Saints and sinners: The weekend’s talking points
Hogging the headlines
The BBC showed a great graphic ahead of the Scotland-Ireland game on Saturday, highlighting the total absence of Scotsmen from Lions Test XVs over the past three tours.
Tom Smith, in 2001, was the last Scot to start a Lions Test but Stuart Hogg will surely end that drought in June after his blistering two-try performance that left the Irish too much to do at Murrayfield.
To be fair, Hogg, whose nine Six Nations tries is a national record, was already in most people’s prospective Lions XVs – he’s just making the issue clear-cut.
Unless of course the Lions opt to pick Leigh Halfpenny at the back because of his goal-kicking. The Welshman netted 18 points in Rome to take his haul in the past four Tests to 64 and it will be interesting to watch him climb the all-time points list. Currently he’s 22nd on 624, with Grant Fox (645) next in his sights.
A Shade unfortunate
Another full-back, another kicker. Danielle Waterman scored her 22nd try in 23 women’s Six Nations games as England fought back from 13-0 down at half-time to beat France at Twickenham.
It put ‘Nolli’ joint top on the all-time Six Nations try list alongside Sue Day and Emily Scarratt, whose almost perfect display of goal-kicking enabled the Red Roses to record a third successive win over the reigning champions since their defeat in last year’s championship. Scarratt landed 16 points in the 26-13 victory.
Arguably the performance of the weekend, though, was by Scotland’s women, who came agonisingly close to ending a 63-month winless run. Not since their friendly win over the Netherlands in November 2011 had they achieved a ‘W’ but they pushed Ireland to the wire in Cumbernauld, only to succumb 22-15 to Jenny Murphy’s last-gasp try.
No 8 Jade Konkel, Scotland’s only full-time player, scored two tries but poor penalty misses by half-backs Sarah Law and Helen Nelson ultimately proved costly for Shade Munro.
We could listen to Jonny Wilkinson for hours, but a hat-tip for fellow ITV pundit Sir Clive Woodward this week after his comment on Six Nations evolution.
“I just wish there was this lovely thing called relegation,” said the ex-England boss. “If you had, say, Georgia, coming up and then one team coming down, then you’re going to really see this kick in, teams going for four tries (to chase a bonus point). No one’s going to get relegated, I just think it should go to another step.”
Well said, and well said too Dave Flatman, who came up with the line of the day. “You wouldn’t want to share a rickshaw with any of them,” he said, when discussing the heavyweight French props.
Actually, it would be interesting to see the rickshaw driver’s face when the 24st Uini Atonio clambered in.
Henry Trinder, once close to an England cap, has had desperate ill luck with injuries so it was wonderful to see him mark his first game at Kingsholm for nine months with a try. Gloucester won the Anglo-Welsh tie against the Dragons 24-13.
And he earned the respect of all for the way he responded to a nasty injury to academy player Elliott Creed late in the game, the 20-year-old being carried from the field with a broken ankle.
Centre partner Trinder stayed by his side while Creed was treated and helped carry the stretcher off the pitch. Nice gesture.
Howells that for class
Welsh interest in the Anglo-Welsh Cup is over for another year but not for the want of trying.
The Ospreys ended Wasps’ 14-month, 20-match unbeaten run at the Ricoh Arena with a 31-22 success, and if you see a better offload than the one by full-back Dafydd Howells that put Jay Baker over then you’ve been blessed.
Also catching the eye was the line and pace shown by Tigers hooker George McGuigan for his try at Saracens, and Tom Whiteley’s classy footwork for the winning score in the same game.
Saracens now host Leicester again in next month’s semi-finals while Exeter entertain Harlequins – raising the prospect of a repeat of the 2015 final that Saracens won 23-20 before the competition took a break last season.
South Africa untouchable
It had been nine years since a team won three of the first four tournaments in the World Sevens Series, but South Africa matched New Zealand’s feat by thumping England 29-14 in the HSBC Sydney Sevens.
England had beaten the Blitzboks 21-15 in their pool on the Saturday, but it counted for nought as the South Africans harried Simon Amor’s team out of their stride, turning the ball over with choke tackles as England went too high into contact.
Seabelo Senatla signed off with 17 tries in his final two tournaments and was named Player of the Final in both Wellington and Sydney. He has scored 189 tries series since joining the series in 2013 and departs to Super Rugby with the Stormers as one of the all-time sevens greats.
“I’m not gone forever, so would say it was a great way to press pause in my sevens career,” he said.
Looks like he might get a winner’s medal in the post in May – South Africa lead the standings by 17 points, with only England (68) and Fiji (64) remotely in touch.
World Rugby seem to have given up on their quest to rid the game of crooked scrum feeds, but the England-France match took the biscuit.
At the first scrum, Baptiste Serin fed the ball sharply into the French second row and Australian Angus Gardner let it go. The pattern was set and both Serin and Ben Youngs continued in similar vein for the rest of the match.
It makes a mockery of the law book and while straight feeds don’t really exist now, most referees will at least punish the more blatant ones. Time you did the same, Mr Gardner.
Pass, pass, pass!
‘White line fever’ is usually applied to instances where forwards try to force their way over the try-line from close range when there are unmarked backs screaming for the ball out wide.
In the Northampton-Scarlets match, Alex Waller found himself dashing in the open spaces with a two-man overlap in oodles of space. Easy as you like – except that the Saints prop failed to give the pass. We trust he has been told not to do that again.
Heartening to see more than 5,000 people file into Myreside for Edinburgh’s Friday night Pro12 match with Munster.
Players can’t control the weather but they are responsible for their skills, and most of the kicking was woeful. Rory Scannell and Jason Tovey were the chief culprits – with several touch-finders going out on the full – and there were more than 20 handling errors.
It made pretty poor viewing and let’s hope for something better next time to encourage the more casual supporter to get along to Edinburgh’s new home.