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Who’s hot and who’s not: Ruthless Ireland and Tommy Reffell shine while Scotland and kick-tennis frustrate



It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.


Ireland nil Italy go 10 from 10: Ruthless, efficient, clinical; just a few words to sum up Ireland‘s performance against Italy on Sunday. It was such a slick showing at times in Dublin as they crossed six times to make light work of the Azzurri, even denying their visitors one single point on the board. Jack Crowley, Dan Sheehan (2), Jack Conan, James Lowe and Calvin Nash all crossed the whitewash as Ireland made it back-to-back bonus-point wins to start their Six Nations title defence in style. Can anyone stop the Irish claiming successive Grand Slams?

England v Wales star performers: It was not the greatest game at Twickenham but there were some real standout displays. Leading the way was undoubtedly Tommy Reffell, who should have really been named the man of the match. Wales’ openside flanker was utterly superb in all facets, from his contribution for Alex Mann’s try to the nuts and bolts of his breakdown work. He was unfortunate to be on the losing side, but Freddie Steward and Ben Earl had something to do with that as they shone for England. Steward was unbelievably good under the high ball, while Earl continued to impress at Test level following his World Cup heroics. Both were key to the Red Rose going two from two.

France thankful to individual class: Speaking of individual players impressing and Les Bleus were indebted to the likes of Gael Fickou, Francois Cros, Gregory Alldritt and Louis Bielle-Biarrey, considering their struggles in certain areas of the game at Murrayfield. They were thoroughly outplayed in the first half but Alldritt and Fickou stepped up and kept the visitors in the contest. After the interval, the France skipper went off injured, but Cros was excellent in his absence, while Bielle-Biarrey won the match with a brilliant piece of skill. Chapeau.

Springboks new coaching team: After losing the services of head coach Jacques Nienaber and assistant coach Felix Jones to Leinster and England respectively, SA Rugby have moved quickly to replace the duo with ex-Ireland and New Zealand internationals Jerry Flannery and Tony Brown coming in as the Boks’ defence and attack coaches respectively. Adding to that, Rassie Erasmus steps down from his job as director of rugby to become head coach until the end of the 2027 Rugby World Cup while former Test referee Jaco Peyper is on board as a law advisor and Duane Vermeulen joins in a roving coaching role with all South Africa’s national teams. That is one impressive backroom.

Rob Valetini rewarded: For the first time in his career, the back-rower won the John Eales Medal as he was recognised as the best player in Australia for 2023. Despite the Wallabies’ struggles, Valetini was utterly outstanding and took home the coveted award. The powerhouse forward joins greats such as George Smith, Matt Giteau, David Pocock and four-time winner Michael Hooper in picking up the honour. An emotional Valetini beamed: “It means a lot. It’s crazy because I used to watch all those players when I was growing up. To play alongside the likes of ‘Poey’ and ‘Hoops’, it’s surreal. [I am] truly honoured to join them.” Very well deserved and he’ll now hope to build on this in 2024.


Another near Scotland miss: Gregor Townsend should really look inwards as to why they succumbed to France at Murrayfield. Against a team that has been nowhere near their best over the past two matches, the Scots quite frankly messed it up. It is not the first time they have disappointed when promising so much, but this will be the match that probably hurts the most. After ending their Cardiff hoodoo last week, Scotland had a real chance to go two from two and set themselves up for a tilt at the Grand Slam, but the hosts simply lost their way after the interval. The manner of the defeat is tough but, ultimately, they only have themselves to blame. This loss will sting during the fallow week.

Worrying showing from Italy: Have Italy slipped back into their dismal Rugby World Cup form? We hope their showing against Ireland on Sunday was merely a blip as to be nilled and have 36 points put on them will concern their supporters. They struggled to fire a shot at the reigning champions and this result sees them drop to the bottom of the table after two rounds. Gonzalo Quesada has work to do in the fallow week before they travel to France. Italy then have Scotland at home before finishing at Wales as they look to avoid another winless campaign.

Kick tennis at Murrayfield: There were bizarre scenes at Murrayfield as for several minutes players from France and Scotland booted the ball to each other without sending any runners after those kicks. Due to a loophole in the game’s current framework, players who are at least 10 metres away from catcher do not have to retreat and can just stand still. They are then played onside when the individual that has the ball advances five metres, leaving little chance of counter-attacking. This means both sides cannot use the space to do something positive, which sees players of opposing sides merely kicking the ball back and forth while waiting for their respective opponents to simply make a mistake. It was not surprising that boos rang out around the field while this was going on in that clash between the Scots and Les Bleus on Saturday.

Scotland’s disallowed try: That clash between Scotland and France came to a dramatic and controversial conclusion as referee Nic Berry and the TMO, Brian MacNeice, had a lengthy discussion about whether the home side scored a try in the game’s dying moments. Lock Sam Skinner dotted down under a pile of bodies and Berry initially said he was held up. However, television replays appeared to show the ball roll off a player’s boot before touching the ground. The TMO felt though that it was inconclusive whether a try was scored and decided against awarding the score. The end result left Scotland’s players aggrieved while their opponents were relieved to clinch a narrow Six Nations win.

READ MORE: Ireland v Italy: Five takeaways as Irish depth hits ‘new heights’ while the Azzurri tight five needs an ‘overhaul’

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