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TheSPORTbible Talks Six Nations With Three Of The BBC's Reporters

TheSPORTbible Talks Six Nations With Three Of The BBC's Reporters

By Saturday evening the Six Nations this year could all be over or, if results go in a weird and wonderful way, we could be heading to the last weekend with England, Ireland and even Scotland all with a chance to with the tournament.

The Six Nations this year has thrown up a bit of a surprise and whilst the much predicted last weekend showdown between Ireland and England could still happen the Scots might have something to say about that.

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With so much drama already gone in the the first three weekends of the tournament and so much to come in the last two it seemed like a perfect chance to catch up with three people who really know what they're talking about.

BBC tv commentator Sara Orchard, tv and Radio 5 Live presenter Sonja McLaughlan and pitchside reporter Lee McKenzie told us what they thought of the tournament so far and what's to come.

First up the three of them told us how they thought the tournament was going so far:

Lee McKenzie: "I think this year we've been treated to a really special six nations... We've seen some fantastic rugby, from the very first week we've seen some great rugby.

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"I think every team, because of what Italy did last week, whether you agree with it or not, every team has delivered a performance, at least one performance. "

Sonja McLaughlan: "I think it's been one of the best for many a year. You've got England continuing to chalk off the wins, a resurgent Scotland.

You've got Conor O'Shea and Italy throwing in some left field tactics that have wound Eddie Jones up to distraction.

"This tournament has just raised the bar to a new level. With it being Lions year I think that's concentrated the minds of a few players."

Sara Orchard: "It's been a real fascinating one, obviously being a Lions year adds a little spice to things.

"Overall the biggest surprise has been that England are still winning and I think that anyone, no matter how patriotic would admit that England haven't played their best rugby so far but are still sitting pretty at the top of the table.

"And the resurgence of Scotland has just been fantastic."

It's pretty unanimous then that Scotland are the big plus from the tournament. Vern Cotter's side have been showing signs of improvement over the years but they've been brilliant.

Having won on the opening weekend of the tournament for the first time in six years they beat Wales last time out for the first time in 10!

But can the Scots actually win at Twickenham this weekend?

LM: "It's going to take something different, no doubt about it. There's a lots of confidence in the camp. It's a really talented young group of guys...

"A lot of them are young enough to not be burdened by Scotland's dismal days. They don't remember them and they don't need to know about them. It's a different wave going through Scottish rugby right now.

"A lot of them were part of that Glasgow team that went down to Leicester in January and thumped them 0-43. It will take a bit of training from Vern but Italy showed they aren't completely unshakeable."


And McLaughlan has been impressed with the Scots too, "What a difference it is to have a competitive Scotland....

"You look around the team and they've got some stand out players, they really have. Stuart Hogg, Greg Laidlaw, the Gray brothers, decent scavengers in the back row and they've got some talent out wide in Seymour and Maitland.

"...It's fantastic that we go to this Calcutta Cup match and Scotland have a real chance of winning for the first time in 30 odd years so it's brilliant. The tournament needs it.

As always in any Six Nations there's been some rather loud subtext this year. Despite all the brilliant rugby the controversy of Italy's 'Ruckgate' might be the most talked about topic.

SO: "I tell you what, I thought it was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant, I know it's not pretty to watch, there's no arguing that...And I appreciate people who don't know a lot about rugby would have been very confused.

"When it comes to rugby intelligence I take my hat off to Conor O'Shea, Brendan Venter and Mike Catt. The way that was executed was excellent. And anyone who thinks they did something wrong or against the spirit of the game, I'm sorry they used the lawbook and used it very well.

"And they exposed this England side...And I thought it was great."

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SM: "You know what, I understand Eddie Jones' frustration and I interviewed him after the game and let me tell you it's probably the most agitated I've ever seen him in a post match environment.

"And I understand that in order to play the game of rugby union at its purest level you have to have that contact, it's a contact sport and it's physical. Take that away from the game and essentially it's not rugby union is it?

