6 Nations Review: Part 2

In Rugby Union on April 1, 2010 at 12:19 am

We continue our tournament review with a look back at the key moments that made the 2010 Championshp, and a recap of some of the best and worst. Plus, a bonus ‘Team of the Tournament’…

Best Performance:

France 33-10 Ireland

Grand Slam champs, unbeaten in a year and conquerors of South Africa, Ireland came into this game with more confidence than Tiger Woods at a crazy golf tournament. They left with questions being asked about how they were going to compete with rugby’s elite. How quickly things turn in the world of rugby.

As always, it would be unwise to draw too many conclusions from 80 minutes, as Ireland are still where most sane observers would have put them before the game – in the second tier of rugby nations. Ireland can’t compete with the resources available to South Africa and New Zealand, and need to play at their optimum level to take a victory against either the Aussies or the French.

In this game, they were far from their best. They actually flew out of the traps, playing with intensity and looking like they came to cause an upset. Their controlled aggression soon spiralled out of control though, as Jerry Flannery had a flash back to his junior Tae Kwon Do days (probably) and hacked Alexis Palisson off the ball. The winger limped off, and Flannery faced a lengthy ban for his stupidity. The indiscipline continued with prop Cian Healy seeing yellow, and that was pretty much it for the Irish.

France’s scrum made mincemeat of the Irish eight for the first try, a rampaging William Servat crashing over under the posts. Rising star Matthieu Bastareaud, who looks like he just broke out of a correctional facility, after about 30 years inside, burst through the Irish midfield to put centre partner Yannick Jauzion through, and you just knew Ireland weren’t coming back.

The home side went on to dominate Ireland in almost every facet of play, shutting down their attacking threats with ease. When full back Clement Poitrenaud went over on the hour mark, things looked like getting embarrassing, but a 23 point win is the worst inflicted on this Ireland side in Declan Kidney’s tenure. In fact, they haven’t lost by more since New Zealand trounced them back in 2005.

The forward dominance and razor sharp back play set the standard for France, and this was the key win in their Grand Slam campaign.

Honourable mentions: Ireland 20-23 Scotland, Ireland 20-16 England

Best Player:

Imanol Harinordoquy

France’s awesome tournament was built on a terrifying front five, some electric play from their young half backs and lethal finishing out wide. But their stand out star was in the back row, packing down alongside captain Thierry Dusautoir. It’s hard to believe that the Basque bruiser is now 30, but after a sometimes erratic early career, he looks to be making the most of his huge talent.

Famously labelled ‘Harry Ordinary’ by his old foe Lawrence Dallaglio, it’s the Englishman who now looks silly, showing the kind of judgement that’s made his team-mate Martin Johnson so popular with the English public. Tall and athletic, he is a devastating broken field runner with deft hands and beautiful timing in the offload. He also looks to have put his former marshmallow softness behind him, and gone are the days when it seemed an overly vigorous  pre match handshake would see him clinging to an ice pack by kick off.

With Italian dreadnaught Sergio Parisse absent, the way was clear for someone to stand up and claim the mantle of Europe’s best no.8. Harry Exceptional left everyone trailing in his wake this Spring.

Honourable mention: Morgan Parra (France), Tommy Bowe (Ireland)

Breakthrough Player:

Matthieu Bastareaud

One of the rising stars of French rugby, Bastareaud served notice of his immense talent when blasting through u-19 defences back in the 2007 World Cup, where he played alongside Morgan Parra. Things looked to be progressing nicely for the then 20 year old when he was included in the French squad for their tour to New Zealand last summer. But then things took a turn for the strange.

Poor Bastareaud had, understandably, decided to have a few drinks on said tour. Frowned upon, no doubt, but it surely happens in every tour. No big deal, as long as the coaches don’t find out. Imagine his horror then, when an inebriated tumble left some very visible bruising. Showing the kind of calm under pressure that has made his cousin William Gallas such a legend, M-Bas decided a little fib was in order. A few manufactured Kiwi thugs and he was off the hook. Unfortunately, things were not so simple, and by the time he came clean, Kiwi police and both Prime Ministers had been involved.

