Tag Archives: Owen Farrell

The Touchline’s Newcomer Of the Tournament

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Following on from our Player of the Tournament piece, here’s the shortlist for the best newcomer in this season’s Six Nations. The list features two Scots, two English and one player each from France and Wales. Italy’s newcomers failed to make any impact. Ireland had a distinct lack of new faces and plenty of the criticism of Declan Kidney in the aftermath to the capitulation to England will be based on this.

Take a look through the piece, which outlines why each of the six players made it, and make your vote in the poll at the bottom! Leave a comment explaining why you choose that particular player. If you think anyone has been unfairly omitted, let me know in the comments section too.


David Denton

Denton on a typical surge against Ireland. (c) Ken Bohane.

The powerful No.8 made his debut for Scotland in the World Cup warm-up match against Ireland in August of last year, but missed out on selection for the final squad. His form for Edinburgh since made it impossible for Andy Robinson not to choose him at the base of the scrum for this year’s Six Nations. Born in Zimbabwe and schooled in South Africa, Denton qualifies for Scotland through his mother. He has had an outstanding debut tournament for his adopted country.

Denton’s ball-carrying ability is already world-class. His strength and pace make him a hard man to stop. He relishes the physical battle of contact, and his work-rate is second to none. In fact, Denton made the most carries of any player in the Six Nations with 65. The Edinburgh back-rower has also displayed a nice offloading game, something Scotland need to exploit to better effect. Denton doesn’t shirk defensive responsibilities either, and made some quality steals on the deck. A genuine 2013 Lions contender.


Wesley Fofana

Fofana in action against Italy. (c) Richard Dunwoody.

The Clermont speedster features in our Player of the Championship poll, and has already picked up a couple of votes. His impact for France saw him finish 2nd in the try-scoring table, with 4 in 5 games. Fofana’s pace and evasiveness make him a nightmare for opposition defences, highlighted by the fact that he beat more defenders than any other player in the Six Nations. He is also a superb finisher. Despite not being very big for an international centre (5’10” and 88kg), Fofana’s power also makes him a strong defender.

The one aspect of the game that the 24-year-old needs to work on is his distribution. Fofana almost never looks for the pass or offload. His confidence in his own ability is commendable, but if he is to continue playing at 12, Fofana must add variety to his game. It’s hard to believe, but the Paris-born back only made 9 passes in the 5 games, and not a single offload. If he can improve these facets of his game, Fofana has the ability to become one of the best centres in the world.


Alex Cuthbert

French penalty

Cuthbert watches on as Beauxis takes a penalty for France in the Grand Slam game. (c) Matt Appleby.

A lot of the hype about Wales’ backline centres around the freakboy that is George North. On the opposite wing though, Cuthbert has been probably more impressive in this Six Nations. After a quiet opening game against Ireland, when he came off injured at half-time, the Blues winger exploded into life with a brilliant try-scoring performance against Scotland. The giant (6’6″ and 104kg) wide man added further tries against Italy and France, both fantastic scores.

Born and raised in England, the 21-year-old was unusually not an underage international with Wales (he qualifies through his mother). A move to college in Cardiff where he played sevens resulted in a call-up to the Welsh Sevens for the 09/10 and 10/11 IRB World Series. The Blues were impressed enough to bring him onboard in Cardiff, and Cuthbert has rapidly risen to where he is now. His background highlights the need for the IRFU to invest in sevens. Cuthbert is still relatively raw, as shown in the English game when he only touched the ball once. However, his size, pace and finishing ability means he will be worrying Irish defences for years to come.


Ben Morgan

The Scarlets No.8’s decision to opt for an international career with his native England, rather than Wales, whom he qualifies for on residency grounds, has turned out to be a good one. After impressing off the bench in the first two games against Scotland and Italy, the 23-year-old finally started against Wales. His performance in that game was good, and he has grown in the two games since then. Explosive ball-carrying in Morgan’s main strength, but he also possesses good skills, with his offload for Foden’s try against France a prime example.

