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

Six Nations Week 4 Recap: Championship Rounds

Ooh it’s getting awfully close now!! To put it into boxing terminology, we are very much into the championship rounds. Another week down and the table is taking shape big time. Wales are a step closer to the jammiest Grand Slam in history, France met an English shaped fork stuck in the road, and Ireland and Scotland gave us pure chaos. It’s shaping up for a somewhat interesting Super Saturday, with all eyes on Paris come 8 o’clock GMT. Am I nervous yet? Not in the slightest. I know come the big day I will be, especially with the South Wales Derby being the same day (mind you with the rugby, the derby and Lawrence Okolie squaring off in the squared circle against Krzysztof Glowacki for the WBO Cruiserweight Championship later on in the evening it will be a helluva day of sport). But we can’t look too far ahead yet, as teacher has still got some tedious bit of admin to do. So without further ado, let’s get into the grading!

Italy

I’ve had enough. I called this team a sleeping giant, a statement that has aged like a fine milk. This was comfortably the worst Italy have looked yet, and unless they pull something hilarious out of the bag against Scotland then this will end up being their worst performance this championship. This was really bad. The decision to take Ioane off for the first yellow card was baffling. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you’ve read these posts then I’m a big fan of Montanna Ioane and in my opinion has been Italy’s player of the tournament and easily their most creative player, which makes the decision to take him off even weirder, beats me. They were poor at set pieces and gave away far too many silly penalties. Their rucking wasn’t much to shout home about, and yet again like against Ireland once it came to the end of a few phases that didn’t amount to much they looked lost. They’ll need to massively turn it around against Scotland, but I don’t see that going particularly well. I’m beginning to think that they are not the sleeping giant I thought they were. All in all, absolutely grim day at the office.

Grade: F-. No where near good enough. Just try and improve somewhat next week.

Wales

“WAAAAYYYYULLLLSSSZZZZZ WAAAAYYYYULLLLSSSZZZZZ WE’RE WINNING THE GRAAAAND SLAA….” No, go away, come on, off my keyboard and let me do my writing, leave me alone Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™. We’re not there yet, but four down and only one to go. What world are we living in where Wales could very possibly win the Grand Slam? Granted, it’s going to be tough going to Paris, but we’re to talk about Italy. What a performance. As I always say you have to take games against Italy with a pinch of salt, but this was the type of performance that was needed, especially before France. Everything was perfect from the first whistle to the last. The intensity was high from the get go and looked strong in every area of the pitch. Italy couldn’t keep up with the strength of the Welsh drive and the wing duo of LRZ and Adams once again looks to be deadly. I was super impressed with Ken Owens yet again (he’s had a blinder of a Six Nations) and Faletau and Navidi had strong showings again, all the more important with Lions places up for grabs. No complaints this end this week which is rare, I know maybe I’m harshest the most on Wales but that’s only because I know that they really are this good. On to Paris where whoooooooaaaahhh Nelly the stakes couldn’t be higher, but this kind of performance was vital for a confidence boost. Da iawn lads.

Grade: A. Star of the week! More the same next week please.

England

Another week, another game where England do their best to see me off. I didn’t see this result coming, like at all. When France scored after 2 minutes I thought it was going to be a long afternoon, yet the men in white fought fire with fire and attacked back at the French blue wall. England’s attacking game was strong, but on the defensive side I think they played very well too. Itoje and Farrell looked much better this week, more so like the Itoje and Farrell of old. Farrell’s decision to kick for the corner late when there were still four points in it was a masterstroke, and it’s that kind of leadership will put him back into contention for Lions captaincy. Anthony Watson played really well and was rightfully given the man of the match. This kind of result will be big for confidence ahead of Ireland. I’m really looking forward to that one, I think that will be an absolute belter of a game. Plus the result puts Wales in a stronger position for the championship, so can’t complain. All in all, good result for England.

Grade: B-. Very solid performance, well done. Happy to see Owen and Maro performing well again, keep it up lads!

