Saints and sinners: The weekend’s talking points
Gavin Henson rolls back the years, the magic of Murray and redemption for a Scottish kicker – just three things to make you smile from the latest round of matches
Gav rolls back the years
It’s 12 years since Gavin Henson famously dumped Mathew Tait on the Cardiff turf with what would now be deemed a tip tackle worthy of probable sanction.
He’s experienced mixed fortunes since then and certainly this season has been a miserable one for the 35-year-old former Wales star, who had played less than an hour’s rugby before returning from a shoulder injury for Sunday’s match with Bath.
So what a way to lift the gloom – by kicking all Bristol’s points in their 12-11 derby win and being named Man of the Match.
“To be out that long, I feel pretty guilty about it,” he said after his drop-goal and three penalties gave Bristol their first victory over Bath in 11 years. “I felt I owed a big performance.”
The victory takes Bristol to within two points of Worcester and sets up a huge clash at Sixways on Sunday at the foot of the Aviva Premiership table.
Donncha O’Callaghan says there are just two certainties for the Lions Test team this summer – Conor Murray and Maro Itoje. Many would agree with him, although increasingly Stuart Hogg is looking like the only plausible option at full-back.
Murray, the Ireland scrum-half and sole try-scorer in the 19-9 defeat of France, was magnificent once again and not the least of his talents is his cover defence. One tackle on the speeding Scott Spedding as France threatened in the final quarter was particularly memorable.
Ali Price has 55 fewer caps than Murray but on his first Scotland start he did a superb job against Wales, also pulling off a crucial from-behind tackle after Jonathan Davies thundered through.
Scotland now head to Twickenham in search of a first Triple Crown since 1990.
Rhys Webb caught the eye too, Wales legend Phil Bennett telling the Scrum V audience that he has “played himself into the Lions squad – he was outstanding, sniping, looking to put people into space”.
It takes a lot of bottle to be a goalkicker, knowing that if you have an off-day you could cost your team dear.
Sarah Law’s misses earlier in the Women’s Six Nations denied Scotland victory over Ireland. But with three minutes remaining against Wales at Broadwood Stadium and with the Scots trailing 14-12, the scrum-half didn’t hesitate going for a shot at goal from around 35 metres.
What a testament to her character that she should risk being the so-called villain again – and how satisfying to see her this time land the kick and clinch Scotland’s first win the championship for seven years.
Staying with goalkickers, hats off to two high scorers from the Premiership, Jimmy Gopperth and Stephen Myler.
Wasps’ Gopperth passed 200 points for the season with a remarkable 25-point display against Gloucester that included three tries – two of them from driving mauls.
And Myler eased past Olly Barkley in the all-time points list, climbing to third place with 1,607 points. Only Andy Goode and first-placed Charlie Hodgson are above the likeable Saint.
No difficulty deciding the performance of the round in the Guinness Pro12 – the Scarlets’ 30-21 win at Munster.
The Welsh region trailed 21-6 at half-time but turned the match on its head with a blistering six-minute salvo that brought tries for Hadleigh Parkes, Johnny McNicoll and Tom Williams.
Young fly-half Dan Jones has held his own against some illustrious No 10s and must be considered for Wales’ summer tour of the Pacific islands.
Biggest laugh of the weekend was provided by Frenchman Romain Poite, referee for that extraordinary England-Italy match in South-West London.
The former detective was heard calling “Offside, man with the beard!” during the hectic finale. As accurate as ever.
The first thing to say about Italy’s no-ruck tactic at Twickenham is that it’s nothing new.
It occurs when the defending side chooses not to commit players to the tackle situation, thereby keeping it as a tackle instead of a ruck. No offside line is created, so defenders are free to roam where they choose and Italy duly blocked England’s passing lanes with remarkable effectiveness.
Conor O’Shea mentioned Toulouse v Wasps and Australia v Ireland as matches where it’s been used, and to that I would add the Sevens World Series, Super Rugby and Edinburgh’s Hugh Blake, who deployed the tactic much closer to the breakdown in the 1872 Cup.
I have no problem with what Italy did. Clever, clever, and it enabled them to stay in a match they were expected to lose by a hatful.
Equally, however, it must not be allowed to infiltrate the game. As Jonny Wilkinson pointed out: “The danger now is that (other) people start doing it. There was no physicality in that game whatsoever; there were no big hits, no rucks really got smashed, no real confrontation.”
It wasn’t rugby as we like to see it played. So well done Italy – but no more please.
Welsh kicking confusion
Alun Wyn Jones is the bookies’ favourite to captain the Lions, but he didn’t enhance his prospects at Murrayfield.
When Dan Biggar asked his captain, “Al, do you want to go to the corner?” it seems it was actually a rhetorical question. Big Al wanted to kick at goal and told referee John Lacey so, but Biggar counted with “corner, corner” and duly leathered it into touch for the attacking lineout.
Had Wales scored from the drive, Biggar might have been applauded for his wisdom and Jones praised for showing flexibility over decision-making. Who knows.
Wales didn’t score of course and now fingers are pointing. First, why didn’t Jones insist, as captain, that Wales kick for goal having made that decision?
Second, why wouldn’t you kick for goal when trailing by three points and with the dead-eye Leigh Halfpenny in your ranks?
Alun Wyn Jones may well lead the Lions. If he does, let’s hope he makes the All Blacks pay for indiscretions on the scoreboard.
Not so Super Sunwolves
Super Rugby is up and running and there was a lot of good work done to ensure a large attendance at the Sunwolves’ match against the Hurricanes in Tokyo.
What a pity then that Japan’s only franchise in the competition weren’t given more help to be competitive.
The players only reported for duty this month and, with some time spent on administration, had little more than two weeks’ preparation before facing the reigning champions.
They were clobbered 83-17, with the game over as a contest within the 14 minutes it took the Hurricanes to score four tries.
One New Zealand columnist has argued that the Sunwolves don’t have a single reason to justify their place in Super Rugby. Not every one will put 80 points on them but it looks ominous.