5 things we learned from round three of the Guinness Six Nations

By Sports Desk February 25, 2024

Ireland and Scotland savoured victories in the third round of the Guinness Six Nations and Italy claimed an historic 13-13 draw against France, the first time the Azzurri have avoided Championship defeat away to Les Bleus.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five things we learned from the weekend’s action.

Mouthguards concern

New technology surrounding mouthguards are concerning Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend. Scotland temporarily lost a second player in successive Six Nations matches for a head injury assessment triggered by the new technology. This championship is the first time elite male players have worn ‘instrumented’ mouthguards that send alerts whenever a ‘head acceleration event’ with G-force that exceeds 70g and 4,000 radians per second squared is detected. But Townsend said after Calcutta Cup success: “There’s a bit more work to do before this technology is correct.”

Ireland appear unstoppable

No side has managed back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations era, but Ireland are within two games of doing so and it would take a brave punter to bet against them. Ireland recorded an 18th straight home win with a routine 31-7 success over Wales, equalling England’s Six Nations record of 11 consecutive victories. Andy Farrell’s side did not even have to produce their best to claim a third bonus-point win from three games – and now only England at Twickenham and Scotland in Dublin can stop Ireland holding another Grand Slam party.

Scotland have England’s number

The last time Scotland won four Calcutta Cups in a row Queen Victoria was on the throne and Lord Salisbury was Prime Minister. The year was 1896 and England failed to get on the board in a 11-0 Glasgow defeat. Over a century on, England slid to a 30-21 loss as Duhan Van Der Merwe supplied the Murrayfield magic in front of Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Van Der Merwe became the first Scotland player to score a Calcutta Cup hat-trick in moving to within one of the country’s all-time record try-scorer Stuart Hogg.

Feyi-Waboso hits right notes

New England wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso is known to tickle the ivories and apparently impressed head coach Steve Borthwick with his piano-playing at the team hotel. Borthwick would also have admired the way Feyi-Waboso sped through for his first Test try after coming on as a Murrayfield replacement. The powerful 21-year-old, who was born in Cardiff to Nigerian parents, spotted space and cut a delicious line to score. It was a touch of class to a predictable attacking performance from England, and calls for a starting spot are now set to be deafening.

Winnett is a winner

Full-back was potentially a problem position for Wales heading into the Six Nations, with Liam Williams unavailable due to club commitments in Japan, Leigh Halfpenny having retired from Test rugby and the versatile Louis Rees-Zammit quitting rugby union to try and forge an American football career. But step forward Cameron Winnett, who looks to the manner born just three games into his Test career. The 21-year-old has excelled in all areas and he was arguably Wales’ best player against Ireland. Nothing seems to fluster him.

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  • Wales and Lions hooker Ken Owens retires aged 37 due to injury Wales and Lions hooker Ken Owens retires aged 37 due to injury

    Former Wales captain Ken Owens has announced his retirement from the game after failing to recover from a back problem.

    The 37-year-old hooker, who played five Tests for the British and Irish Lions, has been sidelined for almost a year because of the injury, last playing for the Scarlets in April 2023.

    Owens won two Grand Slams and two further Six Nations titles during his 91 caps for Wales, whom he led during last year’s Six Nations.

    “Reluctantly, I am announcing my retirement from rugby. Not playing has been challenging, but the time is right to follow medical advice and hang up my boots,” he said.

    “Had I written the script there would have been one more game for Wales, for the Scarlets and ultimately Carmarthen Athletic. A chance to sign off and thank everyone involved.

    “It was not to be. It might not be the dream ending, but my career has been more than I could have dreamt of.

    “Whilst part of me wishes I could have done more, I am well aware that if you had told me as a kid I would be fortunate enough to experience what I have, to have worked with and played with the people I have and taken the pleasure I have from this amazing game, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

  • Rob Baxter urges Premiership to match Leinster pulling power after Barrett coup Rob Baxter urges Premiership to match Leinster pulling power after Barrett coup

    Exeter boss Rob Baxter insists the Gallagher Premiership should aim to match Leinster’s ambition by developing their own ‘Fortnum and Mason’ recruitment policy.

    The Irish province have pulled off a major coup by signing New Zealand’s brilliant centre Jordie Barrett while in the prime of his career as he has agreed a short-term deal for next season.