France

Hmm, weird one. So France weren’t bad, like at all, they were just second best on the day. The defence held up strong again, but the attack wasn’t quite as free flowing as we’ve seen from them so far this tournament. This reminded me a bit of the Ireland game, but there just wasn’t quite enough there to take Les Bleus over the line. Both of the tries were fantastic, Dupont’s showed how deadly their kicking game can be and Penaud oh LAWD that was beautiful. I thought Jalibert had a good game, his kicking was very consistent but it won’t be enough alone to beat England. I thought the attack wasn’t as strong in the second half and even though the defence still played well, it wasn’t enough. England were too physical with a touch of brilliance from Anthony Watson now and again to see them over the line. So the dream of a Grand Slam is dead but the chase for the championship is still very much alive, which should make for a nail-biting affair in Paris come eight o’clock Saturday.

Grade: C. Not awful but not amazing. More than possible for you to bounce back.

Scotland

Chaos, utter chaos. No real attack or defence plan, just pure vibes. This was super entertaining for the neutral, and probably very frustrating for Irish and Scottish fans. Scotland gave away far too many silly penalties, and their line out game was absolutely woeful. They did however make up for it in their scrummaging. I thought they looked strong defensively apart from the first Ireland try, but giving away stupid penalties became their Achilles’ heel. When they played ball in hand I thought they played very well as they have all tournament. Hamish Watson was outstanding in my opinion, the strength he possesses is scary and in my opinion definitely needs to be in the Lions squad, maybe even a starter (but it would be hard to justify him starting over Curry or Tipuric). Some sparks of cute flicky rugby worked, but it wasn’t enough. Said cute flicky spells were seen in motion with Huw Jones’s try, but ultimately they couldn’t muster up enough of a challenge. All in all, weird game and even weirder performance. It was essentially the kind of performance you expect in the last 15 minutes but for the full 80.

Grade: D. Feel a bit harsh doing this but you need to be more disciplined. Silly mistakes cost you valuable points and marks, want to see better next week please.

Ireland

Chaos, utter chaos. No real attack or defence plan, just pure vibes. In all seriousness, not terrible but nothing ground-breaking. Their rucking was fantastic and were really clever in causing Scotland to continuously make mistakes. I fully expected them to kick more as that’s what most team’s game-plan is when it comes to Scotland but keeping ball in hand was definitely the right call. The first try was very cleverly worked, even if benefiting from a Scottish defensive brain fart. But that’s where Ireland were at their strongest, capitalising from Scotland mistakes and turning penalties into points. I thought they tried to be a little bit too cute and clever at times leading to conceding some silly knock on’s but in the end it didn’t mean too much. I struggled with this one, I really didn’t know what to put. It was such a weird game that it was quite difficult to find anything to say about it. Had Ireland lost it would’ve looked awful and probably be put down to lack of game plan, but their quality ball in hand and capitalising on Scotland making too many silly mistakes definitely helped. I thought discipline dropped a little bit towards the end, conceding a few penalties they really didn’t need to and nearly let Scotland back into it, but they held firm. England next and in all honesty I have no idea which way that goes. I think it’ll be one of those games where I have no idea what the result will be but after it’s finished it will be painfully obvious it was always going to go that way, rugby eh?

Grade: C. Don’t think I can’t see you there making your classmates make mistakes for your own benefit! Very clever, but don’t make too many yourself like you did towards the end of the day.

Class Clown of the Week: Maro Itoje. Much like LRZ against England I don’t think he was expecting his try to be awarded. The look of surprise on his face after it was given has strong meme potential. Along with a very solid performance I liked this from him, well played Maro.

Six Nations Week 3 Recap: Trouncing’s and Controversies Galore

I’m back! So… did you miss me? Yeah, thought not. We’re at the midway point now, three games down for most and two to go and things are starting to get pretty interesting. The table is starting to take some shape and it was nice to get rugby back albeit for a day. This week’s post is a tad shorter, unfortunately France-Scotland was postponed due to a covid outbreak in the French squad which isn’t nice. I can only wish them the best and hope everyone makes a speedy and healthy recovery. But we still managed to get two entertaining games, one absolute annihilation and the other wooohhhhooooaaaahhhhh doctor we’ll get to that. I was feeling a little bit under the weather when watching the games and I have watched highlights back so my analytic cap may not have been as sharp as I hoped but I’ve done the best I can. This is shaping up to be a very interesting and possibly even more unexpected tournament than most would’ve thought. Imagine 5 years ago saying the most likely winners going in on paper would’ve been Scotland or France, and suggesting Wales would do the Grand Slam would get you funny looks, crazy. Anyway, I’ve rambled enough. Without any further ado, let’s get into the grading!