Wales, France and Ireland have all struggled to halt Morgan and he has been one of the best No.8s in this year’s Six Nations. He has confirmed a move to Gloucester next season, which will make it easier to link up with the English international camp. There will be a fascinating battle for the Lions’ No.8 jersey over the next year, with Morgan, David Denton, Toby Faletau all strong prospects. Hopefully our own Jamie Heaslip can find some form too.


Stuart Hogg


Hogg wearing the 13 jersey for the Warriors against Leinster this season. His future may lie there for Scotland too. (c) Patrick McGuire.

While Scotland endured a shockingly poor championship, 19-year-old Hogg had a highly promising tournament. Having only made two appearances for the Glasgow Warriors before this season, no one could have predicted his impact. The fullback didn’t even feature in Scotland’s squad for the opening defeat to England, but a brilliant performance, including this magnificent solo try, in Scotland A’s 35-0 thrashing of the English Saxons showed Andy Robinson what he was missing.

Coming off the bench against Wales, Hogg made a big impression with his deft footwork and willingness to attack. He hasn’t looked back since, and turned in his best display as Scotland came close to beating France, scoring his first international try. The quality of Hogg’s attacking play may eventually result in a move to outside centre, where Scotland lack creativity. Wherever he ends up playing, the young Scot is set for a long international career.


Owen Farrell

Farrell is another who features in The Touchline’s Player of the Championship poll, although he’s not received a single vote at the time of writing. His performance in the St. Patrick’s Day win over Ireland may see that change, as the 20-year-old put in a fantastic display of tactical kicking. After playing the first two  games at outside centre, where he was defensively solid if a little unspectacular, Farrell’s move to outhalf has seen both himself and England flourish. The Saracens youngster has displayed massive amounts of mental strength and plenty of ability.

Farrell’s defensive strength is a huge plus at outhalf, and he has made some big hits over the course of the Championship. His kicking out of hand had been a slight worry, particularly against France, but the win over Ireland yesterday showed that he is accomplished in this area. His place-kicking has been largely excellent too. The one area that Farrell has yet to prove himself is as an attacking force. The English game plan is pretty limited at the moment, so it will be interesting to see how he copes if England look to develop there. It’s been a brilliant debut international campaign for Farrell. 


Honourable Mentions

Ireland’s Donnacha Ryan is worth a shout here, despite being 28. This season was  the first in which he had an impact on the Six Nations, and the Scotland game was the first time he started a Six Nations game. Declan Kidney’s loyalty to Donncha O’Callaghan was hard to understand and Ryan now deserves a first-choice role.

For France, Yoann Maestri came into the side for their second game against Scotland and retained his place for the remainder of the tournament.The 120kg second-row added plenty of beef to the French pack and excelled defensively. The Toulouse man will look to get on the ball more in the future.

England’s Brad Barritt and Chris Robshaw were both as solid as rock, although very limited in attack. They are perfectly suited to England’s style of play.



Photos courtesy:  Ken Bohane, Matt Appleby, Patrick McGuire, Richard Dunwoody.

Scout’s Report: England

Tuilagi v Earls

Tuilagi vs. Earls will be a key battle. (c) Nigel Snell.

England come into the final weekend of the 2012 Six Nations with 3 wins from 4, and are still in with a (massively outside) chance of winning the Championship. Credit must go to interim coach Stuart Lancaster for refocusing a side who endured a nightmare in New Zealand at RWC2011.

Lancaster’s team has been built upon a base of solid, physical defence. That much is clear from the fact that only Wales (3) have conceded less than England (4) in terms of tries. The English, with 487, have made more tackles than any other team in this year’s tournament. These stats are impressive, but don’t paint a completely accurate picture.

Scotland managed 9 clean line-breaks against England in their opening game, and only lost due to their inexcusable failure to finish those chances. Next up, the uninventive Italian side managed to cut through the English defence 3 times. Missed Italian place-kicks proved crucial in the end, as England squeezed home.

An improved performance at the Millenium Stadium followed, as England narrowly lost out to Scott Williams’ late try. Whether or not it had anything to do with the media hype over the size of their backline, Wales attempted to take England on in a bosh-fest. That completely played into the hands of this England side, who well capable of aggressive defence in that type of game.

