Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes Six Nations talking points: England need a performance
Last Updated: 12/02/18 1:46pm
England victorious but unflattering, Wales defeated but unbowed and more improvement demanded from Ireland and Scotland. Stuart Barnes focuses on the latest round of Six Nations action in this week's talking points.
1. Yet again, Eddie Jones claimed England ground out the win without playing well! And that's become something of a stock phrase since England returned home from Australia in the summer of 2016.
The results have been hugely impressive but the performances have not. And apart from the five-day turnaround that followed victory in Rome, the defending champions enjoyed the majority of advantages last weekend.
Twickenham is a huge advantage for England in itself and the conditions didn't favour the way Wales now want to play. Undoubtedly too, the injury crisis hammered Wales more than it did England.
Still, Eddie will point to the scoreboard where again, England came out ahead.
2. England deserved their win over Wales for the excellence of the first 20 minutes alone when they really did play some outstanding rugby. In the wet conditions, England controlled the ball in the tight, with Danny Care delivering an understated hour of scrum-half play.
Wales struggled to contain England's one-off runners and there was enough good forward play - whatever the conditions - to feel encouraged about England.
3. The loss represents another shot of short-term pain for Wales and their fans. But in the long term, they will look back on this game with perhaps as much satisfaction as they took from the win against Scotland the week previous.
With two-thirds of the team injured, a back-row and half-back spine absent, and the late withdrawal of Leigh Halfpenny which proved so damaging when defensive skills were to the fore in London, Wales hung on and fought back.
4. Mike Brown mastered the elements and was a solid presence at the back. He delivered a fine performance, but I am not sure whether he deserved man of the match. Actually, I am....he didn't!
Owen Farrell had a hand and foot in the two tries and made several massive interjections into the game.
His partnership with George Ford is improving by the week. Wales defended with great discipline and stopped him adding to that lead when the visitors were under pressure.
Had he kicked a double-digit tally he would have been the obvious man of the match. But major credit must go to the Welsh defence. It was a weekend where ex-players and current coaches talked up the virtue of winning by whatever means, yet Warren Gatland will take solace from where Saturday leaves Wales ahead of the World Cup.
5. If it is only about the Six Nations and the next match, then why is the England manager incapable of holding a press conference without making reference to the World Cup?
Because for Jones and Gatland, at least, they will be judged in the long term on the World Cup.
The ability to keep winning short term while plotting years ahead is what makes the difference between great and the good coaches.
If you have a team without much chance of winning the World Cup, there is logic in maintaining a narrow focus. But if you are Wales, England or Ireland, then Japan is in the foreground of your mind and not the background.
6. Scotland do not have a team to win a World Cup. For that reason, I can understand Gregor Townsend talking up the importance of the penalty kick in Six Nations rugby because 22 points and the man-of-the-match award for Greig Laidlaw in the 32-26 win against France was a notable return.
All bar one kick was relatively straightforward but that doesn't stop us citing the tally in awe.
He played OK. Still, wasn't anything spectacular. But hey, when winning is everything you just have to look at the scoreboard.
By contrast, Finn Russell did not play OK. He was yanked off so Scotland could inject some pace through Ali Price. It was Russell who made way and Laidlaw switched to fly-half.
Such was the scrappy nature of Russell's game that his manager clearly didn't trust him to kick the goals under pressure.
7. All Scotland had to do to win was kick penalties because French indiscipline proved the difference between the two sides. This allowed Scotland and Laidlaw back into the game and he duly took it from the French.
There was cause for encouragement through a first half where the French backs picked some good lines. Teddy Thomas scored two more tries and Yacuba Camara was a dynamo in the back-row.
But the lights went out in a second half that was as tedious to watch as the first half had been exciting.
It was a yawn for rugby-loving neutrals.
8. Ireland's game showcased a more free-flowing side, or did it? Italy are scoring some good tries in this year's competition but the defensive side of their game has loosened as Italian ambition has expanded.
It was all too easy for Ireland as it had been the previous week for England. Two wins and nine points for Ireland but they haven't yet faced the tournament's big guns.
9. The blow to Ireland following the injury to Robbie Henshaw is substantial. The centre has been in fine form, running hard and straight, offering a strong and direct presence in both attack and defence.
With Garry Ringrose out of action, Ireland look vulnerable in the centre and on the open side following the injury suffered by Josh van der Flier against France.
Not everything went according to plan in Ireland's 56-19 win over Italy on Saturday afternoon and Joe Schmidt will know there is plenty of work needed to achieve a Grand Slam.
The games they have remaining are not easy ones.
10. Finally, to the TMO decision at Twickenham.
I watched the replay live and couldn't see why the video referee came to the conclusion he did. It didn't look a certain score but then I watched it again on Sunday morning and indeed it did look like a try.
What is a video referee to do? Probably, remind everyone that the technology used in review relies on the subjective view of one man.
It was a tough call on Wales but deliberating on what might have been achieves nothing. Once, the referee was the sole arbiter.
On Saturday, he asked for help and his video referee gave as honest advice as he could. He was not 'wrong' for there is no wrong or right, just another pair of eyes and a slowed-down set of TV images.
Something upon which we can all agree is that was one hell of a tackle by Sam Underhill on Scott Williams that prevented a certain second-half try for Wales.
Next week we turn our attention to club fixtures and I'm in Dublin for Leinster versus Scarlets in the PRO14.
This is a great chance to see the young talent both these teams are so successfully developing and I'll have more on this in my next talking points.
See you then,