Disclaimer: I make more jokes than usual this week with the nonsense in the Wales-England game. I only do them to try make light of the games, not to rustle any jimmies. Nothing is personal or made to annoy anyone, I’m just trying to be clever and have a laugh in good spirit

Italy

Good god. This is the worst Italy have looked all tournament. I never thought they’d win, I didn’t think Ireland were ever *that* bad, but I expected better than that. From the first whistle they really struggled with the Irish drive. The creativity that was there for the opening two games was non-existent. It’s as if whenever they got to their fourth or fifth phase, they had absolutely no idea what to do next. They conceded far too many silly penalties, and when it came to the set piece they got absolutely battered. As the game went on they lost discipline a bit too easy for my liking. Some heads started to drop and they were visibly frustrated during the last 15 minutes, this was shown in the two yellow cards. I’m not angry or ashamed, I’m just disappointed. I’ve talked up this Italy team a lot and I really do think they have potential to be great, but it wasn’t shown against Ireland. Overall, a grim day for the Azzurri.

Grade: F. Very disappointed, you’re better than this. Stay behind so we can properly see what went wrong and where.

Ireland

That’s the Ireland everyone knows! That was desperately needed for the Boys in Green. At times they looked like the Ireland of three/four years ago. The tempo was high from the first whistle and it got them the result. Their game plan was executed to perfection. The attack was free flowing and a very disciplined defence kept Italy at bay forcing them into mistakes. The front and second row played incredible, they completely dominated the scrum. I was very impressed with their rucking forcing turnovers and keeping onto the ball well. This is how good Ireland can be. I know you should take games against Italy with a pinch of salt but they were very impressive. Ireland haven’t been awful this tournament in my opinion. I was never sold on the “Ireland are finished” train because they had to play Wales with 14 men and the best French team we’ve seen in well over a decade. This could kick start their tournament, not to win it but definitely for a strong finish. Well done Ireland, I knew you had this in you.

Grade: A-. Star of the week! Brilliant comeback from the last two weeks, well done!

England

Jeez this was a controversial one, I think talking about Brexit would cause less arguments. Let’s try anyway, in for a penny in for a pound. To address the Elephant in the room early, I think Owen Farrell was absolutely right to contest the referee’s decision for the first try. Fellow Welshies, hear me out a second. If Pascal Gaüzère said to Alun Wyn Jones time was paused so he could get the squad together pre-penalty, just as Alun Wyn arrives at the huddle Gaüzère tells Farrell he can play on who kicks it cross field to a mostly unmarked Jonny May while the water teams were still on the pitch and Wales were mostly huddled for May to score, you’d be understandably angry. You’d also love Alun Wyn if he stuck up for his team and contested it, so I don’t blame Farrell in the slightest. In a game where the referee’s word is so important you’d only want it to be fair. Apart from that and the second try (which I’ll get to), weird performance. England did very well to get back to tie the game and I thought looked very dangerous ball in hand. There were aspects of creativity and I was worried every time Daly, Watson, Slade, or May had the ball in the 22. But to let up 16 unanswered after tying the match isn’t good enough. You need to use that momentum in your favour, not let it slip and blow it. I’m in two minds about Itoje’s performance. Sure he conceded too many penalties but a lot of it was either poor timing or just trying a bit too hard. Someone probably should’ve stepped in and just told him to calm down a bit and to stop trying to do so much, because when he did things right I thought he did very well. Overall, okay in parts but not great at kick starting a genuine push.

Grade: D+. Did well in parts but let slip massively at the end. Need to see out games better and keep your cool.

Pascal Gaüzère… Sorry! I mean Wales

Oh come on! Of course I was going to joke about it! I know self deprecation isn’t for everyone but if you can’t laugh at yourself then who can you laugh at? I’m trying to hear the screams of Grand Slam from our weekly reoccurring friend Irritating Welsh Rugby Fan™ but I can’t seem to find them. Where you at? Oh… you’re hungover. Still? The game was quite a while back now. Nope, still nursing it? Fair enough. I’m not going to be a bad winner but this was huge, for the first time this tournament Wales have genuinely impressed me. The first try was a bit naughty and calls for it being rough on England are fair and everyone’s made their minds up about the second (for what it’s worth, I thought it was a knock on). But the game wasn’t won there. Defensively sound and not afraid to go forward meant Wales were able to keep their foot on the gas. They showed great spirit to come back from level terms to score 16 more points and that was where the game was won. The Wales that played Ireland and Scotland would’ve probably let England even more back into it and possibly win but they showed great character to stop it from happening. Faletau played really well and Callum Sheedy looks to be one hell of a player. The boys in red looked threatening every time they were in the 22 and Adams and LRZ on the wing excites me not only now but in the years to come. If I’m allowed to be a teeny bit pessimistic still (because that’s what I do) I still think Wales gave away too many penalties and looked a bit meh at times at set pieces but overall, much better. The jammiest Triple Crown winners in history? Maybe. And I can’t believe we’re genuinely looking at a Wales Grand Slam (like… how?).

