Six Nations 2014: Three talking points as brilliant England bounce back
Six Nations 2014: Three talking points as England are 20-0 winners against Scotland at Murrayfield
Brilliant England bounce back
All the talk before the championship was about the inexperience of England’s backs at international level, but any doubts that they could step up have been blown away after a second impressive display in two weeks. England may have dumped Sarancens’ Chris Ashton and may be without Manu Tuilagi, but Mike Brown at full-back, Luther Burrell at centre and young wingers Jack Nowell and Jonny May have proved they belong on the big stage and surely can only get better ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Brown and Burrell may have taken the try-scoring plaudits again, with Brown also man of the match, but May’s running and courage to play despite another nose break speaks volumes. Owen Farrell’s missed place kicks can be put down to uncertainty over the pitch, but his half-back partner Danny Care again produced a magnificent display and is now surely England’s first-choice scrum-half, while Courtney Lawes in the second row was monumental in turning set-pieces into territory with 11 lineouts won and balls carried, while Billy Vunipola is becoming indispensable at number 8 with another explosive performance for 16 carries and 58 metres made. The clash with Ireland in two weeks’ time at Twickenham will determine whether this group are the real deal.
Johnson under pressure
Scotland head coach Scott Johnson had been adamant in mid-week that his logic behind retaining seven of the eight forwards who performed poorly in Ireland was because they were the best of what Scotland had of a group he was cultivating a squad for the future. He reiterated that point after the match which suggests that calls for wholesale changes will be ignored despite Scotland’s poor lineout and scrimmaging. Johnson has three matches left in charge before Vern Cotter comes in from Clermont Auvergne, but if he keeps to his plan and fails to develop a solid plan B, Scotland could be leaving Cardiff on 15 March with another wooden spoon souvenir from this year’s championship and the pressure from disappointed fans will ramp up. The Aussie is usually unflappable when it comes to criticism, but his resolve will be tested after his bold statements, which included dropping captain Kelly Brown and continuing with what he calls a talented, but naïve backline.
Have some respect
A lot was made this week about how much the Scottish economy is boosted by the Six Nations. It is, undoubtedly the pinnacle of European rugby and, for many, a greater competition than the Rugby World Cup which comes round every four years and is usually dominated by the world’s top four nations. The Six Nations winners are also found from four nations, but there is more uncertainty in every championship and even Italy have grown enough to cause some upsets. This year, however, England and Scotland seem intent on using the tournament as a development ground for the world cup. In Scotland’s case, it just isn’t working out and to almost exclusively look to the future at the expense of experienced campaigners who know how to win shows disrespect to the competition and the teams who show up with their best players. Ireland wouldn’t dream of dropping a fit Brian O’Driscoll because they’re thinking about who will fill his boots next year.