1022.6666666666666x767__origin__0x0_England_number_eight_Billy_Vunipola_against_ScotlandThe result of the opening match of the RBS 6 nations wasn’t that much of a surprise, but France really laboured to put away a determined Italian team on home soil. Ultimately, there wasn’t much in it and if anything, Italy may have shaded the game.

I thought JP Doyle delivered an assured performance where he looked comfortable doing his work. Both teams had their chances, and one can always look back in a close game to some critical decisions, when doing a review. I spoke about preparation in my previous piece, and I wonder whether the notion that France would have been dominant at scrum time may have influenced a couple of outcomes in that facet. Certainly, on a couple of occasions I disagreed with the sanction, and a classic example  of this was a clear fade by France on the first penalty against Italy which got a reward on an Italian feed.

Later on, there was a call of ‘advantage over’ where Italy was playing behind the advantage line and it was difficult to see exactly why the call was made, given that Italy had not gained any advantage at all. The result was a French try. The second last penalty against France’s No 17 for hands beyond the ball, also appeared wrong as he was dominant tackler and went straight for the ball. I didn’t mind the close call at the end .. I think it would have been tough on the tackler if the tackle on Parisse had been deemed dangerous! Ultimately, the game was decided when Parisse’s attempted match-winning drop kick skewed off his boot and France snuck in. But all in all, I thought Doyle had a decent game.

The second match between Scotland and England produced very few points, but it wasn’t the worst game of rugby. I thought the defence of both teams was outstanding and there was a bit of endeavour to be creative. England’s early score by Kruis proved to be decisive and England managed the rest of the game well to deservedly win. Perhaps the turning point could have been Finn Russell’s intercept (hoofed downfield) midway through the second half, where an offload to Hogg would have seen him off to the races, and the complexion of the game would have been dramatically altered! Having said that, I do think the better team won.

Ref Lacey did not look comfortable the whole afternoon and in some cases seemed like a deer in the headlights. Not that he influenced the result, but the accuracy of his decisions on occasions was poor (Scotland’s second penalty against Launchbury when the Scot standing over him was clearly not supporting his own body weight – 3 points to Scotland / penalty against England No 9 for obstruction after Laidlaw knocked on the ball at the base of a scrum / law error for the drop out in min 29, which was dotted down and it should have been an option. A net loss of 60 m and field position – law 13.15.b). Furthermore, some of the sanction against the attack lacked thought as the influence on outcome was minimal (early penalty against England No 13 for side entry). I thought he was overly officious at the breakdown. Almost fussy in a way. The net result of this is a momentum killer and it is the game that suffers! The penalty against Farrell for a push on Laidlaw may have been technically correct, but it happened in the field of play and should have been awarded at the place of infringement. He did reward dominance well (strong English mauling and the slightly better scrum on the day) but it was a performance that ultimately lacked authority and a deeper understanding.

I thought Jerome Garcez was the best performer over the weekend. It was a much anticipated game, and he kept his nerve beautifully until the final whistle. He allowed the game to breathe at the breakdown while rewarding dominant defence. The result was a spectacle as the players appeared to trust him. Of course, he was not perfect giving a poor penalty for a deliberate knock down by Williams when it clearly wasn’t and failing to spot a couple of dangerous tackles. But he was always present where it mattered most without letting his show-boating get in the way of an excellent game of rugby, of which he was a very positive contributor!