Six Nations: Scotland were sublime in attack but Ireland showed defence wins matches

So; a splendid, delightful Six Nations, even the weather gods smiling on us. Everything works so well that the money-men and administrators are sure to want change.

“Build on success,” they’ll say: “let’s re-design it and play ten games, home and away.” Dreadful idea: to quote Kingsley Amis on University expansion long ago: “more will mean worse”. Quite so. Three teams have three home matches, the others two. Next year it’s reversed. Splendid. Who has ever raised a complaining voice? France had a Grand Slam last year with three matches in Paris, Ireland one this time with three in Dublin. No grumbles.

There was a feast of delightful attacking rugby and lots of gorgeous tries, especially from France, Scotland and Italy. Nevertheless the wise old hack’s dictum remains good: defence wins matches. Ireland are champions because they conceded fewer tries than anyone else. France scored tries to dream of, but Shaun Edwards, their much-lauded defence coach must have groaned and sighed a few times. Same might be said of Scotland. Duhan van der Merwe is a wonderful runner and try-scorer, but his poor positioning in defence cost us three tries, I reckoned.

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Scotland played some lovely adventurous rugby, scoring tries of the sort that that in some seasons past we only scored unopposed in practice. The centre partnership of Huw Jones and Sione Tuipoluto has been brilliant, Finn Russell at 10 sublime, especially against England, Wales and France, all this without the magical footwork of Darcy Graham, though it has to be said that his replacement Kyle Steyn has been excellent in every match.

Duhan van der Merwe scored three of the best tries of the Six Nations but was also accountable for three tries conceded by Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)Duhan van der Merwe scored three of the best tries of the Six Nations but was also accountable for three tries conceded by Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Duhan van der Merwe scored three of the best tries of the Six Nations but was also accountable for three tries conceded by Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Now we turn back to club rugby, to the URC and the European Cups. Edinburgh, shorn of their internationalists, have been dismal in the league, though in the Champions Cup they ran Saracens, top of the English Premiership, very close away and then beat them in Edinburgh, by some way their best performance this year. They have almost no chance of qualifying for the knock-out stage of the URC. Glasgow in contrast should do so. Both clubs are away in Ireland today, Edinburgh in Galway, Glasgow in Limerick. Both are demanding matches, but this is as it should be in a professional league.

Edinburgh may have at least one eye on the more glamourous Champions Cup match next week, though Leicester Tigers away from home represent a formidable obstacle to any further progress. Still today’s side, with, to general delight, Darcy Graham fit to take his place on the right wing, and with Blair Kinghorn at 10 and captain Grant Gilchrist back to lead them, is the strongest one they have had in the league since October, even though van der Merwe and three of this season's Scotland flankers – Jamie Ritchie, Luke Crosbie and Hamish Watson are missing. No doubt Ritchie at least can do with a week off.

Glasgow have given Scotland’s five-star centres a week off too, so that the side is still captained by Stafford MacDowell, despite the return of seasoned internationals Ali Price, Fraser Brown and the Fagerson brothers. There is one rather surprising selection – Jamie Dobie, the richly talented young scrum-half being fielded on the left-wing. There’s a lot of competition for the number 9 jersey at Scotstoun, let alone for Scotland, but every time I have seen young Dobie this season he has looked ready for the international game. Scrum-half is such a specialised position that few get their chance to stretch their legs further away from the set-piece and breakdown, though Greig Laidlaw, like a number of French halves – Freddie Michalek for example – played international rugby at both 9 and 10, and England’s Austin Healey was capped for England on the right wing as well as his normal position behind the scrum. Ben White, now first choice for Scotland at 9, actually first appeared on the wing against England, but that was only as a replacement.

Watching Glasgow in Limerick, quite a few of us will be keeping a close eye on Rory Darge, not long back from the injury which kept him out of this season’s Six Nations squad. If he displays the form that won him caps last season, competition in the Scotland back-row will, injuries permitting, be intense come the World Cup.



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