Peter Bills: Dour, defensive spectacle leaves rather sour taste
The Six Nations Championship, like much of northern hemisphere rugby, continues to be clogged up in a defensive, unenterprising mire.
The statistics emerging from another weekend of action confirm that the game is becoming less open, not more attacking minded. It seems as though the new law interpretations have made not a fig of difference to most teams in this Championship.
Defence and safety first, cautious conservative rugby continues to reign.
In the three weekend matches, in Rome, London and Edinburgh, we saw four poor teams, one strong hard side which lost its war of attrition on the day and one side which is gradually coming to terms with the possibilities of the ‘new’ game.
Italy, Wales, Scotland and Ireland fill the first category, France the next followed by England. Yet in a sense, the statistics damn all the playing nations of the northern hemisphere’s so-called premier tournament.
The good news for Ireland is that they were not the worst culprits on the statistics board for key elements of the game. The bad news is, they were still inept at Murrayfield.
Ireland conceded 12 penalties on the day, to just four by the Scots. Yet Wales were even worse in Rome, giving away 15 penalties against five by the Italians.
In total then, Wales and Ireland conceded an alarming 27 penalties on the day yet did not pick up a single yellow card between them. This was a point raised by Scotland coach Andy Robinson after his side’s 21-18 defeat in Edinburgh.
How was it, he asked, that a side could be allowed to continually infringe yet escape sanction? A very fair point, a lot of people might conclude.
It is true that Welsh referee Nigel Owens had a poor game on Sunday but it is a poor coach who blames the referee for his team’s defeat. Owens was clearly frustrated, exasperated even, by the continuing chaos at the set scrums which proved a complete blight on the whole game.
But Scotland did their fair share of infringing, by no means all of it detected by Owens. They could have been penalised many more times.
But if you wanted irrefutable proof that all the teams in the Six Nations are still struggling to play some really serious inventive, attacking rugby, rather than continuing to focus primarily on defence, then a glance at the ratio of line breaks from passes in the three games provides depressing evidence.
Actually, in this respect, Ireland did better than anyone with seven line breaks from 144 passes. There was a disturbing gap between them and the next ‘highest achievers’, if we can call them that! England and Wales managed three line breaks each, Wales from 150 passes and England from 157.
Scotland passed the ball more than any other team, 192 times, yet managed just a paltry two line breaks.
Which leaves us with the most staggering, depressing statistic of the entire weekend.
The once brilliant, exciting, dynamic, inventive French, a nation that at one time had clever, attacking minded and penetrative running backs coming out of its ears, passed the ball 150 times at Twickenham. And the number of line breaks they managed? 0. Zero, zilch.
If ever there was a figure to shame the game in this part of the world then this, surely, was it.
The six teams of this tournament completed, in total, 984 passes in the three matches. The total number of line breaks, 17, gives us a percentage of breaks from passes of . . . 1.7%.
The word pathetic comes to mind.