    Baxter believes the 27-year-old’s sabbatical is valuable for European rugby and wants the English top flight to also become an appealing destination for overseas stars.

    “It makes you a bit jealous that you’re not working in Leinster’s recruitment department!” Baxter said.

    “I know (former Saracens, Sale and Worcester director of rugby) Steve Diamond once said it depends what shop you go shopping in: is it Waitrose or is it Aldi?”

    Referencing an upmarket London department store, Baxter continued: “It might be Fortnum and Mason depending on how you want to look at it!

    “If Irish rugby, Leinster and the United Rugby Championship can get their house in order to allow them to invest in players, their programme and their coaches like they do, you have to say fair play.

    “My response would be, ‘let’s not try to say it’s not fair and limit Leinster, let’s look to ways we can get to that level of competition with them’.

    “You can look around and say, ‘let’s stop everyone else doing it because we can’t do it’. Or you go, ‘what are they doing to develop that level of interest and finance and why can’t we do it?’.

    “I don’t think it’s bad for these competitions to have world-class players. What we want to find out is ways that we can do it as well.

    “You have to work to make the competition look attractive and the way the game is played look attractive.

    “To get that deal in place to sign a player you have to get a lot of financial bits and pieces right – and that runs right from the top of the game to the bottom in the country.

    “There’s a lot we have to do to get to that level, but why shouldn’t we be aiming for it? That’s what we should be trying to do.”

    The Premiership has defied its critics by supplying two teams to the Investec Champions Cup semi-finals in Northampton and Harlequins, with Leinster and Toulouse completing the line-up.

    Baxter believes that has been managed even though the league has temporarily been reduced to a “developing competition” due to the financial implications of the pandemic and lack of funds in the English game.

    “Two sides in the semi-finals is obviously fantastic. We want to expose the Premiership to as many new viewers as we can, for obvious reasons. Whether we make it a regular occurrence, that’s the challenge,” the director of rugby said.

    “The Premiership is expected to be a developing competition again. We’ve had to do a lot of things around Covid and the financial situation in the country.

    “We’ve had to make some adjustments but we will hope as a competition that we will regrow ourselves over the coming period as well.”

  • £3million set to be shared among Lions nations for women’s rugby £3million set to be shared among Lions nations for women’s rugby

    A new £3million funding initiative will aim to help develop more players and coaches from across the British Isles ahead of the first British and Irish Lions Women’s tour in 2027.

    The Lions will play three Tests against world champions New Zealand during September 2027 and are also expected to have warm-up fixtures against provincial sides.

    Among the challenges facing the historic tour is England’s clear superiority over the other unions, which has seen the Red Roses dominate the Six Nations – with Saturday’s 46-0 victory over Scotland in Edinburgh stretching their overall winning run in the tournament to 27 matches.

    Backed by the Lions Women’s team founding partner Royal London, the £3m ‘Levelling the Playing Field’ pathways funding grant will be utilised in tailored plans for each union to best match their needs.

    The Irish Rugby Football Union has decided to use the funding to host additional women’s under-18 and under-20 camps and training matches to accelerate player development as well as developing a ‘Coach Accelerator Scholarship Program’ and working with universities to identify future talent.

    The Welsh Rugby Union will strengthen its women’s pathway coaching staff with five new members, including a performance pathway coach and specialist skills coach. The WRU will also invest in talent identification programmes, and initiatives to engage Welsh qualified talent based outside of the nation.

    Scottish Rugby is set to recruit two ‘Performance Pipeline’ coaches and will deliver additional youth camps and training matches to accelerate development within the teams as well as hosting residential camps for a national academy.

    The Rugby Football Union will use the grant to further develop England’s current player development groups, which will help increase the targeted skill development of players coming through the pathway.

    It is hoped collaborative working and shared research and ideas will help develop playing standards and give the Lions Women’s squad the best chance of a successful tour to in New Zealand in three years’ time.

    Lions chief executive Ben Calveley said: “Supporting the growth of the women’s game is a key strategic priority for the British and Irish Lions as it is for each of our constituent unions.

    “Royal London’s ‘Levelling the Playing Field’ grant represents a significant investment into the women’s game in the four unions and will make a positive impact on women’s rugby.”

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