren Gatland as favourites, but maybe it’s better to plan for the long run? Jones goes on about a “new-look England” and if there’s going to be one with the influx of younger talent, why not go for a younger coach? Somebody like Steve Borthwick would be ideal. As a Leicester Tigers fan I really don’t want him to go but it would make perfect sense to get him. Ball’s in your court RFU, and it’s a monumental decision to make.

Grade: C-. Not great but didn’t get battered, small victories I suppose.

Class Clown of the Week: The Welsh Rugby Union as an organization. Just read back the second paragraph on Wales to see why.

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Rugby

Six Nations Week 4 Recap: Dates With Destiny

All aboard! We’re at the penultimate stop of the 2022 Six Nations Championship, terminating next week at Super Saturday Parkway. After this past weekend, all eyes are now on two teams in who will end up taking the Six Nations crown with a grand slam still there to be won. In a week that my Fantasy Team took a bit of a pounding, there were yet another three games with plenty to talk about. France very narrowly kept their Grand Slam hopes alive, whilst Ireland will be hoping that England will be able to do them a bit of a favour in the last week. But before we can think about next week and all that it will entail, let’s get into the grading!

Wales

I’m not too sure how to grade this in all honesty. All I can say is that I feel sorry for the poor souls who paid £100 or more to watch it. France were there for the taking but Wales just couldn’t really muster up much in the form of attack when it mattered. The game was there for the taking for sure, but a mix of France’s solid defence and Wales’s lack of creativity in attack meant that it was a bit of a dud. The biggest chance for Wales was Jonathan Davies’s opportunity in the second half but as was the story of the game for Wales in attack, it didn’t come to anything. With all that being said there were some good individual performances. Taulupe Faletau proved once again that he’s different gravy and Will Rowlands had a good showing. I like how there’s two good Locks getting gametime in the form of Rowlands and Adam Beard. It’s no doubt that Alun Wyn Jones won’t play on for much longer and with him in the team for Italy I think that’ll be his swan song. I doubt the team will be selected on the base of nostalgia or sentiment but he’ll definitely play at some point. Probably in the form of the last 15 minutes or so just so that he can break the record. All in all, annoying result but it could’ve been much worse. Luckily there was only around 12 people in the stadium to see it.

Grade: D+. Some good individual performances but this was there for the taking, should’ve done better.

France

France managed to look like the France of old here but still kept that shiny new edge that they have. There’s no doubt in my mind that two or three years ago they would’ve lost this, but Shaun Edwards has made that defence rock solid. This looked like a team that would go on to win the Grand Slam in that they played poorly and didn’t have that little ounce of va va voom that they usually play with but still managed to get a big result. When Anthony Jelonch carried over for what would be France’s only try I thought the floodgates would open a bit, much like how we’ve seen France do all tournament. The rugby was fairly free flowing, if not without the odd mistake and stupid penalty given away, but they still looked like the better team. However it didn’t really happen with France having to defend quite a bit. But with Shaun Edwards at the helm against a Welsh attack that never really got going they’ll take that all day. They still had some eye catching moments too such as the previously mentioned try and Julien Marchand and Gregory Alldirit had some pretty nice carries. It wasn’t the French performance that we expected to see but all in all France won’t care. The Grand Slam dream is still very much alive and the championship is very much theirs to lose. Onto Paris we go!

Grade: B-. Not great but you managed to grind out a good result like champions do.

Italy

In two minds about this one. Whilst it’s now 36 losses in a row and looking like yet another wooden spoon, that was the best we’ve seen of Italy in a long time. They never really gave up, even when it looked difficult, and that says a lot about how this team have grown through the tournament. They do play some nice rugby on occasions, and they did so against Scotland. They looked dangerous at times throughout the first half but it didn’t quite click with either silly penalties or turnovers being their un-doings on more than one occasion. But when Italy come to play, they have started to deliver. There’s reason to be optimistic looking forward for this Italy team (I know that sounds insane for a team that have lost 36 Six Nations games on the bounce and are staring down the barrel of yet another wooden spoon but bare with me). There’s some genuinely decent talent in the squad that are capable of playing good rugby. Just look at their first try, it looked like a move France would make. Paolo Garbisi has shown great promise this tournament and I still think Montanna Ioane is a huge asset to the team. But a special mention has to go to the debutant, Ange Capuozzo. He looked incredible when he came on and got 2 tries to reduce the deficit to only eleven in the end. In the last 20 or so minutes Italy were the better team and probably should’ve scored more tries, they were just beaten by the better quality team on the day.

Grade: C-. Screw it, even though you lost you get star of the week. I’m genuinely so impressed with how much better you were today compared to the last few performances and actually making things happen instead of blowing every half chance you get.

Scotland

Stop. Playing. This. Stupid. Style. Of. Rugby. This was such an irritating performance, yet again. There were times where Scotland played some nice rugby, there’s no doubt about that. Their good moments were fantastic and when their foot was on the gas it was obvious who the stronger team of the two was. Chris Harris had a very strong showing and was rewarded with two tries for it, whilst Stuart Hogg not only managed to keep things tight in the back but also orchestrated some decent attacks. Darcey Graham looked dangerous on the wing yet again and managed to capitalize on mistakes in the always suspect Italian defence. But they didn’t keep it up. This has basically been the story of Scotland for the whole tournament. They play well in waves but they never keep up any kind of sustained pressure for a whole game, and it gets so frustrating to watch. This team should be competing for the championship but their style of rugby isn’t letting them. Italy were comfortably the better side towards the end of the second half and had they done more with their chances in the first half it would’ve been a lot tighter. In the end, managing to capitalise on a fairly naff Italian defence was enough to get the win. Although they’ll be pleased with the result and ability to bounce back after France, I’m not seeing anything that would worry Ireland too much going into Dublin next weekend. Prove me wrong lads!