Grade: B+. Much better but not without a few wobbles throughout.

Class Clown of the Week: Brian Moore. His “The Super Bowl was last week” comment when the TMO was looking at a possible Wales forward pass just before half time was absolute gold (even if technically wrong because it was 3 weeks before the game, I won’t let facts get in the way of a funny). Well played, Brian.

Six Nations Week 2 Recap: The Good, the Somewhat Unconvincing, and the Defensive Masterclass

Told ya! I said this would be weekly and I’d stick at it. Another week of Six Nations fixtures down, no more wiser or have any clue how this tournament will end up going. There were more moments of beautiful rugby, questionable officiating, unconvincing performances from the big boys and shoulder charges. Kind of a weird one this weekend, we were treated to real Jekyll and Hyde games. A really close nail-biter in the form of Scotland-Wales, a high scoring yet still scrappy affair between England and Italy and I’m still yet to make my mind up about Ireland-France. My Dad messaged me after that last one saying he didn’t know if it was brilliant or terrible and I’m with him, kind of a weird game overall. Nobody played particularly awful but nobody was really too convincing. This made it an absolute nightmare to grade, hence why some scores might be a bit generous this week. Teacher was a bit tired at the time of marking so he wanted to get it done. But still, the final whistles have been blown, another game-week down, and a week off gives teams the chance to potentially go back to the drawing board and re-assess where they go from here. Although the rugby’s stopped for the time being, the show goes on at the Sport Addict Corner and without further ado it’s time for the grading!

England

Why must this team be the way that they are. I didn’t think an international rugby union team could annoy me as much as these guys do, but they find a way to get on every last nerve. Those opening five minutes were downright awful. When Ioane scored after 3 minutes I thought it would be a very long afternoon, before quickly remembering the opponents were Italy. Conceding stupid penalties continues to be an issue and there were far too many loose balls, but the game got better. Once Jonny Hill scored we all knew it was only going one way. Credit where it’s due, that was a good win. Sure the performance wasn’t fantastic, far from it, but you can’t criticise a team that won with a bonus point too much. I was far more impressed with England’s work in the 22 this week, in that they actually got there and didn’t kick for 80 minutes. It showed that when England have the ball in hand and play a bit of possession rugby, they’re not bad at all! Who would ever have guessed that a team with a back 3 of Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, and Jonny May were actually really decent when attacking the 22 ball in hand? Speaking of May, that try was *chef’s kiss*. Majestic jump with the elegance of a gazelle. I was really impressed with Maro Itoje, I think he played a very good game and is looking more like the Maro of old. However the other Sarries lads aren’t there yet, their lack of minutes at a top level is starting to show. Farrell looked meh again (I really need to stop putting him as captain in my fantasy rugby team, but the second I take him out I know he’ll turn into prime Jonny Wilkinson) and Vunipola didn’t look fully fit. Taking a more serious tone however, I really do wish Jack Willis a speedy recovery. Rolling players in the ruck really needs to be outlawed because it can leave players seriously hurt. The scream he let out and the look of pure horror Ellis Genge had on his face proves how nasty it was (which I think contributed to Genge’s performance dipping a bit towards the end, seeing your friend get injured like that will leave an impact). All the best, Jack. Hope you get well soon. Overall, not too convincing but the result was badly needed.

Grade: B. Better than last week, even if I am being slightly generous, but there’s areas that need improvement. I would like to see Owen and Billy after class please for a chat about their recent performances!

