Here are your rugby morning headlines for Monday, February 8.
Sam Warburton says ‘enough is enough’ for Italy
Former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton has said “enough is enough” when it comes to Italy’s involvement in the Six Nations and backed calls for promotion and relegation to be introduced.
The Italians were trounced on the opening weekend of the tournament, slumping to a 50-10 defeat at the hands of the French in Rome.
It served as a stark reminder just how far off the pace Italy continue to be in the northern hemisphere tournament and many believe some Tier Two nations deserve a crack at the big time.
And that is a view Warburton also shares and highlighted just why that it the case during the BBC’s coverage of Wales vs Ireland on Sunday.
“There’s got to be a change,” Warburton said on BBC. “It’s not just throwing your toys out of the pram off one game. For quite a few years now Italy haven’t really been competitive. I personally think there’s got to be promotion and relegation in the Six Nations.
“Say if it was last year, Georgia, who won the second tier competition… We can’t keep putting a glass ceiling on these teams in Europe because otherwise how do we know what the growth in Europe is going to be like?
“If that’s the case, Italy come bottom and Georgia win, in the next international window, Georgia should travel to Italy – so Italy still get home advantage and a chance to stay in the competition – for a playoff game. That would get some pretty good TV viewings, I’m sure. I’d like to see that.
“I think enough is enough. Italy just don’t have the strength in depth from a player pool point of view. They’re just not good enough to compete at this level right now.”
Former England captain and manager Martin Johnson also weighed in by saying: “It was far too easy for France. We’re sitting here cringing.
“Even when we’ve beaten Italy in the past, they’ve always made it a game. You had to go and beat them, and they were tough defensively. They were physical. They made it very difficult for you. They kept hold of possession and kept it away from you.”
England display the ‘worst I’ve ever seen’ – Woodward
World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has issued a withering assessment of England’s defeat by Scotland on Saturday, branding the performance the “worst he has ever seen them play”.
In a toughly-fought contest at Twickenham, it was the Scots who emerged victorious against the Six Nations title holders with an 11-6 win.
Eddie Jones’ side came in for much criticism after a rather sterile performance against Scotland, who took advantage and claimed their first scalp of the tournament.
And Woodward has weight in with his typically strident view of the game.
“One way or another I’ve watched every England game since the mid-1970s,” he said in his Daily Mail column. “I supported England, I was honoured to play for and then coach England, and in the media have covered England around the world.
“And that was the worst I have ever seen England play by some margin given what was at stake.
He added: ““Scotland were magnificent but England, other than a resolute defence which at least earned a losing bonus point, were indescribably bad.
“They were off the pace, had no attacking ideas, kicked away what little quality possession they did earn and were ill-disciplined, coughing up nine penalties in the first 23 minutes.
“The latter can partly be attributed to the huge pressure Scotland built, but good sides and one as experienced as England find ways to absorb it. It is exactly then that you must not lose it mentally and give away penalties.”
England were among the favourites to retain their title in this campaign, but Saturday’s shock loss to Scotland has many now questioning their credentials.
None more so than Woodward, who believes this side has now lost its identity.
“Eddie and the RFU could point to a Six Nations title and an Autumn Nations Cup, but from the outside everybody could see a team struggling with its identity,” he added.
“England have been a side locked into the most conservative, talent-quashing kicking game plan imaginable, ensuring that they underperformed.
“They kept winning, just, but Saturday was the moment of truth. They should have lost to a France third XV in December and now they have been played off the park by Scotland in a Calcutta Cup encounter at home.”
Wales decimated by injuries as four players ruled out of Scotland clash
Four of Wales’ starting XV have already been ruled out of next weekend’s match against Scotland having sustained injuries in the win over Ireland.
Wayne Pivac’s side have been left battered following a bruising 21-16 victory at the Principality Stadium and it will have ramifications for the trip to Murrayfield on Saturday, February 13.
The short turnaround will really hamper Wales, with Johnny Williams and Hallam Amos out of contention for the next match having failed head injury assessments on Sunday afternoon.
Concussion return-to-play protocols dictate that six days’ rest is not enough time to return to action.
Scrum-half Tomos Williams pulled his hamstring at the end of the first half and Pivac has already ruled him out, while Dan Lydiate has suffered a suspected knee ligament injury which could keep him sidelined for some time.
Billy Burns ‘upset’ after kick gaffe
Ireland players have had to console fly-half Billy Burns after his late kick to touch sailed over the dead-ball line to kill the game and hand Wales the win.
Wales fans looked on in horror as Gareth Davies kicked away possession with fewer than 10 seconds left on the clock to nurse the lead, allowing Ireland one last chance to launch an attack and earn the win.
After driving into the Wales half and winning a penalty, replacement Burns looked to send the ball deep into touch to give Ireland a lineout within metres of the Welsh line.
However, he overcooked his touchfinder and Louis Rees-Zammit punched the air as it sailed over the tryline to signal the end of the game, leaving Burns distraught at throwing away such a golden opportunity, especially given Wales’ frailties in the lineout.
And Burns’ Ulster team-mate Iain Henderson has revealed just how Burns was feeling after the match.
“Billy is upset,” Henderson said. “Billy puts a huge amount on his own shoulders a lot of the time and he has definitely – almost always – carried Ulster in the past. And he will do for Ireland in the future as well.
“Obviously, he realises, with that kick to the corner there, he is trying to get every single last inch out of that ball. He slightly overcooked it.
“I thought he was excellent when he came on. I think, when he goes back and looks at it again, he will take a lot from the impact he made.”
Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton, whose head injury led to Burns’ introduction, also had to offer words of advice after the final whistle.
“I said to him, you’ve got to go for it and he did. I went for one as well,” Sexton said.
“When you’re chasing a game, you’re eight points down, or as Billy was five points down, you’ve got to put it five metres out.
“That’s when you score tries. If you put it 10m out, even a good maul rarely gets over.
“Other days you’re the hero when you stick it on the 5m (line). It’s the life of the No 10.
“It comes down to small margins. I thought he did very well in the other parts of the game. That’s one moment but there’s plenty through that second half where we could have done better but it’s tough with 14 men.
“As a ten, you have moments when you’re a hero and you have moments when you’re a villain.
“You put yourself in those moments, that’s the responsibility that you have. If you kick the ball to the ’22’, that’s worse for me than trying to stick it five metres out and it not coming off. He’ll learn and he’ll go again.”
-- to www.walesonline.co.uk