English Defence

The English defence has been impressive, but Wales and France played the wrong type of game. (c) Nigel Snell.

Wales do have enormous physical attributes in their team, but they would have been better served by using their pace to get around England, rather than trying to run through them. Last weekend, France were frankly appalling in attack. Their lack of patience was hard to understand as Lionel Beauxis repeatedly kicked possession away. However, the introduction of Morgan Parra after 50 minutes made a huge difference and shows Ireland the way to attack England.

Parra brought tempo to the French game. He was quick to every ruck, firing the ball away as soon as possible. Even with England restored to fifteen men, after Sharples’ sin-binning, Parra’s rapid delivery helped France to make inroads, with the pace of Wesley Fofana benefiting in particular as he made several line-breaks.

Eoin Reddan’s role tomorrow will be crucial. His most important quality is said to be his quick service, and we will need to play off it. England are suited to a slowed-down, physical game. When the tempo increases and the faster players (Keith Earls) get quick ball, they look less comfortable. Ireland have to play with as high a tempo as possible. That should suit Johnny Sexton, who always looks better when he has less time to make decisions.

Attack is where England have really struggled. Omitting the weak Italian team, England have the least carries, line-breaks, defenders beaten, meters gained and offloads of any team in the Six Nations so far. The one table that England are top of is ‘kicking from hand’ which they have done 113 times in 4 games. Against France, many of Farrell’s kicks were loose and aimless. Rob Kearney will be willing the English to kick to him in this manner.


Reddan's quick delivery will be vital tomorrow. (c) Nigel Snell.

Ireland’s defence has improved in every game of this campaign, and it needs to be stepped up again tomorrow. Stephen Ferris must back up his antagonistic words by leading an aggressive Irish defence. England play off outhalf Owen Farrell a lot, with forwards running lines inside him, or Tuilagi and Barritt taking switches or skip passes from the 20-year-old. Ireland’s line speed can shut this uninventive play down, and turn defence into attack.

Farrell has had an impressive debut tournament, and does look to have decent mental strength. However, The Touchline feels that Farrell can be ‘got at’. Not through targeting him in defence (his tackling is excellent), but through getting in his face, abusing him, looking to get him involved in scraps. If Donncha O’Callaghan serves any particular purpose to this Irish team, then surely this is it. Chris Ashton is another who has looked close to losing the plot on occasion this season, and Ireland must look to provoke the winger.

Ben Morgan has emerged as a key man for England, and he put in a superb effort against France, making Foden’s try. He’s a destructive ball-carrier and Ireland have to cut him down early. The No.8 has displayed good offloading skills so we may have to double up in taking him out of the game. Similarly, Tuilagi is  real handful in the centre. Earls’ defence has been surprisingly effective so far this season, and will have to be at those levels again tomorrow.

There’s no outstanding reason for Ireland to fear this English side. As Alan Quinlan’s superb column revealed this week, Irish players have become used to beating England. By playing at a high tempo, supporting Kearney’s counter-attacks and coming up aggressively off the defensive line, Ireland should maintain their impressive recent record over the English.


Photos courtesy:  Nigel Snell.

The Touchline’s Player of The Championship

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The RBS Six Nations released the shortlist for their Player of the Championship this week. The winner is to be decided by the public’s online votes, with 12 candidate to choose from. The candidates are the 12 players who were awarded the RBS Man of the Match in each match in the first 4 rounds of the tournament. It’s a silly way to choose the shortlist, as the Man of the Match award is decided by the naturally biased host broadcasters at each match. Check out the official list here.

Julien Malzieu doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the shortlist, with only one good display against Italy over the course of the Championship. Yoann Maestri made an impact for France, but having him ahead of Richie Gray is ridiculous. Donnacha Ryan did make an impression for Ireland, but he didn’t start the first three games. There’s plenty of holes to be picked in the shortlist, and it’s arguably missing some of the strongest performers of this year’s Six Nations.