Italy

What can I say but yikes, again. Italy started really strong. The Ioane try was fantastic and I thought they looked dangerous every time they got into the final third. But, as always, Italy gonna Italy. It was better than last week, but that’s not too much to aim from. Yet again, they gave away far too many silly penalties and struggled with England’s strength at set pieces. There were some decent showings. I thought the front row played fairly well and the Tommasso Allan try showed how good this team really can be, but it’s not there yet. This is a long term team and they were always going to struggle this tournament. The talent is undoubtedly there and I think they can end up being a sleeping giant, but not now. This week they were less punching bags and maybe more punching pads, bit more resistance but still got hit fairly badly without too much response. I don’t know what much else there really is to say. I think most entries for Italy will end up like this unfortunately, but me making any prediction on sport as a matter of public record tend to backfire pretty badly (just look at what I posted about the Pittsburgh Steelers last November) so maybe they’ll turn the tournament around. Who knows?

Grade: D-. Again, sorry to be so harsh on you guys as you did try. Granted it was better but you can’t let up another BP loss and expect a decent grade, speak to me after class where we can discuss some extra hours for a bit more help.

Scotland

Remember what I said earlier about Jekyll and Hyde? Without trying to sound too much like giving an answer to the press on Football Manager, this really was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from Scotland (I’m going to stop saying Jekyll and Hyde, saying it 4 times in one post is surely the limit). This team is still very good and plays fantastic rugby. The first try was incredibly worked with a very clever use of the chip kick. The kicks killed Wales’s rush defence, because believe it or not if you rush everyone forward when Darcy Graham is on the wing with space to run into, the attacking team might have a bit of success. On the defensive side I was really impressed. They bullied Wales into their own territory and made it near impossible to muster up any kind of attack. And then the second half comes and… yeah. Unfortunately for the Scots the ghost of shoulder charge past decided to pop in for a quick cuppa and nasty challenge, this time in the form of Zander Faegerson. Again, it was an unfortunate red card. Like O’Mahoney I don’t think it was deliberate at all however you can’t keep a player on when they commit a foul like that. Much like Ireland, this changed the game. It was never comfortable for Wales in the slightest and Scotland may feel a bit hard done by but in the end just switching off for one second swung the game in Wales’s favour, again.

Grade: C. WHAT DID I TELL IRELAND LAST WEEK ABOUT SHOULDER CHARGING FELLOW CLASSMATES?!?!?!?! Aside from that, unlucky. The performance was good again but I can’t really grade you any higher.

Wales

I really do get the worst of it when it comes to sport and my dual-nationality (makes it sound far more exotic than it is). This team are trying their best to see me off in their inability to comfortably win games with this week being no exception. From the first whistle Wales were clearly absolutely terrified of making mistakes. I thought it would resort to a similar game plan to England’s but thankfully it didn’t. I’m not a fan in the slightest of rush defence and it should be binned off immediately. Shaun Edwards would be saddened watching this display, sat in a chateau with a glass of Merlot seeing what has become of his slow and steady defensive strategy. It’s not Leigh Halfpenny’s job to defend as much as he did and that’s where some errors came from. This won’t work against England. The defence struggled against the Scottish back three, how will it cope against Daly and co.? And the less thought about France’s gorgeous offload play the better. That being said (you’d think Wales lost with the way I’m speaking), there were strong points. The front row impressed me again, I thought Ken Owens and Wyn Jones played very well. But the player of the match (and the weekend) was that boy again, Louis Rees-Zammit. I knew this lad was special, but sweet mother of god I didn’t know he was that special. I’m calling it, once he starts to improve his defence a bit then Wales has their next Shane Williams. See now this is part of the irritating and goading side I wanted to come out last week, and it still isn’t coming out, but Louis looks the real deal. In the faint distance you may hear the irritating Welsh rugby fan scream at the top of their lungs to the high heavens how Wales are winning the Grand Slam, but let’s take it one step at a time. Nice to win? Yes. Convincing? Anything but. Improvement still needed? Absolutely. Hotel? Trivago.

Grade: C+. Similar performance to last week, would like to see some improvement. And PLEASE will you stop relying on your classmates shortcomings and brain farts to wake you up.