Grade: B-. Not the most convincing but a bounce back win nonetheless, just please keep it up for 80 minutes in future instead of looking worryingly average at times against the worst team in the tournament.

England

You know what? Fair play England. I’d be the first to admit that I’m hard on this team, and can probably be a bit too harsh on occasions, but when they deserve praise they get it and this was once of those instances. It looked like that it would be the mother of all uphill battles after Charlie Ewels was given his marching orders after 82 seconds and Ireland scored two quick tries, but that didn’t happen. England showed incredible determination and spirit that not even all of Ireland’s best could un-do. Ellis Genge and Jamie George were absolutely world class not only in the scrum but also in defence. Jack Nowell contributed superbly in the scrum while Maro Itoje and Freddie Steward proved to be absolute menaces when chasing the high ball. Steward especially had Hugo Keenan on toast when chasing those high balls whilst Genge was a nightmare for Tadhg Furlong all afternoon. In the end, England were just tired after being a man down for so long and the tries came for Ireland in the closing stages of the game to kill it off. But don’t let the score take away from the fact that that was something special from England. My only criticism is get better security at Twickenham, I’m fed up of seeing Jarvo.

Grade: B. Incredible spirit and could’ve won that if not for the red card. Well done.

Ireland

Bit of a difficult one to assess this. On one hand, a bonus point victory away from home to take it to a last weekend shootout for the championship won’t go amiss. But on the other they didn’t half make hard work of it. When James Lowe and Hugo Keenan scored I thought it would be an absolute trouncing, but how wrong I was. Ireland were nowhere near as competitive in the scrum as I thought they would be and ended up conceding silly penalties in the ruck. England’s pressure was a nightmare for Ireland and with the Twickenham crowd behind them it looked at times like the game could be slipping from Ireland’s grip. But it was ultimately won in the last 20 minutes for Ireland. After Marcus Smith kicked his 5th penalty of the day, the boys in green stepped it up a notch and managed to capitalise on England’s tiredness whilst being able to make the most of the bench bringing on experienced players like Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw. Two late tries from Jack Conan and Finley Bealham were enough for the bonus point and to put a spring into Ireland’s step going into Scotland next week where they’ll try and do their bit in winning the Six Nations crown. Flattering score-line? Yes. Do they care? No. Will Irish fans be supporting England over France if it means they have a shot at the championship? Begrudgingly. Hotel? Trivago.

Grade: B+. Did what you needed to do but looked a bit iffy at times, still put a decent mark down for next week.

Class Clown of the Week: BBC commentary. They were beyond shocking. The constant getting players names wrong made it almost impossible to listen to. They made ITV look competent for god sake!

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Rugby

Six Nations Week 3 Recap: Uncontested scrum, uncontested championship

After a week’s break, the six nations came back all guns blazing with another weekend filled with action. There were more brilliant tries, great passages of play, and some incredibly complicated rules on show. In a week that saw the world become a bit of a scarier place, rugby stood with the brave people of Ukraine while also proving to be a bit of a distraction from the incredibly grim realities of the state of the world. In this most recent round we saw Les Bleus march on in their attempt for a grand slam, a close encounter between England and Wales, and uncontested scrums galore in Dublin. The table is starting to take shape as we pass the half way point in what looks like it’ll be a three horse race for the title. There’s huge game weeks in weeks 4 and 5 for the big three at the top but let’s not look too far ahead and get into the grading!

Scotland

I seriously can’t believe I expected things from this team. They really didn’t look great against France and to be honest they’ve not really had a convincing game all tournament. Granted they did well to bring it back to 12-10 in the first half after it looked like France were going to run away with it but Stuart Hogg dropping it when he had a clear try scoring opportunity to take the lead kind of summed it up for Scotland. This team annoy the hell out of me because the quality is 100% there. They’re not playing to their strengths and are trying to create tries and opportunities out of nowhere. Granted it worked against England but they’re starting to get found out and it became their achilles heel against France. The rugby is far too route one and they just end up becoming predictable and easy to play against. If there’s any positives to take then it’s that Rory Darge looked absolutely brilliant and they’ve got a hell of a player on their hands. Plus Duhan van der Merwe looked better so there’s that too. Scotland now head to Rome in two weeks in what’s probably come at the perfect time. You’d hope that they’d be able to get a win against Italy and this is a team that’s desperate for one. Jeez, what a mess.

Grade: D-. Need improvement, and quickly. Stop being so damn predictable.

France

God is French and his name is Damien Penaud, and when I grow up I want to be Antoine Dupont. This is becoming far too easy to write about because for a third week on the bounce, France have won convincingly. They’ve managed to overcome their lousy record in Edinburgh and get another bonus point win. What shows how great this team is that even if one of their key players has a bit of an off day, as was the case with Melvyn Jaminet (and he still kicked 3 conversions), other players stepped up. Gael Fickou was on fire and Cyril Baille was a man on a mission of destruction yet again. Their speed and precision in attack is a sight to behold whereas Shaun Edwards has made them a scarily tight unit in defence. The next stop on the Grand Slam train is a date in Cardiff with Wales. With Wales being the notoriously slow starters that they are, especially in this tournament, this could be yet another opportunity for France to get some serious points in the bag and a step closer to that Six Nations title that’s evaded them for so long.

