Saturday’s action saw Ireland too powerful for Wales in Dublin and England hold Scotland to nil to retain the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield. On Sunday in Paris, Italy held France at bay in the first half but a 10min period early in the second, in which Les Bleus scored three tries, saw them home as comfortable winners.
Ireland 26-3 Wales
Forgetting the fact it had the potential to be a tournament decider, the build-up of the Ireland v Wales game last week was tediously saturated with story of Brian O’Driscoll going up against the only man to have dropped him in his career – Warren Gatland. Forgetting the fact Gatland actually made the right decision and the Lions went out and thumped the Aussies in the final Test.
Welsh captain Alun-Wyn Jones put the scenario into perspective when asked about the potential hostility towards them in Dublin, responding, “It’s not Syria.”
Whether the game indeed lived up to the hype largely depends on which side you were supporting. Dublin will have most likely nearly run dry of Guinness that evening but the Welsh will want to forget their performance very quickly, Gats himself calling it a low point of his career.
While the stats read that the sides had an almost exactly equal share of the possession and territory, it was a very one-sided game, the stats that tell the real story being the line-breaks and the burst tackles. The power of the Irish forwards overwhelmed Wales to the extent that flanker Peter O’Mahony, hitting rucks and claiming turnovers like a man possessed, made his opposite numbers Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton look more like lion cubs than Lions and Paul O’Connell was at his own ferocious best.
In the backs, Johnny Sexton delivered a tactical kicking masterclass and 14 points from the tee, while BOD proved that he is now made entirely of rubber by scrapping himself off the floor after a monstrous hit by opposite man Scott Williams, while Williams left the field moments later and has to undergo surgery on his shoulder. Take note: this is not the way to ‘introduce’ yourself to a man who has played international rugby 138 times:
Scotland 0-20 England
I talked about the lack of tries in the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield in recent years but England managed to break this habit with a lively performance, Mike Brown and Danny Care again shining. Brown now leads the Championship stats for metres made (183) and line breaks (4), whilst being in the top five for defenders beaten (8) and offloads (4).
Conversely, Scotland were woeful to the extent that people have questioned their place in the tournament – forget 130 years of history!
Seriously though, woeful. Scotland’s scoreless display was the first by a side in the tournament since Scotland themselves were also held pointless by France at the same venue almost a decade ago. And what’s more they didn’t even look like coming close to scoring. That might seem like a wildly generalised sweeping statement but proven by the fact England didn’t have to make a tackle in their own 22 – not a single one.
In fact the 20-nil scoreline was flattering to the Scots, the conditions hampering the English attack. Stuart Lancaster will have been very pleased with things like the speed of the ball from the base of the ruck, courtesy of Danny Care, Dylan Hartley’s Phil Taylor-like precision in all 22 of his lineout throws, Luther Burrell’s lines of running in the centres, 2nd cap Jack Nowell’s appetite for work around the park and Billy Vunipola’s continued emergence as a wrecking ball of a carrier.
In contrast Scotland only claimed half of their own lineouts, missed 27 tackles, conceded 17 penalties … need I go on?
Both sides now face the biggest challenge of their tournament so far heading into Round 3 – England must host Ireland coming off their very impressive performance against the reigning champions and Scotland must travel to Italy where they’ll do well to avoid coming one step closer to the Wooden Spoon.
France v Italy
In typical French style, Les Bleus were unconvincing for the majority of Sunday’s game while scrum-half JM Doussain’s boot had kept the scoreboard ticking over, it was a frenetic 10min period of play early in the second half that sealed up the victory.
Two minutes after the break the monstrous Louis Picamoles peeled off the back of a driving maul and took three defenders with him as he barrelled his way to the line. Wesley Fofana struck two minutes later, sniping down an undefended blindside channel and skipping past two Italians in the process. Fofana had been relatively quiet until then but popped up again shortly after, intercepting the ball on the French 22 and streaking 50m up the pitch and putting Yoann Huget into space down the line before debutant Hugo Bonneval finished off the move. Fofana (and France) then went quiet again, dipping in the later stages of the match for Italy to showed their unrelenting, dogged determination in running in a consolation.
Prior to the tournament, the French had all but been written off given their atrocious performance last year but such is the unpredictable beast that is the 6 Nations. Ireland and France now top the table but both have to travel away in Round 3 – France to Cardiff and Ireland to Twickenham.
There’s inevitably some scintillating rugby still to come.