Ireland

I don’t know where I stand on this team, I really don’t. Losing Sexton was far from ideal, but I’m not convinced they would’ve won had he played. They were nervous at the beginning, it was quite a cagey opening. Billy Burns was clearly quite anxious at the start, I’m not sure he was fully over last week. A strong point for this team is the lineout for sure, as is the scrum, but it won’t win them the game alone. I felt they tried to beat France at their own game but it didn’t go as they hoped. They tried to be a little bit too cute in their passing and a bit flicky at times but it didn’t pay off. The defence struggled with the French back three, but then any defence would’ve. That being said however, I can’t help but think that performance would’ve beaten Wales. They took France right to the death and came close to winning, but it wasn’t to be. The clash of heads between Healey and Henderson was absolutely sickening and I hope they’re both okay. Overall, quite a strange game from the boys in green. Looked very good at times but just wasn’t enough.

Grade: C-. Not a terrible effort but still not really great. Please see me after class so we can talk about realistically where we can go from here.

France

Hmm, this was odd. I’m really not sure where I stand on this performance. Three years ago I think they would’ve lost this pretty comfortably, leading to “just goes to show you never know which France will show up” comments which have been done to death and have lost any and all meaning by this point. I think this team were scared of making mistakes, and that showed with how much they kept it in the air at the start and were willing to let Ireland have possession throughout the game. The trip from Le Roux was stupid, no other way of putting it, but I thought it was a good bit of officiating from the referee and linesman to spot it. There were sparks of how this team can just switch on showing in Ollivon’s try, it was a great bit of offloading. And France win the first class clown of the week going to Paul Willemse, I found the ball bonk off his head at the try line far funnier than I should’ve. All in all, kind of weird but disciplined. They did what they needed to do in what was a real Shaun Edwards gutsy defensive masterclass. Credit as well to Antoine Dupont, that lad really is something else and in my opinion the best scrum half in the world today.

Grade: A-. Star of the week again but less convincingly. Try not to lose that spark that makes you a bit different and special, and as funny as it was try not to make Paul the class clown too much.

Six Nations Week 1 Recap: The Show Rolls On

It’s that time of year again! Albeit in very different circumstances, the Six Nations is back. There’ll be no bootcut jeans with brown leather shoes, no pints of Guinness poured, no pubs packed, no whatever those absolutely horrendous daffodil and pink sparkly cowboy hats are, seriously, they are absolutely awful, and no red chinos at HQ (even typing that makes me sick). It’s a very scary and weird world out there at the moment but this will bring some kind of escape. Sure, it’s not quite the same. But with the rate of vaccine distribution hopefully this time next year the stands and pubs will be packed again, better days are coming friends. Until then we still have tins and listening to Eddie Butler, Jonathan Davies, Sir Clive, Martin Johnson, and the whole gang to see us through. This will become a weekly thing, I know consistency isn’t really my strong point (just look at how many times I’ve posted in the last 12 months) but I’m fully committed to this one. I’ll look at teams week by week and give them a grade, as if we were back at school, or home-school in this case. That’ll be the last reference to covid, I promise. So all that’s left is to get into the grading!

France

Va va voom! Les Bleus that was some beautiful rugby! For me, the performance of the round by a team. They were silky, quick, and their ball in hand and possession rugby was a sight to behold. This team has really strong potential to go far. We saw many glimpses of it in last year’s Six Nations and not only were they quality going forward their defence looked strong too. Shaun Edwards has transformed this French team to become the quality side we all knew they could be. But being the slight cynic I am, there are some grey areas still. One is the fact that they played Italy, no disrespect but top tier European rugby’s punching bag (sorry lads). It was always expected that they would win and probably quite comfortably. The second is the fact that, well… it’s France. “Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, you never know which France will turn up.” Not to go back to it, but it’s true. It was proven against Scotland last year that their inconsistency is still a bit iffy. That performance in particular showed that they can have the most well planned and balanced team with quality in every area, it’s still France and they still have the ability to self implode. Maybe this year is different, maybe this is the start they needed to kick off their chase for a first Six Nations title (and maybe even Grand Slam) since 2010 and end the British-Irish domination of the last decade because that performance proved they have the ability to. But never count them out to do something stupid or hilarious to bottle it.

Grade: A+. Top of the class! Star of the week

Italy

Yikes, that was harsh on you guys. Despite the score line I honestly think Italy weren’t that awful. There were glimpses of quality, I thought Montanna Ioane had a solid game, but it just wasn’t to be. Their passing at times was a bit meh and they in turn cost them points. The French tries were either quality French rugby or Italy having brain farts in the first half and they were completely tired out by the second. This is a young core, losing Sergio Parisse was always going to be rough and it’s kind of showing. That being said, this team can go far. Once they gel I think they have the potential to go quite far, but this isn’t the year for it. Georgia will be watching that result and licking their lips as they do but I think they’ll improve. Will they win a game based on this weeks performances, at the moment possibly not. Not because they’re particularly awful, more so because the other teams are just better. However, this unit can definitely go far. It’ll be an interesting tournament for the Azzurri with a lot of learning, and possibly an interesting few years. They’ll be one to keep an eye on.