Grade: A*. Star of the week! (for the third time on the bounce)

England

Bit of a weird one this. England looked like they’d be able to run away with this pretty easily, but it wasn’t to be the case. They started well looking dangerous every time they attacked, and their defence held firm whenever Wales got near the try line. Marcus Smith kept ticking the points over from penalties to put England 12-0 up into the break. It was a boring first half, there’s no arguments there, but it felt like it should’ve been more. It’s what the All Blacks do in going for the points at every given opportunity to build that lead up as much as possible and as early as possible, but they actually score tries and England didn’t. The second half started much like the first with waves of England pressure but this time ending in a try, with Alex Dobrandt capitalising on one of the worst lineouts I’ve ever seen in my life. The team managed to weather a Welsh charge and got a result that was much closer than it needed to be and not even the ITV coverage could spoil it for the England fans. A lot of plaudits went to Smith for yet another great performance, but there were many solid showings from the England players. Ellis Genge had a good outing and Freddie Steward had probably his best performance of the Six Nations so far. As a Tigers fan, that would delight me but it’s just irritating it had to be against Wales. Maro Itoje was on fire and proved to be an absolute menace again, for me he deserved player of the match but hey ho. Pretty meh performance but an important win nonetheless. Up next is Ireland in a “semi-final” as Sir Clive kept putting it (god I despise the ITV coverage). But don’t let that take away from how big England’s remaining games are in the race for the title.

Also, well done to Ben Youngs on becoming England’s most capped player. As the president (and I think only member) of the Youngsy Appreciation Society this was a great win for us and gives us the mother of all propaganda to use in future Twitter arguments.

Grade: B-. Not awful and got the result but was a bit dull at times, you let it be much closer that it should’ve been.

Wales

This was a typical Twickenham performance from Wales. Get absolutely ruined by a slow start, capitalise on England getting complacent, end up losing by a tight score line when it should’ve been an absolute mullering. Sunrise, sunset. Yeah it wasn’t great. The first half was shockingly bad, England were walking all over the defence whilst the attack couldn’t really get anything going be it from a solid English defence or just lack of discipline giving away silly penalties. Much like Ireland in Dublin, it was a miracle Wales weren’t down by more at half-time. Come the second half things started poorly but much like Wales do, they grew into it. Two tries in quick succession from Josh Adams and Nick Tompkins meant there was a game on our hands, and a late one from Kieran Hardy saw the Ghost of Wembley 1999 Past flash in the eyes of England players and fans alike, but the defence held strong and England ground out the win. There were definitely positives for Wales, they improved massively after the Adams try and did play some decent rugby when chasing the game. Taine Basham yet again had a solid game and Alex Cuthbert massively rolled back the years with his performance, had Wales won he probably would’ve won player of the match. But this starting slow nonsense needs to end, especially with France up next. The French have been incredibly fast starters as was shown against Scotland so Wales will have to be on their A game from the word go if they even want to stand a chance against Les Bleus. In case you’re wondering what Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ thought of this then you won’t hear it, he’s taking a leave of absence for the foreseeable future to get over the result.

Grade: C. Showed promise but was just a case of too little too late.

Ireland

Hard to take too much away from this in all honesty. Yes Ireland were good, but it came against uncontested scrums and a thirteen man Italy for 60 minutes. Once this happened it was just going to be an opportunity for Ireland to score as many as possible to try and get a nice points tally in the lead up to the last two games and a push for the title. Before the red card and uncontested scrums incident, Ireland weren’t all too dominant. Sure they looked decent but Italy were putting up a good enough fight. But once a team as good as Ireland get a two man advantage against an Italy side who the last time won a Six Nations game fire was a recent discovery, the writing was on the wall. The rugby they played got better after a frustrating start, and the who would get a hat trick competition between James Lowe and Michael Lowry was fun (spoiler alert, it was neither), but again, the circumstances in which it came was just quite weird. But hey, that’s rugby. I take nothing away from Ireland as this could be an important win for them. If France slip up then points difference could be key so it was vital that they got as many as possible. A weird game, but a nice result going into the England match in two weeks time.

Grade: B+. Sure you were good but it the circumstances were strange. It became borderline bullying by the end, please refrain from slapping Italy and telling them to stop hitting themselves in future.

Italy

The pure agony Italian rugby fans go through is basically unmatched in sport. It’s similar to that experienced by fans of say Bolton Wanderers or the Jacksonville Jaguars, but turned up to eleven. They didn’t start off too badly, Ireland did get a try through Joey Carbery but it wasn’t a complete demolition job from the word go. But then it went peak Italian rugby with hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi having to go off injured and his replacement, Hame Faiva, was sent off. This prompted uncontested scrums and Italy having to go yet another man down, with number eight Toa Halafihi being sacrificed. Unsurprisingly, it all went steeply downhill from here. It would’ve been the mother of all David v Goliath stuff for Italy to mount any kind of challenge back and to top it all off, they finished the game with 12 men after a late sin-binning for Braam Steyn. This was the purest form of “if it can go wrong it will go wrong” for Italy. The second they went down to 13 it was game over and it’s hard to really slate them too much when they lost in the manor in which they did. In all honesty I thought the red card was a bit harsh, I’ve seen a lot less given for a lot worse, but that’s rugby for you. This takes it to 35 losses on the bounce for Italy in the Six Nations and with Scotland and Wales in their final 2 games, it could be a seventh wooden spoon on the bounce for The Azzurri.

Grade: N/A. It’s seriously hard to decipher anything from that. Like seriously, how can I grade that?

Class Clown of the Week: The band that played the Italian national anthem. They were massively out of time and this somehow made it the worst performance of the day at the Aviva.

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Rugby

Six Nations Week 2 Recap: “Magnifique”, “ffantastig bois bach”,  “bonus point is a bonus point”

Well that was a pretty decent weekend of rugby. We had a very close encounter in Cardiff, a modern day classic in Paris, and somehow the weirdest convincing-yet-still-kinda-meh bonus point win in Rome. We head into a break with no rugby next weekend, and teams will start to be getting early ideas of what exactly they’ll be aiming for in this year’s tournament. Some have been convincing, others not so much, and again my predictions going into the tournament have aged like a fine milk (apart from France grand slam, that’s still very much on). As I try and do absolutely anything to keep myself awake in the battle of a post-Super Bowl ruined sleeping pattern (which I can’t let happen), and find something to take my mind off the fact that this could’ve been the last weekend of rugby before Europe ends up at war again, let’s get into the grading!