"But on the flip side I fully understand why Conor O'Shea felt that Italy had to do something different, they didn't just want to role into Twickenham as a punch bag for England and say 'here's 60 points', which everyone was expecting.

"...I fall on the side of 'good on you Italy' I really don't blame them for going into that arena and just trying to think a bit more left field. And boy did it work, England were really rattled."

LM: "Well, as I come from a nation where we've had to work hard and try and be creative over the years in just about any sport. When you come from Scotland you've got to come up with something different, you're always the underdog.

"I have a certain amount of sympathy for Italy for the 2 weeks leading up to that match it was a case of how many points were they going to get beaten by. So they had to come up with something.

"...They exploited a rule. And I thought it was genius because if it wasn't then they wouldn't have let it go for so long."

And the Italians role in 'controversy' doesn't stop at 'Ruckgate'. Many have started asking if Georgia, now ahead of the Italians in the World Rugby ranking, should be given a place in the tournament.

There's no easy answers with doing nothing, relegating Italy (possibly via a play-off) and making it a Seven Nations all having been spoken about.

One thing's for sure, none of the three think ignoring the issue is an option.

SM: "It's absolutely right that the Six Nations championships evolves. I mean for goodness sake it was the Five Nations once an it evolved to bring in Italy in 2000. Despite some of their results you wouldn't not have Italy now.

"The bottom line is you get to a rugby world cup and you don't want to be able to second guess every time who the final eight teams are going to be in the quarter final of the World Cup. If World Rugby is going to develop it needs to have strength in depth and the only way you can do that is to encourage teams.

"...We've got to encourage teams like Georgia and it's too elitist for the six nations committee to say no out of hand. They've given a small hint that something could change in the future but for now it won't. It's nonsense, things have got to change."

LM: "It's a difficult one because it's such a historical tournament in the British Isles. But does that mean we have the right to block other development.

"...It all comes down to structure in the club game...Something needs to be done to develop other countries but it has to come from grass roots and that's something Italy haven't done."

SO: "I think World Rugby needs to step up a little bit here and invest more in the tournaments that Georgia and Romania play in.

"I know a lot of people have decided that because they can't tickets for Ireland vs England on the last weekend they've thought 'sod this' and bought tickets for the final of the other tournament which is between Georgia and Romania. And they are getting in for about £20 and seeing fantastic rugby.

"I am a fan of promotion and relegation I think it would add spice to it. It is disrespectful in a way considering how much Italy have invested and tried to do everything that's been asked of them. And these things do take time. Is 20 years enough time to grow a rugby nation? I don't think it is."

On a more positive note the brilliance of the tournament might lead to a fantastic Lions summer in New Zealand.

And by the sounds of things Warren Gatland will have a hard job choosing who goes.

SO: "Warren Gatland has a very big headache ahead of it. In particular with that resurgence of Scotland. The last Lions of tour had the overwhelming numbers of Welsh players that were in that last squad, and last test in particular, and now all of a sudden Wales seem to be falling off the radar.

"There's a funny twitter account called Stern Vern and it's supposed to be one of the Scottish players parody of their coach Vern Cotter and they put one up after the Wales match saying "If WG is coming to the after match dinner I've asked the players to put on name badges so he knows who they are."

"I'd be worried if I was a Wales player right now. They proved they can play a decent brand of rugby against England that was a fantastic match. But at the same time part of being a great test player is about being able to not panic and close things down and not make errors when you're under pressure.

"What could have been a turnout for Wales with Warren Gatland as head coach for Lions has somewhat faltered and I don't think we'll see anywhere near as many numbers of Wales players as we've seen in previous tours."

SM: "Oh boy, Warren Gatland has got a box of tricks to choose from. My goodness. He's spoilt for choice!

"There is talent aplenty, look at the 2nd rows available. Look at George Kruis, who hasn't played in the tournament. But Launchbury and Lawes are playing well in Kruis absence, Itoje who isn't even playing in the second row. That's just England.

"Throw in Alun Wyn Jones in Wales, throw in Devin Toner, thrown in the Gray brothers. That's just the second row.