So, The Touchline has decided to make our own shortlist for Player of the Championship. 12 players is too many, so we’ve gone for the 7 players who we feel have stood out in the first four rounds. We’ve put a poll in at the bottom of the piece so you can let us know who you would pick! Next week, we’ll reveal who you voted as The Touchline’s Player of the Championship. Please feel free to comment, letting us know why you went for the player you did, or if you would have included other players on the list…


Rob Kearney

Kearney has made more clean line-breaks than any other player in the Six Nations so far. (c) Ken Bohane.

Kearney has been in superb form for Leinster all season, but he has stepped his game up to new heights in this Six Nations. While there have been questions marks over his covering tackling (Fofana’s try and Richie Gray’s effort), the 25-year-old’s fielding and counter-attacking have been inspirational for Ireland. The fullback has played almost every minute in Ireland’s campaign, only coming off with 8 minutes left against Scotland.

Kearney has looked supremely confident throughout the tournament, and the stats clearly back up the positive impression he has made. With 411, he is top of the ‘metres gained in possession’ stakes. He has made the most clean line-breaks with 6 and he is joint-top of the ‘defenders beaten’ list with George North, both on 15. Every time Kearney touches the ball, he looks like creating something. Hopefully, his confident form continues against England on Saturday.


Wesley Fofana

With 4 tries in 4 games, Fofana has had a dream start to his international career. The Clermont speedster has come from nowhere this season, taking his chance with his club side during the World Cup, and never looking back. Originally a winger, Fofana’s move to inside centre has been a massive success. His pace and awareness of space make him a constant threat in attack, and while he’s not the biggest man, his natural power and speed make him a competent defender (2 missed tackles from 31 attempts).

Despite Fofana’s excellence in the centre, Philippe Saint-Andre has decided to move him to the wing for this Saturday’s game in Wales. It seems a strange decision, but the 24-year-old did damage there after Clerc’s first half injury against England. Having beaten 14 defenders in 4 games, ‘The Cheetah’ (his nickname in France) will do damage wherever he plays. Keeping George North quiet will be a difficult task, but the French man has passed every other test so far.


Ritchie Gray

Gray on the way to scoring a brilliant individual try against Ireland. (c) Ken Bohane.

The 6’10” second-row has played every single minute for Scotland in this Six Nations campaign, and has been brilliant in every single one of them. Still just 22, the 20 stone monster gets better with every game. He is a definite 2013 Lion. With his obvious physical advantage, Gray is a lineout king, and has the most number of lineout takes of any player, with 18. While he hasn’t been too prolific with clean steals, he makes opposition ball constantly scrappy out of touch.

Added to that, the Warriors’ second-row has been hugely influential in open play. His athleticism and skills are spectacular for a man of his potentially awkward dimensions. His try against Ireland is an obvious example, and Gray is joint-top of the Scottish clean line-breaks table. His offloading game has been intelligent and accurate too. To top it all off, Gray has yet to miss a tackle in the tournament,  making all 33 attempts. He has been a truly complete performer for Scotland.


Owen Farrell

The English wonderkid was the source of plenty of hype coming into this tournament and he has lived up to much of it. Starting the first two games at outside centre, the 20-year-old was defensively outstanding if a little unspectacular in attack. His move to outhalf for the Wales and France games have seen him look a lot more comfortable. The entire English game has benefited from having Farrell direct play at 10.

For a young player in his debut international tournament, Farrell’s defensive game has been world-class. He has only missed 2 out of 33 tackles, but it is the power with which he hits that has impresses. His huge tackle on Harinordoquy last weekend was a perfect example. His distribution is steadily improving, and his place kicking has been very good. Kicking out of hand is one area where the youngster needs to improve, but he has plenty of time to do so. Farrell is already a guaranteed first-choice for England after this superb introduction to the international game.


Sergio Parisse

Parisse scoring against Ireland. (c) Ken Bohane.

It’s pretty much a given that Parisse is included in shortlists like this every single year. The Stade Francais man’ contributions for Italy are always magnificent and it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. His frustration at teammate’s poor efforts has been a little more evident this year, but it’s hard to blame him. It would be fascinating to see the No.8 operate within a better team. Imagine him with the Lions next year? He must do so himself. However, Parisse continues to give his best for Italy though.