Wales

Not bad Wales, not bad at all. I’ll be honest, I didn’t hold any hope in the slightest after the first 10 minutes. Wales looked lazy and lethargic while Scotland were making scary amounts of ground on every wave of attack. Every phase made ground and with a team as big and physical as Scotland that isn’t a position you want to be in. The alarm bells were starting to ring in what I thought was going to end up being a similar result to the Ireland game in Week One. But as they do, Wales slowly grew into the game and Tomas Francis’s try came at exactly the right time. The second half was better from Wales, they defended well and didn’t let Scotland play the rugby they wanted to. Dan Biggar’s consistency was key and I seriously hope he’ll be okay for Twickenham. The drop goal when you’re a man up with only 10 minutes left seemed like a bit of a brain fart moment but it worked in the end. Taine Basham impressed me again after he was a tiny ray of sunshine in last week’s performance against Ireland, and Jac Morgan had a few moments of quality too in what was a very solid debut for him. Although a special mention has to go to the front row. They held their own against pre and post-substitution Scotland front rows which are both absolutely quality, Francis as previously mentioned got the try, Ryan Elias was a deserved player of the match looking solid in the scrum and ruck, and Dillon Lewis added that little bit more strength in the ruck when he came on and secured a brilliant crucial turnover in the closing stages of the game (da iawn Dill!).

Our friend the Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ was, as you could imagine, up to his usual alcohol-fuelled tricks after the game. The last I heard, he was spotted trying to sell the people of Caroline Street his hand drawn portraits of Barry John and Sir Gareth Edwards and some home made “Wales Six Nations 20212 Champions” t-shirts to fund his ticket for Twickenham. All in all, solid result for the boys in red before a huge game in the big smoke in two weeks time.

Grade: B. Better! Keep it up.

Scotland

As certain as I am that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, Scotland will follow up a convincing opening win with an absolutely horrible performance. It started off pretty well. The Scotland attack was clearly getting to Wales and they were making convincing ground in every phase. I thought the Darcy Graham try was going to open the floodgates a bit but then they took their foot off the gas. They let Wales get back into it which was the polar opposite of what they needed to do. Graham and Duhan van der Merwe were threatening on the wings, Stuart Hogg was controlling the ball well, and Chris Harris, Hamish Watson, and Sione Tuipulotu looked menacing every time they went forward, but it all ended up going a bit meh. Losing Matt Fagerson so early to injury was unfortunate and losing Finn Russell for 10 minutes in the dying embers of the game was never going to make things easier but they just looked bang average for most of the game. It’s almost as if they were trying to soak up the pressure like they did against England but couldn’t get anything going in their favour in terms of counter attacks. It looked like a Scotland performance you’d expect 10 years ago, which is beyond annoying because they’re way better than that. The break has come at the perfect time for Scotland, this is by no means game over and they could definitely still fight for the title, but it will require a hell of a lot of elbow grease and a rugby masterclass against France at Murrayfield.

Grade: D. I know you’re better than this, don’t fall into disappointing old ways.

France

What. A. Game. This was like the rugby equivalent of Ali-Frazier, Hagler-Hearns, or Gatti-Ward (all great boxing matches for those who don’t follow the sport). Two megastars going at each other tooth and nail and leaving everything out there. The first half showed why France are such a dangerous team. The build up to Antoine Dupont’s opener was just liquid rugby and they made the most of their penalties. They managed to force Ireland into silly mistakes and capitalised by turning penalties into points. The sheer power they had going forward was phenomenal and they didn’t stop from the first whistle to the last. Even when Ireland came back into it after a crazy start to the second half they managed to keep their cool and answered back with a try of their own from Cyril Baille. Melvyn Jaminet proved to be key in the victory kicking six penalties and a conversion and was unlucky not to get a try himself. Everything about this French team is brilliant. They’re defensively sound, have possibly the world’s best scrum half-fly half pairing with Dupont and Romain Ntamack, they look scarily dangerous every time they attack, they now know how to keep their cool when things are going against them, and you’ll struggle to find a better back three than of Jaminet, Damian Penaud, and Gabin Villiere. They’re the only team left who can still do the Grand Slam and I’m calling it now, they should 100% be in the conversation for winning next year’s World Cup. Whilst I learned on my recent TEFL course that when teaching you should share rewards equally to make sure that morale stays high within the class, when it comes to graded that theory couldn’t be more wrong. Especially when France are as good as they are.

Grade: A*. Star of the week! Flawless yet again!

Ireland

As fantastic as France were, the boys in green took the game to them. Anything that France came at them with, Ireland fought back. After the fantastic Dupont try and a penalty from Jaminet, it looked like it could be a long afternoon. But then straight from the kick-off Mack Hansen capitalised on a French defence caught napping and ran in for his first try for Ireland, 10 minutes gone, 10-7, game on. Ireland’s lack of discipline would be their biggest undoing throughout the rest of the first half as France were able to turn Ireland’s mistakes into points giving them a 19-7 lead at half time. Once the second half started Jaminet managed to kick yet another three points to give France a 15 point lead with Ireland seemingly looking down and out. But the Six Nations script writers decided “nah” and Ireland fired back scoring twice in 5 minutes with tries from Josh van der Flier and Jamison Gibson-Park. If you commissioned this tv show to Netflix they’d turn it down for being too unrealistic. Yet again, game on. But also yet again, discipline. The French were just that bit too good and forced Ireland into silly mistakes. Despite the Irish bringing the gap down to only three at one point, it would be France who took the win. Whilst this will sting, Ireland can take a hell of a lot of pride from this result. They went toe to toe with one of the world’s best teams and it nearly worked. That performance would’ve 100% beaten the rest of the teams in the Six Nations, it’s just that France are that good. They’re still definitely in contention for the title, as if those England and Scotland games needed to be any bigger, and I don’t think that this is the last we’ve seen of Ireland.

