Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

What did we learn from the second weekend of the 2021 Six Nations?

Posted on 15 February 2021 by Xander Chevallier

Co-written by Myles McDevitt and Marcus Hockey

If we thought Round One was good, Round Two was even better. England got back to winning ways, Wales edged a thriller in Edinburgh and France pipped Ireland for their first win in Dublin in a decade. 

England’s wingers show why they should be used more

England fans were hoping that the Scotland game was an anomaly. Those wearing the red rose needed to deliver a performance that would put smiles back on everyone’s faces. 

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Although it wasn’t perfect, England did run in an array of tries with their wingers on fire.  Anthony Watson’s side step left the Azzuri baffled for the first of his two tries, while Jonny May’s NFL-esque dive was something to savour. 

May is one of the best finishers in world rugby and Watson has lightning pace and reads the game superbly. Both are firmly in the hunt for a starting Lions jersey.

With the backline in form the matchup against Wales should be intriguing. However, if England are to defeat opposition in the upcoming games they will need to reduce their handling errors and penalty count. 

England gave away 12 penalties, three less than last week, and made 18 handling errors, statistics that don’t often lead to winning rugby matches. 

Wales are two from two in the tournament but have benefitted from both opponents having a player red carded. If England are to beat Wales they must ensure they do the basics well and keep 15 players on the pitch. 

Rucking Hell

The ruck is one of the main differences between rugby union and rugby league. The art of two sets of players trying to push each other off the ball sounds like a simple one, but recently the breakdown has become a lottery with regard to cards and injuries.

Both of the red cards seen in this year’s Championship came at the ruck. Few can complain about Peter O’Mahony’s early bath last weekend, but Zander Fagerson may feel aggrieved that the last minute movement of  Wyn Jones did not mitigate the red down to a yellow.

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The most distressing moment of the round however was the blood curdling cry of pain from Jack Willis. Just minutes after scoring his first international try, the Wasps’ flanker was ‘crocodile rolled’ at the ruck. With Willis’ studs stuck in the ground, his body was moved in the opposite direction leaving his knee nowhere to go. He is set for another lengthy spell on the side lines.

Although there are many different opinions on how to address the issues at the breakdown, changes need to be made and laws enforced soon to avoid repeats of Willis’ pain.

Rees- Lightning

Wales’s win over Scotland on Saturday was a classic and one player stood out from the rest. Louis Rees-Zammit. 

The 20-year-old scored two memorable tries to help the Welsh claim victory. Rees-Zammit’s second try will live long in the memory of Welsh fans as he put a delicate chip over Scotland captain Stuart Hogg before applying the afterburners to dot down for the score. 

Rees-Zammit also was instrumental in putting Wales within touching distance of Scotland towards the end of the first half and set up Liam Williams for his 15th test try. 

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In total, Rees-Zammit made 61 meters in the match and showed his sheer class which has been on show for Premiership side Gloucester in recent years. 

Despite coming into the Welsh set-up last October, he has already made an impression scoring a try against Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup and producing a flying finish on his Six Nations debut last week against Ireland. 

Post match, Welsh legend Jonathan Davies even explored the likelihood that Rees-Zammit is in with a shout of the Lions if it goes ahead. On this evidence, Davies appears to be correct.  

Kilted optimism

After this weekend, Scotland will be understandably disappointed not to still be unbeaten in this year’s Six Nations.

When you look at the stats, they dominated; making more than double the number of meters that Wales did with ball in hand, as well as controlling territory and possession.

The Scots can take a lot of positives away from the game. The forwards provided a solid platform from set pieces and a high work rate around the park, while the back row is as good as any that you will see in the competition.

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Scotland have had exciting talent in the backs for a long time, but now Finn Russell and Ali Price have learnt to manoeuvre the team around the pitch, while still playing the brand of heads-up rugby that suits such an electric back line. Darcy Graham’s try epitomised this; pre planned or not, Price and Graham were on the exact same wavelength, and the chip over the top was inch perfect.

When it all boils down to it, Duhan Van Der Merwe’s offload not going to hand in the last play of the game after Russell exquisitely released him was a microcosm of the whole game. Excellent play from Scotland, that did not quite pay off, but so, so close.

Winning when you’re not playing well

The biggest sign of a Championship winning team is winning matches when you’re not playing well. This is exactly what happened at the Aviva on Sunday.

France did not look like the team of last weekend. They had less possession than Ireland, more handling errors, had a slower ruck recycle speed and worse discipline. Yet they still found a way to win.

They were utterly dominated in the first twenty minutes, however they held Ireland to only a 3-0 scoreline. Then on their first outing to the Irish 22, Charles Ollivon crashed over putting Les Blues into the lead despite them offering little else.

France were also a man down when this happened as Bernard le Roux was sin binned for a trip on Keith Earls. Usually the average swing for a yellow card is seven points to the team with an extra man, on Sunday France won the period 7-0.

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The visitors built from there and although it was tight towards the end, France never looked like losing the match. Although they reverted away from the attack focused game plan of last week and kicked far more their play combatted their opponents strengths rather than excessively display their own. They lost many of the statistics but they won the one that mattered, the scoreboard.

Cover image credit: Marco Iacobucci Epp / Shutterstock.com