So young Matthieu had plenty to atone for upon his recall to the side, and even more to prove. A two try effort against the Scots was a good start, but when he more than held his own against Brian O’Driscoll in a Paris trouncing, the rugby world sat up and took notice. He continued to impress throughout the tournament, looking solid in defence and always a handful with ball in hand, and as long as he can keep the diplomatic incidents to a minimum he should have a long career in the 13 jersey ahead.

Honourable mention: Francois Trinh-Duc (France), Jonathan Sexton (Ireland)

Best Match:

Wales 31-24 Scotland

Scotland finally broke their duck in the tournament with their shocking last weekend win over Ireland, but this game, coupled with the loss to Italy and the draw with England, seemed to suggest they were destined for the arboreal cooking utensil. .

Wales had looked sluggish and uninspired for 76 minutes, at which point they trailed 24-14 and looked dead and buried. The Scots had battled for all they were worth, smashing into red jerseys like bulls on speed, making 136 tackles. They had also crossed for two rare tries, Barclay and Evans giving them an early edge which Dan Parks methodically added to with his leather clad metronome.

With the seconds ebbing away, Wales desperately flung it wide, as they are wont to do. Due to Dan Parks’ untimely injury and Scott Lawson’s silly yellow card, the navy battlers were temporarily reduced to 13 men and there was enough space for Lee Halfpenny to scoot over in the corner. Parks limped off, and the restart was claimed by a frantic Wesh side. The Millennium roar swelled with renewed hope. A half break from Roberts in midfield, an impossible pop out of the tackle, and Lee Byrne was away. His chip and chase was cut short by a trip from Phil Godman, and incredibly, the home side chose to take the points with Godman and Lawson now both on the bench.

That should have been that, but in a move coach Andy Robinson labelled ‘suicide’, Scotland put the restart long down the middle rather than pump it at the poor buggers who foolishly chose to sit in the infamous Row Z. Mike Blair bore the razor, and the rest of the lemmings charged to their doom as the 15 men of Wales methodically worked their two-man advantage and went the length of the field to complete a comeback for the ages.

Bitterness abounded after the final whistle, with some of the Scots accusing Lee Byrne of taking a dive. They could be accused of the same themselves, as they tossed away what seemed like a certain win with some crazy, crazy play.

Honourable mentions: England 16-20 Ireland, Ireland 20-23 Scotland

Brainstorm of the Tournament

Alun-Wyn Jones

A continuing theme of this year’s 6 Nations was teams being punished for yellow cards, and one of the more brainless, and costly, of these was Welsh second row Alun-Wyn Jones’ trip on Dylan Hartley. The English hooker had broken off a ruck and was making a typical head down charge into contact. For some reason, Jones felt that he needed to be stopped, and was willing to pay the 10 minute toll for barring Hartley entry to another midfield ruck. What he couldn’t have foreseen was the English racking up 17 points while he mulled over his rash decision. By the time he got back on the pitch, England led 20-3, and despite a rally, that was it for another year.

Jones narrowly pipped his team mate Andy ‘Hot Wheels’ Powell to this coveted award, as his indiscretion came on the field of play, while Powell’s just gave his coach a much needed excuse to drop him.

Honourable Mention: Jerry Flannery (Ireland), Scott Lawson (Scotland)

Worst Match: England and Scotland’s 15-all snoozefest at Murrayfield. Tough to watch at times, as the limited Scots and unadventurous English cancelled each other out with some determined defence. If only we could cancel it out from our traumatised memory banks. (Honourable Mentions: England 17-12 Italy, Italy 16-12 Scotland)

Biggest Disappointment: Ireland getting moosed in Paris, and then turned over at home by the Scots. On their last ever outing at GAA headquarters. Whoops. (Honourable Mention: England being ‘delighted’ at a 5 point win over Italy)