Grade: B+. That was honestly fantastic, it just wasn’t enough in the end. Don’t let that get to you though!

Italy

In a score that is a bit too familiar to Britain’s results in the Eurovision Song Contest since the mid-2000’s, Italy ended up with a grand total of nil-points. It seems like I’m saying the same thing every week with Italy but it just wasn’t good enough. They had a few purple patches but did absolutely nothing with it, their inability to capitalise with absolutely any penalties was beyond frustrating, and they made far too many errors themselves. If there are any positives to take then it’s that Monty Ioane looked better than last week, Paolo Garbisi looked decent again, and at times they did genuinely look okay with the ball in hand. But as England proved last week, there’s no point in having all the possession in the world if you’re not going to do anything with it. In the end it meant that Italy’s poor run against England continues and it’s now 34 losses on the bounce for Italy in the Six Nations (god I feel so sorry for them). Looking forward it doesn’t get much better as it’s Ireland in Dublin next for the Azzurri, those poor souls. Still, at least they have the Euro 2020 and Eurovision titles, and Pierre Gasly (although French) lives in Milan, those have to count as wins, right?

Grade: F. Got nil-ed lads, ‘nuff sed.

England

Having nil-ed a team and got a bonus point victory to put them second in the standings you think that I’d be full of praise, but I’d be lying if I thought that was a perfect performance. To start, the positives. Marcus Smith was the magician yet again, scoring the opening try, kicking the points, and generally making things happen. I can’t stress this enough, the team needs to be built around his strengths. Generally going forward as well England were much better, the blend of youth and experience was spot on. For every Smith, Freddie Steward, and Joe Marchant, the balance of experience from Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, and Elliot Daly (when he came on) was just the perfect formula. Jamie George was outstanding, he managed to keep the scrum stable and was key to keeping the lineout solid. I was super happy to see Ollie Chessum make his debut, and the Ben Youngs fan club (which I think by this point I’m one of very few members of) got a new whack of propaganda to use with Youngsy equalling Jason Leonard’s 114 England cap record. But to be cynical, and I am me after all so I have to be a bit, there were a couple of red flags. First of all were the changes. As much as I liked seeing Youngs equal the record, the team did lose some stability and intensity once Harry Randall came off. Also, and not to sound like a broken record, discipline. There were just too many handling errors for my liking, especially in the final third. The score would’ve been much higher were it not for silly mistakes and it was quite frustrating to watch at times. Plus if Italy were any better with using their penalties wisely then they definitely would’ve scored points, but I digress. Even when you’re me it’s hard to be too negative about a bonus point win. Next up is Wales at Twickenham in a game that I genuinely can’t call, a huge game for both team’s title ambitions.

Grade: B+. Much better, but still a bit messy in places. Tighten up some mistakes and it would’ve been first class, but don’t let that dampen morale. Well done.

Class Clown of the Week: Again, me. For thinking I’d be able to write any kind of analysis after having around 4 hours sleep after the Super Bowl last night. Also, can a player do something hilarious after the break please? Be it hilariously bad or just something funny, I don’t want to have to win the Class Clown of the Week Triple Crown.

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Rugby

Six Nations Week 1 Recap: Weekly Graded 2, Electric Boogaloo

Guess who’s back baby! Yes after 12 months and 3 jabs the Six Nations is back and this time, with fans! The stadiums were full once again after last year’s tournament and the home fans got to see three fairly dominant home victories. There were highs, lows, and questionable officiating in an opening weekend absolutely packed with action. But as well as the return of the Six Nations, it’s the return of graded! It did pretty well last year and in the spirit of most American TV shows when it does well in it’s first season why not run a sequel. It would be a historic weekend as well, with Scotland-England being the last game that Brian Moore would commentate on as a BBC pundit. He is one of the iconic voices of rugby for me. Growing up I would always associate rugby commentary with Brian, Eddie Butler, and Jiffy, so not hearing him on commentary anymore after he’s been on for as long as I can remember will be super strange. Anyhow, the first weekend is now in the rear view and it’s time to get into the grading!

Ireland

Win against a top Southern hemisphere team in the Autumn Series? Check. Absolutely embarrass an opposition team in their opening Six Nations game after said win? Check. It must be 18 months away from a World Cup. This is all setting up perfectly for Ireland to go crashing out of the Quarter Finals to either France or New Zealand at the 2023 World Cup. Jokes aside, very good performance from the boys in green. From the first whistle it was completely one sided as the Irish ran rings around Wales for 80 minutes. Bundee Aki, Gary Ringrose, and Andrew Conway would end up with the tries for Ireland in what was a flawless 29-7 win. In all honesty it should’ve been more, the conditions didn’t really help Johnny Sexton’s kicking and I thought Mack Hansen was going to end up scoring a few times. The attack looked so dangerous and in the opening 20 minutes it looked as if they would end up scoring every time they got into the Welsh half. Whenever they needed to be called to defend they did that brilliantly, with Jack Conan, Tadhg Beirne, and Andrew Porter making themselves nuisances for Wales in the ruck and managing to turn the ball over cleanly. The pack remained disciplined without conceding a penalty in the first half and didn’t until the 50th minute. If I can be a bit nit-picky then I would say that they did waste a few opportunities, the missed kicks were what they were but they definitely should’ve scored more in that opening 20, the fact that it was only 10-0 at half time was a shock to many, myself included. Dominant stuff from Ireland as they get their campaign off to a great start.

Grade: A+. Star of the week! Keep it up.

