The second weekend of the Six Nations failed to disappoint as England and Ireland maintained their Grand Slam challenge.
Scotland recorded its first win of this year’s championship, as France again let a lead slip. But who caught the eye and who had a weekend to forget?
Player of the weekend
Greig Laidlaw (Scotland). The former captain’s recall to Scotland’s starting 15 was not met with universal approval, but the Clermont scrum-half provided the perfect response to his critics as he steered his country to a first win in this year’s championship. His afternoon began with a touchline conversion and he would provide Huw Jones with a scoring pass before half-time. However, it was in the second period that he came into his own, displaying nerves of steel to knock over six penalties that ultimately nudged Scotland to victory. Laidlaw would end the game at fly-half, providing a steady hand on the tiller as France were defeated.
Flop of the weekend
France. As good as Laidlaw and Scotland were in the second half at Murrayfield, they were allowed a route back into the match by their visitors. France coach Jacques Brunel will wonder how his players contrived to lose control of the contest, having seemed comfortable in their lead at the break. Maxime Machenaud’s departure at half-time did France few favours, and Brunel’s side missed his experience in the second 40. But it was their ill discipline that ultimately cost them victory, as the penalty count racked up, and Laidlaw was able to kick France out of contention.
Coaching call of the weekend
Eddie Jones might not have been keen to discuss it in the wake of England’s win over Wales at Twickenham but his side had clearly been sent out with the intention of putting their visitors — and Rhys Patchell in particular — under pressure in the opening exchanges. The targeting of Patchell that began verbally at England’s team announcement on Thursday came to life in south-west London two days later and played a pivotal role in the opening try as Anthony Watson disrupted the Wales fly-half’s attempt to gather a high ball, before Owen Farrell pounced on the loose ball to kick in behind for Jonny May to score. Patchell’s involvement would be ended in the 56th minute, by which time England had amassed the points they would need for victory.
Biggest refereeing/TMO call
Jerome Garces/Glenn Newman (England vs. Wales). There was only one contender this week, after televised match official Glenn Newman’s decision not to award Wales fullback Gareth Anscombe a try during the first half of his side’s defeat to England. Television replays appeared to confirm that Anscombe had beaten the covering Watson to the bouncing ball inside the in-goal area. Supporters in the Twickenham stands seemed resigned to their fate until Newman told Garces there had been no “clear and obvious” grounding. Ultimately the call cost Warren Gatland’s side a potential four points and a chance to turn the tide after a slow start to the match. “They [TMOs] don’t always get it right, which is a little bit frustrating, but you can’t do much about it, can you?” was Anscombe’s reaction to the decision after the game.
Storyline to keep an eye on
Fans sitting at home watching, reading or listening to events from the Six Nations may wonder at times why certain questions aren’t asked. In-depth coverage of the tournament — as all rugby — depends on access for journalists, who in turn are able to hold coaches, players and organisations accountable. It was disappointing to learn on Saturday morning that Ireland coach Joe Schmidt would not be holding a postmatch briefing for daily newspapers for the first time in his 52 Tests as Ireland coach. That evening Eddie Jones bristled as he was asked about comments made before the game, as well as the man-of-the-match performance of Mike Brown. He suggested he could stop offering the media such soundbites, but it must be hoped that the England coach does not follow the same path as Schmidt. The way to deal with awkward questions is to answer them, not shy away.