The 6’5″ back-row has been Italy’s top ball carrier so far this tournament with 40, although Andrea Masi only trails by a single carry. That makes Parisse the 6th most regular ball carrier in the Championship. He has also made 5 turnovers in the 4 games so far. That said, this has not been Parisse’s best ever tournament. Uncharacteristically, he has missed 6 tackles. Still, he has stood out for Italy and is always one of the finest players in the Six Nations.


George North

It really is hard to fathom the fact that North only turns 20 next month. The Welsh winger is already one of the best wide men in world rugby and could easily become the undisputed number one. At 6’4″, well over 17 stone and with pace to burn, he is a beast of a teenager but that often masks just how good a rugby player he is. While it’s inarguable that North’s physical prowess gives him a huge advantage, he is also an intelligent player with a strong understanding of how he can best use his assets. He comes off his wing to great effect and is always looking for work.

North began the campaign with a brilliant try-scoring display against Ireland. His beautiful offload for Jon Davies’ second try showed his skills at their best. The Scarlets winger hasn’t scored since, but he has been hugely effective with ball in hand. Alongside Kearney, he has beaten the most defenders at 15. Defensively, he really hasn’t been called into action that much but has looked solid on those rare occasions. A definite Lion next year, and a phenomenal rugby talent.


Stephen Ferris

Ferris has been equally strong in defence and attack this season. (c) Ken Bohane.

Here at The Touchline, we are massive fans of Ferris. After a quiet opening game against Wales, the Ulster man has gone into overdrive with his muscular performances. Earlier in the week, we shared our love for Ferris, so read more about his displays and why he’s on this list here.


Honourable Mentions: Dan Lydiate, Ross Rennie, David Denton, Alex Cuthbert, Imanol Harinordoquy, Alex Corbisiero, Dan Cole, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny.



Photos courtesy:  Ken Bohaneκαρλο.

Strettle Back for England


Earls, Ferris and Healy will be looking to break down the impressive English defence on Saturday. (c) Nigel Snell.

Stuart Lancaster and his management team have made just one change to the English side to face Ireland on Saturday at 5 p.m. David Strettle has recovered from the sternum injury that kept him out of England’s superb 24-22 win in Paris last weekend. Charlie Sharples, who had a nervy debut including a yellow card, drops out of the match day squad.

Much has been made of how this English team have slowly developed over the course of their 4 Six Nations matches under Stuart Lancaster. After two really poor displays against Scotland and Italy (albeit winning both), England were vastly improved versus Wales and France. They are now playing with more confidence, although talk of Lancaster instilling free-flowing, attacking rugby into the side is slightly wide of the mark.

However, their increased confidence and a full house at Twickenham may encourage the likes of Dickson, Farrell and Foden to kick away less of their possession. The English defence has been very impressive, conceding just 4 tries. Only the Welsh have conceded less (3). Last weekend, France struggled to break the English line, but they too choose to kick away a lot of good ball.

With the most potent attack in the Six Nations so far, Ireland should ask a lot more questions of the English defence. Key men for England will be No.8 Ben Morgan, outhalf Owen Farrell and outside centre Manu Tuilagi.

England team to face Ireland:

15. Ben Foden (Northampton)

14. Chris Ashton (Northampton)

13. Manu Tuilagi (Leicester)

12. Brad Barritt (Saracens)

11. David Strettle (Saracens)

10. Owen Farrell (Saracens)

9. Lee Dickson (Northampton)

1. Alex Corbisiero (London Irish)

2. Dylan Hartley (Northampton)

3. Dan Cole (Leicester)

4. Mouritz Botha (Saracens)

5. Geoff Parling (Leicester)

6. Tom Croft (Leicester)

7. Chris Robshaw (Harlequins)

8. Ben Morgan (Scarlets)


16. Lee Mears (Bath) 17. Matt Stevens (Saracens) 18. Tom Palmer (Stade Francais) 19. Phil Dowson (Northampton) 20. Ben Youngs (Leicester) 21. Charlie Hodgson (Saracens) 22. Mike Brown (Harlequins).


Photo courtesy:  Nigel Snell.