Wales

What can be said other than yikes? Granted the team is injury ridden with Taulupe Faletau, Leigh Halfpenny, Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, and George North to name but a few all side-lined and Louis Rees-Zammit’s ankle looked like it was taped fairly heavily in the warm up, but even still it wasn’t the best performance. The opening 20 minutes were incredibly poor, there didn’t seem to be much sense of urgency and the defence struggled with wave after wave of Irish pressure. The discipline was even worse and it’s a miracle it wasn’t more than just one yellow card. I wasn’t alive to witness the Welsh teams of the mid to late nineties but this gave me a taste of what it must’ve been like. The fact it was only 10 down at half time is a near miracle, but the second half started just as well as the first. To take any positives from it is pretty tough but there are a few glimmers of hope. I thought the scrum and front row (pre and post substitutions) held itself well against an Irish front 3 that is so quality and Taine Basham looked fairly decent. Up next is Scotland and Wales need to be so much better. Even if it’s at the Principality/Millennium/whatever sponsor has it today Stadium, Scotland will be on cloud nine after retaining the Calcutta Cup and won’t let as many chances go to waste. Room for improvement is there (such as not starting Josh Adams at centre, he’s a quality player but he’s not a centre) and my god do Wales need it.

There won’t be an appearance from our friend Irritating Welsh Rugby Fanas he’s being held in a cell after inciting a riot in the Temple Bar in Dublin. But extenuating circumstances of Irish police not wanting to listen to drunk ramblings of why Gareth Edwards should be the First Minister and how Wales are still going to win the grand slam despite losing, it means he’ll be back out in time for Scotland.

Grade: F. Extremely disappointing, see me after class.

Scotland

Strange one. I don’t know if it was a defensive masterclass from the Scots or if England were just that bad with the ball, I’m putting it down to a little from column a and a little from column b. The performance was okay, but maybe that’s a testament of how far Scotland have come over the last decade. 10 years ago this would’ve been celebrated as some kind of masterclass but maybe I’ve just grown to expect more from Scotland now. They managed to weather waves of England pressure and made the most of opportunities when they came. Ben White used his time in the Premier League winter break to switch sport and nationalities to score on his Scotland debut in a move that was completely against the run of play and Finn Russel kept the points coming from his kicks in what was a patient Scotland display. A penalty try in Scotland’s favour ended up sealing the game for them in what was a strange performance. They looked okay but hardly world beaters. Duhan van der Merwe looked pretty handy at times (WHERE WAS THIS FORM IN THE SUMMER IN SOUTH AFRICA? EH?), and Stuart Hogg was as solid as ever. Confidence will be high as they head to Cardiff to play a Welsh team off the back of a poor result, and you can’t help but think that a win there would really throw the cat amongst the pigeons in terms of the title.

Grade: B-. Not bad, not brilliant, but enough in the end. Well done.

England

Seriously? Not as bad as Wales but come on! England should’ve won this fairly comfortably. This isn’t sour lemons from me but you shouldn’t have that much possession for 80 minutes and lose in a one score game. There was no sense of urgency and players just looked slow. Marcus Smith tried to get things going on multiple occasions but to no real avail. It had the makings of an early Eddie Jones type of game in that after the slow start I fully expected England to hit a purple patch and end up running away with it with a flattering score line but it didn’t happen. They just needed to keep the pressure on after the Smith try but they let Scotland back into it. Two moments of madness from Luke Cowan-Dickie and Joe Marler ended up gifting Scotland a penalty try and penalty to give Scotland the win. I’m not putting the loss down to Marler and Cowan-Dickie because that would be unfair, there just needed to be better decisions made with ball in hand and it would’ve been nice if they actually did something with the possession they had. If any positives can be taken from this then it’s Marcus Smith. The man is an absolute genius and is England’s talisman going forward. For god sake Eddie just build the team around this man and play to his strengths. The maturity he shows on the ball is unbelievable and he just makes magic happen. Plus next week is Italy so you’d hope that will be a win.

Grade: D-. Please actually do something with the class supplies if you’re just going to hog them all lesson.

France

Much like Scotland, interesting. But much better. I expected this to be an absolute battering and in some respects it was, just not to the extent I thought it would be. Anthony Jelonch was gifted a try at the 26 minute mark in what was a huge lack of communication from the Italy team, Damian Penaud managed to get onto the scoresheet and Gabin Villiere kept his impressive run in the Les Bleus XV with a hat trick. On paper yes it’s a great performance, you’ll never say no to a bonus point win to start off the tournament, but it was quite scrappy too. It didn’t look like the team that absolutely embarrassed New Zealand last Autumn but then at the same time it didn’t need to be. Italy never really looked too threatening after the first try and despite frustrating France with their tight nit defence I thought their attack struggled a bit with the French ruck at times. They will 100% get better, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack will no doubt be back to their best soon having both been out for a while with covid plus it’s only the first game. All eyes will be on next weekend where they travel to Ireland in what could be an early indicator in which way the title will go. It’s taking every ounce of my self control to say that you’ll never know which France will turn up because it’s quite boring now and rugby hipsters love France to do well, but if they turn up to be at their best then I think it could be an incredible game next Saturday in Dublin.

Grade: B+. Good, but you can do better.

Italy

So it wasn’t great, make no mistake about that, but Italy looked okay in spells. I just wish that they managed to play a bit more than they did. I think if they gave it a proper go and kept their performance levels up then no doubt this game could’ve been closer. They started well with Tommaso Menoncello becoming the youngest try scorer in the competition when it’s been in the six nations era but much like Italy usually do it didn’t last. France basically scored when they could be bothered despite a fairly solid defensive display from the Azzurri. They did manage to frustrate the French XV but there was an obvious difference in quality. In what’s a fairly more grim statistic, it’s now 32 losses on the bounce for Italy in the six nations with their last win coming in 2015 at Murrayfield where they beat Scotland 22-19, a result that seems absolutely barmy 7 years down the line (yes that’s right, 2015 was SEVEN years ago, yuck). I can only hope that this can be a bit of a kick up the backside in the same way it could be a confidence booster for them. It’s not too unlikely that kind of gritty performance could’ve got a result against another team who weren’t quite as good, and as a Welsh fan that worries me. But until that day, Italy remain the punching bags of tier 1 European rugby.

