Former Preston Grasshoppers player and ex-director of rugby at Lightfoot Green writes every Friday for the Evening Post
In last week’s column I stated that I was undecided as to whether we had seen much change in the teams approach after the first round of games in this year’s Six Nations Championship.
Unfortunately the second round of games only confirmed what I feared.
Any evolution in the Northern Hemisphere game is going to be a long and slow process.
There were some nice touches but the for the most part, all three games were attritional and showed little ambition. They remained stop-start in nature and lacked fluidity.
Sir Clive Woodward’s comment that England had so far only beaten the ‘second division teams in the Six Nations’ was further confirmation that the overall competitiveness remains an issue.
His comments no doubt were fuelled by the collective collapse of both Italy and Scotland in the final quarter of their respective games.
The smaller nations may lack playing depth and quality but to be unable to maintain competitiveness for 80 minutes is disappointing.
When you can summon more than half a team from the replacements bench during the course of a game then the question has to be, why are certain teams so lacking in conditioning to last the course?
The other area that shows little or no improvement is in the skill department.
Whilst there was never going to be a quick fix to this problem, I have to say it is frustrating to see so many unforced errors in games.
This is part of the problem as to why we are seeing so little fluidity in games.
I do not want to sound overly negative but expecting international standard players to be able to catch and pass to the requisite standard – when they eventually show any attacking enterprise – is not that unreasonable surely?
Unfortunately physical slug fests continue to dominate the tactical approach. The France versus Ireland games was a particular bore in that respect.
France again showed signs of a positive approach but they are a limited team. In some ways a French resurgence is what is most needed to elevate the standard.
Ireland have regressed badly.
They showed no enterprise at all in Paris and seem to prefer to run up blind alleys and seek contact at every phase.
When that didn’t break down the opposition defence, the ball was then inevitably kicked away.
It was a very basic approach considering how tactically lauded their coach Joe Schmidt was only a few months ago.
Yes rugby is a game of physical intimidation but it is also a game of ingenuity and skill.
Quite simply, the skill sets and tactical approach of the Six Nations teams are so limited that we remain light years behind the Southern Hemisphere teams.
In football parlance, the teams are going out with the mindset of not to lose games.
It’s become an approach of defend, wait for a penalty, kick for touch, drive a lineout and then see if we can take points from there.
Despite the overall play being conservative and attritional, there seems to be a strange language of denial about the standard of play we are witnessing.
When a respected authority on the game such as Sir Ian McGeechan is quoted as saying the Scottish performance in Cardiff on Saturday was “magnificent” then we have a real perception problem.
Sorry Geech but Scotland were far from magnificent.
No team that makes the volume of mistakes that the Scots did on Saturday or fall off the pace as alarmingly as they did in the second half in Cardiff can be described as magnificent.
But he is not alone. Far too many pundits lavish praise on bursts of average play.
I sometimes wonder if these comments are borne out of desperation for something positive to say.
Every half-decent passage of action is elevated through hyperbole.
Suddenly a sustained period of basic execution of the core skills is “a fantastic spell of pressure” or the ability to string half a dozen passes together is “an outstanding movement”.
The fact that the build-up play often comes to nothing – invariably breaking down due to a basic handling error or taking a wrong option – does not seem to attract a balancing admonishment.
No New Zealander worth their salt would ever describe a half-break that resulted in a dropped ball or forward pass as “wonderful build-up play”.
No the Kiwis would be critical as to why the opportunity was not finished off.
It seems to be a sign of the times that in modern sport we have to overly positive about everything even when it is clear that we continue to see the same errors week in, week out.
It is fair enough to adopt this overly positive mindset when dealing with children or social players who are learning the game or mixing exercise with fun from their endeavors.
But top-level sport surely requires a greater realism to it.
And the current reality for the Six Nations is that it remains mired in mediocrity of thought and execution.