Best Try: David Marty finishing off a breathtaking length of the field move against the Italians, sparked by Clement Poitrenaud and Imanol Harinordoquy. (Honourable Mentions: Shane Williams’ Dancing with the Stars audition against France, Tommy BoooOOoowe’s hammer blow at Twickenham, and Ben Foden announcing his arrival in an England jersey on the final weekend)

Biggest surprise: Ireland 20-23 Scotland. Easily the biggest upset of the tournament, as the winless Scots, who looked like they’d permanently forgotten how to close out a game, turned over the champions in their own back yard. (Honourable Mentions: Dan Parks making the out half position his own, and England nearly mugging France in the final fixture)

Team of the Tournament:

15: Clement Poitrenaud (France): Looked untouchable for four games, shredding defences with strong running and great finishing. Still looks unconvincing under pressure though, after a really shaky performance against England. No other full backs really stood out though, with Lee Byrne in particular making some really silly errors that belied his quality.

14: Tommy Bowe (Ireland): The official ‘Player of the Tournament’ was Ireland’s most potent attacking threat and weighed in with a massive double in Twickenham and the tying score against the Scots.

13: Matthieu Bastareaud (France): A massive presence in the centre for France, both in attack and defence. Not blessed with searing pace, but has deceptively deft hands and makes good decisions with ball in hand.

12: Yannick Jauzion (France): Seems to be above criticism for many pundits, but genuinely was for much of this competition. The old head in the French midfield, and knitted the youngsters together superbly.

11: Shane Williams (Wales): Often a liability in defence, and tends to do some very silly things under pressure, but it’s almost impossible to keep him quiet, as his three tries will attest

10: Francois Trinh-Duc (France): Came into this 6 Nations with many questioning his place in the side, but once again showed exactly why his coach Marc Lievremont has such faith in him. Very physical for a no.10, he also possesses a huge boot, and a bit more experience will aid his game management. A star in the making.

9: Morgan Parra (France): Commanding scrum half who cemented his place in the side ahead of such talents as Yachvili and Elissalde, among others. Wins like the tight clincher over England will be massive for himself and his equally youthful half back partner.

8: Imanol Harinordoquy (France): The player of the tournament for many, including myself. Was simply everywhere for Les Bleus, and staked his claim as the World’s premier no.8.

7: Thierry Dusautoir (France): France’s captain was an ever present on the blindside flank, but takes the no.7 shirt here. A really tough player, Dusautoir gives the French pack yet another hard edge, and possesses some real athletic ability.

6: John Beattie (Scotland): A bit of a coming out party for the 24 year old, who I’m squeezing in on the blindside for this team. Part of a consistently excellent Scottish back row, his try against Ireland was a perfect example of his physical skills as he battered through three tackles on a 30 yard dash to the line.

5: Lionel Nallet (France): Started all five games in blue, and finished four. The key lineout target for Servat and Szarzewski, he had a big influence every game he played.

4: Alistair Kellock (Scotland): Played every minute for the Scots, who very nearly came away with three victories. Was a key component in the lineout that obliterated the vaunted Irish unit when they finally broke their duck at Croke Park.

3: Euan Murray (Scotland): A quality scrummager, Murray made a big difference to the Scottish scrum, and showed up well in open play. Absent for the toothless showing against France, he was on for the full 80 when they should have beaten Wales, drew with England and beat Ireland.

2: William Servat (France): Hauled off the pitch at around the 50 minute mark in every game, but Servat squeezed about 100 minutes worth of action into each performance. A cannonball in possession, it was his try which broke Irish resistance in Paris.

1: Thomas Domingo (France): Another man who started all five and finished four for the French. A big part of the ferocious front row which terrorised the other five teams. The sight of England’s new hope Dan Cole being beaten into submission in just 40 minutes summed up why this unit was head and shoulders above the rest. And still only 24 years old.

Bench: Nicolas Mas (France), Ross Ford (Scotland), Pascal Pape (France), Alessandro Zanni (Italy), Tomas O’Leary (Ireland), Dan Parks (Scotland), James Hook (Wales)


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