Grade: F. Disappointing because you could’ve done better there, but to perform like that again is nowhere near good enough.

Class clown of the week: Me. For putting Monty Ioane and Joe Marler in my dream team.

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Rugby

Six Nations Week 5 Recap: Super(ish) Saturday and a Decider in Paris

So I was hoping this would be able to be a reflection piece. A look back at the Super Saturday that was and the tournament as a whole as a winner would’ve been decided, England would’ve played down to their competition again and Italy would’ve had a fairly grim showing again. The latter two happened, but the winner is still well up in the air. It was a bit of a weird one. The first two games didn’t really mean much and the final could’ve been a championship decider, but we have to wait until the conclusion of Scotland-France before we know about that. So what better way than to cover all this than splitting this post into two. The first (and main bulk) will be the bog standard gradings that I’ve done all the way through but keeping a bit at the end until after the Scotland-France game is concluded. I might even do a reflection grading every team’s tournament after all is said and done, but I’m still undecided on that front. Anyhow, I’ve rambled enough. Let’s get into the ratings!

Italy

As certain as I am that the sun will rise in the East and set in the West, Italy will look impressive against a good team for 5 whole minutes before completely going off the rails. I said last week that it would take some doing for Italy to do worse than they did against Wales, but they somehow managed it. Every week since the opener they’ve got progressively worse, and this was the bland icing on top of the disappointment cake. Just a really bad performance, it kind of summed up their tournament. The little sparks of creativity were completely non-existent and the second half was the worst they’ve looked all tournament. Discipline went out the window completely by the end, I think it was down to frustration on Italy’s part. Ioane I thought was quite lucky as well not to get sent off, red cards have been given for tackles like that. They looked weak in their phase play as if (yet again) they had no idea what to do after the third phase each time, add to this getting battered at set pieces then it made for a very poor afternoon. A grim match which Italy were glad to see the back of, and a grim tournament I imagine they’d be happy to see the end of.

Grade: F-. Very poor, and have been progressively the whole last few weeks. Be careful somebody doesn’t sneak into your place with the rest of the class, Georgia has been making a lot of noise and turned some heads recently.

Scotland

B-E-A-uitiful! Yes Italy were poor, but lets not take anything away from Scotland. The first five minutes were an absolute disaster but the Scots bounced back more than impressively. They were brutal going forward yet again and were sound in defence. I was really impressed with Hamish Watson and thought David Cherry was quality. I saw a piece with Stuart Hogg before the game where he said he was nervous about playing at no. 10 but it didn’t show at all, I thought his kicking was tremendous. This has been a really solid tournament for Scotland, and they really could’ve done even better. With 15 men I think they would’ve beaten Wales and the Ireland game was just crazy. The journey of improvement they’ve come on in the last 4 years or so has been brilliant, and long may it continue. A lot of Scottish players had a very solid tournament, and don’t be surprised if we see a lot of Scottish players in the Lions squad for this summer.

Grade: A+. Star of the week! Same again against France would be lovely.

England

I knew after week 1 this was going to be a rough tournament, but never in my wildest dreams did I see this team performing as bad as they did against Ireland. That was England’s worst game in years. The defence was all over the shop, absolutely nothing came flowing in terms of attack and the discipline was laughable. You cannot give away that many penalties at this level of rugby. Too many silly mistakes were made in the back and it cost them dearly. Granted they did their homework at the lineout, but at the total expense of everything else. I thought the Sarries lads were back to their (near) best after the France game but they were way off it this week. The most frustrating thing is that we all know how good this team can be. The world cup wasn’t a million years ago, yet this side is a million miles away from that semi final performance. I was really hoping this would be an opportunity to see the quality in depth there was considering there was so little to play for but alas Eddie Jones stuck with who he knew and we ended up with whatever that performance was. Do I think the big names still go on the Lions tour? Yes. They can still play well, but those who don’t need to be rested for the North America tour. Take them by all means but that tour needs to be about some new blood and the younger lads. Poor game.

Grade: D-. Very poor showing, back to the drawing board and think about where we go from here.

Ireland

I’ve cracked it. So first off, well done on a big win. Did I think Ireland were world beating? No. But they were very clever in what they did. I’ve come to the conclusion Ireland and Burnley are annoyingly similar in their game plans. They have the quality players there, but they’re even better at getting teams to play down to their level if they’re having an off day. Their defence slaughtered England forcing them to make mistakes and thus use the penalties well. They had quality going forward and made the most of opportunities they had. This kind of performance can work wonders against bigger teams, and does it sound similar to a previously mentioned football club from the Lancashire that play in claret and blue? So you could call Ireland the Burnley of international rugby, or vice versa. I don’t know the analogy makes sense to me. In terms of individual performances, Furlong is proving to be even better than I thought and alongside very few other players has basically solidified his place in the Lions starting XV (for what it’s worth I think only Furlong, Stuart Hogg, Josh Adams and Tom Curry have solidified their starting places, the rest is massively up for debate). Sexton was okay and Keith Earls impressed. I’ll be honest I stopped watching before full time, I’d had enough of England being bad and opted for the South Wales Derby instead (needless to say I made the right choice).

Grade: B. Well done! Good work all and I’d like to wish CJ all the best of luck for his future endeavours!