Grade: F. Sorry, it’s not nice to give you this as I saw you try but that score just isn’t good enough. See me after class

Scotland

Well done Scotland, you really earned this. It’s been a very long time coming but you know what? Hats off. They played a very disciplined style of rugby enjoying a lot of ball possession. It might not be too easy on the eye but it works. It gets results, and what a result this was. They played incredibly well at the lineout and were strong in possession. This team can go places. Don’t be any under illusion, this is absolutely massive for morale. To win against England at Twickenham will give them a massive confidence boost. I’ll go out on a limb, Scotland are my dark horses this year. With how some of the other bigger teams played I can see them doing really well and having a strong Six Nations. I’m not saying they’ll go all the way and win it, but I think based on this weekend they’ll finish top 3. The quality’s definitely there, it’s just whether they can put the performances together. I’ve got my eye on you Scotland, and I really like what I see. Dare I say, triple crown winners this year? Maybe it’s too early to say, but I think they were the best performing British-Irish team this week.

Grade: A. Very impressed! Keep up the good work

England

Oh England… England, England, England. What will we do with you? I have a really weird relationship with this team. Being half English, whenever they’re not playing Wales I support them (something punishable by trial at the Hague where I’m from but meh, I don’t care). I had high hopes for this team, I really thought after the Autumn Nations Cup and last year’s Six Nations we’d see much the same, but again I was wrong. That performance was pathetic. Scotland did play well but good lord it was poor from the men in white. They kind of need to get it into their heads that kicking to my starting Lions full back really isn’t the one. The tactics were awful. When they played with ball in hand there were glimpses of quality, it’s something they really need to do more. But alas, we get 80 minutes of kicking it to a team who are happy with ball possession. It’s painfully obvious that the Sarries lads haven’t played enough at a top level recently, that needs sorting asap. In all, they have to be better. It’s Italy next who’s probably ideal, because this team desperately needs a confidence boost.

Grade: D-. Really must try harder, stay after class with Italy for quite a serious chat

Wales

I want to goad. I want to be irritating, I really do. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. That was lucky, a bit too lucky. It was… okay. Look a win’s a win but that wasn’t very convincing. It was quite tight, a bit scrappy and aided a lot by Peter O’Mahony’s sending off. There’s no way I thought that was deliberate by the way, I think the intention to make a tackle was there but you can’t not send somebody off for a challenge like that. There were definite positives however. Ken Owens really impressed me, I think he was really strong in the scrum and played well at the lineout. However my player of the match was definitely Louis Rees-Zammit. It was always going to be big boots to fill replacing Josh Adams, but he more than stepped up to the task at hand. I’d love to see him start more. The winger situation really excites me. Adams, LRZ and Liam Williams are quality players and I can’t wait to see what will happen in Rees-Zammit’s very bright future.

Grade: C+. Not bad but I know you can do better, would like to see improvement next week please

Ireland

Last but not least, Ireland. I don’t want to go in too heavy on them, they weren’t good but neither team were. The red card killed it in my opinion. They looked fairly steady up until that point and they had to play a long time against 15 men. If they didn’t have O’Mahony sent off then maybe they would’ve won, but it was that kind of game it’s quite hard to tell. Fairly scrappy, possibly just a bad day at the office, and ended up tiring themselves out quite a bit. If there was anything that summed it up for me then it was the kick for the corner going dead after 80 minutes were up. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a very strong team. This could be the making of them for a strong tournament, but they need to improve. If I’m being completely honest, based off what I saw I don’t see them finishing top 3. They still have time to turn this around and come March it could have just been a bad dream, but they need to step up to the plate a bit more if that’s the case.