"And oh my gosh the talent available in the back row. How do you turn three from Sam Warburton, Billy Vunipola, Tipuric, John Hardy, Hamish Watson, CJ Stander, Sean O'Brien. That's just the back row. The talent is there, it's really there."

LM: "I think it's an interesting one from Wales point. I do wonder when the Lions tour on the line and your team isn't playing well, I wonder when does that dissolve even further and people just concentrate on their performance to try and prove something.

"It'll be interesting to see how that plays out over the next couple of weeks because time is short to advertise your talents.Some positions are obviously still up for grabs.

It's been interesting to see which matches Warren Gatland has been going to because some of them were obvious matches, like he went to Scotland vs Wales, but also Scotland vs France. I'm pretty certain he knows most of the names."

For some time there's been discussion about making the tournament more 'exciting' and this season bonus points have been introduced as a trial but will they continue?

SO: "I would say generally no [they haven't changed anything] unless you are playing Italy.

"The best example of that is the first round of matches when it was Scotland vs Ireland. Scotland were leading by three or four points, they had an option to kick for the corner and go for a fourth try but Scotland were like "we haven't won our first match of the Six Nations for six years, why on earth are we going to risk it now for a bonus point when we can just kick our goal and take the win." And I don't blame them.

"...But when it comes down to the last match of the Championship then we will know if they are valid or not. Last round, you look up and down the table and it's very close. Then bonus points will make a difference."

SM: "Jury is still out on that one. Everyone has got a bonus point of some description other than Italy. Bonus points might only come into play on that last weekend. If England beat Scotland this weekend and Ireland beat Wales then we could be in bonus point territory for the title.

"You talk to players and coaches and they're really not that bothered by it. I don't think it's affected fundamentally how they go out and approach a game. I don't think we're seeing more attacking rugby because of bonus points."

The big fixture this weekend is obviously the Calcutta Cup when the auld enemy England and Scotland face each other at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon.

It was only right that I asked the Scot, Lee McKenzie what the fixture means to her.

LM: " Oh it's been part of my life as far as I can remember. I was there on the 17th march 1990 [when Scotland beat England in a Grand Slam shoot-out], probably one of my first international memories. That wonderful Bill McLaren commentary.

"I grew up in rugby so for as long I can remember. My mum's side are English and dad's side are Scottish.

"My gran from my mum's side used to look after the dog when we went to Murrayfield and I'd print out the words to Flower of Scotland for her and hand them over and she was insulted by my incredulity as a small kid because she was never going to sing in. I didn't understand it, I thought everyone in Scotland would support Scotland. For me it's been part of growing up."

I don't think Sonja particularly enjoyed me asking how Italy can improve their game but she answered it brilliantly nonetheless.

SM: "I mean goodness me, really? You could write a whole tomb on that. Conor O'shea's not naive. Italy have got problems and he knows it.

"Treviso and Zebre are bottom of the Pro 12...The structure, can Italy sustain more than 1 team in the Pro 12, do they need to combine Treviso and Zebre so they've got all the talent in one team, do you put an Italian team in the Pro 12, like the Jaguars in Super Rugby."

"He's got the get the mindset improved, they've got to be fitter. He's well aware that his team aren't fit enough. He knows what the GPS stats of the Harlequins team were, he knows what sort of stats those boys had.

"He knows Italy are nowhere near it. So there's stuff he can affect in terms of fitness, mental attitude, tactics. And then the wider issue of where Italy sit in terms of Pro 12 and how you can improve Italian rugby and that's a wider issue that he can't tackle on his own."

This weekend will certainly be an interesting one to set up the last weekend of this year's Six Nations.

Can England be champions and Grand Slam winners again? Can Ireland beat them to it or could it be Scotland's year?

Six Nations 2017 is live across BBC TV, Radio and Online this weekend.

Topics: Rugby Union

Ryan Sidle

Ryan is a writer for SPORTbible. He covers all sport from football, formula one, cricket, rugby, tennis, athletics, mma and wrestling. He obviously hates YOUR football team and has no interest in synchronised swimming.

 

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