France

The mad lads actually did it, they made Super Saturday a bit of a dud (ooohhh the salt is strong in this one, I’ve been working overtime this week at the South Wales Sodium mine). All in all, fair play France, that was a great last effort in the last 20 minutes to come back. The start was pretty mental, we saw much of the France that we did against England in the just attack and hope for the best. Was a bit like an entertaining football match to start, you have a go we have a go and just not care about defending (how un-Shaun Edwards like of them). Once they went down to 14 I thought that was more or less game over, but they pushed on and got the harshest of heart-breaking overtime wins (I’m still not bitter). Wales should’ve done better at the scrum, they had the ball with 90 seconds left in a winning position for a Grad Slam how do you not win from that? But alas, the French fought on and ended up stopping a Welsh Grand Slam setting up a huge decider against Scotland. All eyes on the decider in Paris at 8PM GMT Friday for the second week running.

Grade: B. Did well to come back, please don’t poke other classmates in the eye.

Wales

Hello darkness my old friend, how you’ve come to haunt me with Welsh rugby again. Yeah, this hurt. Thank god Cardiff won the South Wales Derby and something went right (this is where I’d usually say “sorry Swansea fans” but I’m not really sorry lolz). I think Wales had the right idea, fight fire with fire from the off like England did the week before and it worked for a bit. The front and second row had a decent showing again and with 10 minutes left everything was coming up roses and then, well and then. Once Camille Chat overthrew the lineout I thought that would be it more or less done, man advantage with not much time left is always nice, but the rugby gods had other ideas. Too many penalties conceded will always lead to yellow cards and France nick it with two late tries.

*On that note, the abuse Liam Williams got was nothing short of an absolute disgrace. Much like the “fans” who sent abuse to Sonja McLaughlan for her interview with Farrell and death threats to Ellis Genge for not clapping after the Wales-England game, you’re disgusting and not wanted in the sport*

I can’t be angry at Wales, they didn’t get slaughtered, it just wasn’t to be. To have two less than convincing performances to start to be within touching distance of a Grand Slam is pretty special and I don’t think anyone saw it. There won’t be an appearance from Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ this time around, he’s spent his time since the final whistle rapidly searching Ancestry for any kind of Scottish heritage and trying to find the best deals on Scotland shirts. On to Friday we go to see where the title ends up!

Grade: C. Not bad, just lost discipline and tripped at the final hurdle. You’ve done well, dust yourself off while some of you can look forward to a summer trip to South Africa.

So like I said, we’re splitting this into two parts. I leave you now, and I’ll finish it after the Scotland-France game because oh lord that just got massive. In a bit! (or in a now because the game will already have happened)

*Spongebob Squarepants transition voice* One Week Later

France

Hmm, weird one (drinking game: take a shot every time I say those three words to open a grading). For a team that had to win by 20 and get a bonus point, France really didn’t look up for it. They weren’t as free flowing as they have been all tournament and considering they’re known for their quality in attack this tournament it wasn’t really on show. I thought Virimi Vakatawa was a bit quiet, he almost looked a bit hesitant at times. They still looked dangerous whenever they went forward, but they were met by a strong Scottish defence (there’s a Hadrian’s Wall joke to be made there). They should’ve done more with the penalties they were gifted in the run up to halftime and definitely should’ve done more with the man advantage in the 9 or so minutes after but no dice. When another man advantage came with Finn Russell’s red card they shot themselves in the foot three minutes later with Serin’s yellow. Discipline started to drop when it came to the mid point of the second half, they basically did what Scotland were doing just before half time. Then comes the finish, maybe they were desperate for a bigger win but for god’s sake lads just kick it out and save some face when you’re in a winning position. Ah well, I’m not complaining considering it won Wales the championship. Just wasn’t to be for Les Bleus, again.

Grade: C+. Okay at times but fell at the last hurdle. You’re obviously very talented, just try again next year.

Scotland

“OOOOHHHHHH FLOWER OF SCOOOOOOOOOOOOOTLAAAAAAANDDDDD WHEN WILL WE SEE YOUR LIKE AGGGGAIIIINNNNNNN” thank you gents, much appreciated. Scotland went into this with a solid game plan from the word go and it worked. Discipline dropped before half time, they were lucky to get away with conceding so many penalties with only the one yellow card. Their attack was strong when it needed to be and the defence remained solid, even in the times they were playing with 14. Stuart Hogg had a good game solidifying his place as a Lions starter even more, Hamish Watson and Finn Russell (despite his red card) have basically confirmed themselves to be in the squad, and some of the lesser talked about potentials such as Huw Jones, Ali Price, Dave Cherry and Duhan van der Merwe just to name a few made solid cases for squad selection. Scotland needed this win. It had been a long time coming and wins in Paris and Twickenham makes it a solid tournament. This squad is definitely going places, the improvement they’ve shown in the last 4 years or so has been incredible. Don’t be surprised if this time in twelve months we’re looking at a Scotland championship, I think they can do it. On their day they beat anyone in the Six Nations and honestly I think next year might be their year, who knows.

Grade: B+. Very impressed! I know the Welsh contingent of the class were watching closely and are very grateful. Discipline needs working on a bit but we’ll let future Scotland worry about that

Class Clown of the Week(s): Ellis Genge. Not necessarily for anything he did on the pitch but his response to Tendai Mtawarira calling him out on twitter was legendary stuff, a level of unbothered I aspire to have. Well played Gengey.

And that was that! I did have a thing I wanted to write out properly planned but I’m tired. So thanks for sticking around and all the shares, likes and reads. This has been a lot of fun, maybe I’ll do something like this for the Lions but that’s ages away yet. So yeah, cheers peeps!

*Two weeks later, again* Tom here, yeah sorry I kept you waiting. In all honesty, I completely forgot I hadn’t posted this. I’ve had it written for ages and dissertation writing has kept me busy for a few weeks. With so much writing I just assumed it had already been posted until I realised about an hour or so ago that I hadn’t. Soz x