Ian Madigan was superb for Leinster yet again. (c) Ken Bohane.
Leinster 54-13 Edinburgh
Fri 13th April @ The RDS
Another of those fantastically watchable Leinster nights at the RDS. They had eight different try-scorers as Ian Madigan picked up the Man of the Match award for some superb play-making at outhalf. Declan Kidney has to be taking note. Leinster are now guaranteed a home play-off spot and it’s looking increasingly foolish to bet against them doing a Heineken Cup and PRO12 double. Their strength in depth is frightening, with competition in every position.
Edinburgh were close to full strength but looked tired after their Heineken Cup efforts the weekend before. Some of the tries they conceded were soft but Leinster were emphatically deserving of such a scoreline. On Friday, Leinster travel to Ravenhill to take on Ulster. If both sides decide to rest their first-choice players before H-Cup semi-final weekend, Leinster look to be much, much stronger.
Here’s all the scores from the Edinburgh game:
Connacht 26-21 Ulster
Sat 14th April @ The Sportsground
Connacht won an entertaining inter-pro derby thanks to two Miah Nikora penalties in the closing quarter as Ulster’s indiscipline cost them. Following the heroic efforts in beating Munster the weekend before, Brian McLaughlin called on his second-string, many of whom weren’t up to the task. That’s not to take away from a deserving Connacht effort, which featured tries from Nikora, Gavin Duffy and Tiernan O’Halloran (another impressive finish) as well as a commanding Man of the Match performance from George Naoupu.
Ulster remain one place outside the play-off positions after this crucial loss. The Warriors earned a losing bonus point to pull two points clear in 4th, while the Scarlets win in Aironi leaves them a single point behind Ulster. With Leinster’s visit next, then a Heineken Cup semi-final, it’s a testing few weeks for the northern province. Encouragingly, Paddy Jackson gave a promising display at inside centre. Meanwhile, Connacht remain in 10th despite their win. They host Aironi next weekend; a great chance for back-to-back wins.
Here’s the two Ulster tries from the Connacht game:
Munster 35-29 Warriors
Sat 14th April @ Musgrave Park
Conor Murray scored a try in Munster's 35-29 win. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.
Munster had to work hard for an important win over fellow play-off hopefuls the Warriors on Saturday evening. Tries from Luke O’Dea, Peter O’Mahony and replacement Conor Murray plus 20 points from the boot of Ian Keatley were enough. Scottish star Stuart Hogg scored a hattrick for the visitors in a display which showed his exciting potential. For Munster, O’Dea’s pace was as impressive as ever while O’Mahony was excellent in all facets of the game to earn Man of the Match.
The Ospreys’ win over the now pitiful Cardiff Blues means that Munster remain 3rd in the table. Next up is a tricky trip to the Scarlets on Saturday, who are also still in contention for the play-offs and also looking for revenge after Munster’s double over them in the Heineken Cup. Tony McGahan will hope to welcome back several players from the long injury list, particularly Paul O’Connell. Next weekend promises to be another exciting round of PRO12 fixtures.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.