Grade: D+. Disappointing. Improvement needed, and please refrain from shoulder charging fellow classmates

Japan: The Rugby Story of the Host Nation You Can’t Help But Love

The Rugby World Cup is well underway in Japan and despite the tournament being less than two weeks old it’s already shaping up to be a cracker. There have been brilliant performances from the big boys and a few surprises too from some of the second tier nations. Wales v Australia turned out to be an absolute classic and probably the game of the tournament so far, South Africa and New Zealand both impressed and looked strong in their Pool B opener on the first Saturday of the tournament, England impressed me against Tonga and the USA and Pool D minnows Uruguay recorded their first win in tournament history upsetting Fiji 27-30. Among all this, however, the hosts Japan have grabbed many headlines for all the right reasons. Not only did they beat the then number 1 ranked team in the world, Ireland, last Saturday in an incredible game they’ve also been outstanding hosts. They’re a team people can’t help but love and today’s post will look at a bit of the history of the game in Japan, rugby in the last few years and present day and why exactly do the neutrals love them.

Historically, rugby has never been too huge of a sport in Japan. It was played and followed but it’s popularity was probably in a bit of a middle ground when compared to other more followed sports such as sumo, football, baseball and tennis. Rugby was given a poor reputation by the Japanese government in the lead up to the Second World War and was heavily criticised during the war by the fascist Imperial Rule Assistance Association. The IRAA deemed the sport to be too foreign and gave it the name tokyu meaning fighting ball. Many Japanese rugby players died during the war however following its end it saw a rather quick recovery. The sport began to grow in popularity during the 1960s, 70s and 80s with various tours and matches abroad. England went on tour to Japan 1971 in the centenary year of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Japan toured Wales, England and France in 1973. The tour of 1973 went rather poorly playing 11 games and losing 9. Japan have qualified and played in every World Cup since the first tournament in 1987 and hold the record of most Asia Rugby Championship wins with 25.

So all of that takes us to present day. That fantastic famous Saturday afternoon in Brighton seems like only yesterday when Japan rocked the rugby world by beating two time World Cup winners South Africa 32-34 at the Amex Stadium back in September 2015. The term gets thrown around a lot but it was honestly a result nobody saw coming and is arguably the biggest rugby upset of all time. It was at this point Japan began to win the hearts and support of rugby fans everywhere regardless of where they were from. Despite winning 3 group games and losing 1 they ended up finishing third in their group therefore were harshly knocked out (Scotland finished in front of them as they had 2 bonus points). They’re now the first Asian country to host the World Cup which is incredible considering in most of Asia rugby isn’t as popular or followed as much as other sports. They started the tournament against Russia and whilst got off to a shaky start the rest of their performance was strong. Their pace and tempo in which they attacked tired the Russians out quickly and won 30-10. Last Saturday there came another World Cup upset in which they beat Ireland in a modern day classic and what was a seriously feel good moment and a result they deserved. With Japan now on course to win their group and make it to the Quarter Finals for the first time, providing no major slip ups and all results go as planned in Pool A and Pool B then a date with South Africa awaits. Whilst it would be an immensely difficult task, we all know what happened the last time they met at the World Cup.

I believe there are many reasons behind Japan becoming a fan favourite but a big part of it is their style of play. Their attack is strong and they’re an incredibly fast team going forward. The opener against Russia showed how they can tire teams out with their style of play and the win against Ireland showed how persevering they are. They kept playing at a high tempo even at the end and wouldn’t give up. As a team they won’t stop going until the final whistle and it’s almost as if they refuse to tire out. If they play with the same quality and tempo they did in their opening two games in their final two then it will spell disaster for Scotland and Samoa. Samoa are a massive team in size and are incredibly physical and strong, however I believe the quick Japanese style will tire them and be too much to handle. Scotland are better suited to Japan’s style of quick attacking play and have the advantage of playing them last. Despite this, in my opinion it would be a monumental ask from Scotland to get a result against Japan purely because of the quality of the Japanese side. What’s gone down well aside from the performances is the manor in which the team, fans and the country as a whole have held themselves off the pitch. The Japanese team and fans have been respectful and friendly which goes a far way in all aspects of sport. The hospitality shown during the tournament has drawn praise from many professionals and fans alike and it is something the people of Japan can be proud of. It’s been an incredible World Cup on and off the field brining many new eyes to the sport and the game will only grow in Japan from here on in.

The days of losing 145-17 to New Zealand are long gone and with the way Japanese rugby has grown in the last few years and their performances in this World Cup the only way is up from here. If the remaining month of the tournament is anywhere as exciting and entertaining the last two weeks then it will one that will be talked about for a long time.