Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll marked his record-breaking 140th international appearance – and his last on Irish soil – with two try assists in a 46-7 demolition of Italy. He was fittingly awarded man of the match.
That sets Ireland up rather nicely to give him a suitably fitting send-off when he plays his last Test on Saturday. And that’s fittingly the same fixture as his 6 Nations debut in 2000, when he scored a hat-trick and Ireland clinched a historic victory in Paris. Historic, because they haven’t beaten France in Paris since.
So it would be almost nauseously fitting should BOD seal his crowning Test with a repeat of that performance but in actual fact it would take a rugby fan devoid of human emotion to not wish him a suitably fitting end to his career. Even if a win for Ireland means England will most likely come second in the Championship for a third consecutive year.
Ireland v Italy
Ireland boast a sizeable advantage in points difference at the top of the 6 Nations table after a seven-try routing of a Sergio Parisse-less Italy. The Azzurri were starved of possession and territory from the off and had to put in a gut-bustingly brave defensive performance, making 208 tackles. Five Italians (Josh Furno, 24; Quintin Geldenhuys, 23; Robert Barbieri, 23; Marco Bortolami, 20; and Leonardo Ghiraldini, 18) topped the week’s tackle count but, despite a solid tackle success rate of 90%, that drain of having to persistently act as crash test dummies for the Irish attack proved too much. Ireland opened the flood gates in the second half, running in five tries.
Lead by Paul O’Connell, the Irish pack has been immense, boasting the best set-piece in the Championship having won 93.4% of their lineouts and 92.6% of their scrums. They’ve also been working tirelessly at the breakdown, even in the absence of Peter O’Mahony, with the highest number of turnovers won at 32. To put this into context the next closest nation is France on 19 and Italy have claimed only 11. Is Jacques Brunel trying to get his side to play running rugby to the detriment of the team’s competion for the ball in defence?
BOD’s MOTM display was awarded after only 60mins on the pitch. It was the type of performance only a veteran of 140 caps could muster, his impeccable vision and precision putting away both Johnny Sexton – after what looked like a move that had come straight off the Leinster training paddock – and Andrew Trimble with a basketball-esque chest pass that fizzed through a gap between two Italian defenders. Trimble himself took his try well, showing power to carry Josh Furno with him over the line.
Ireland have a poor record in Paris since that 2000 BOD debut but have set themselves up nicely to claim their second 6 Nations title.
Scotland v France
France managed to clinch victory despite having less territory and possession (both 42%) than Scotland and a set-piece display that group of eight drunk llamas would be ashamed of. The French lineout was beyond terrible, as they only claimed 43% of their own ball, and the scrum was not much better, the supposedly embattled front row warriors of Thomas Domingo and Nicolas Mas tiring quickly and getting penalised badly late in the game.
Fortunately for Les Bleus, they were kept in the game by Scotland’s woeful discipline and an intercepted pass. In a day of irony an early error from Yohan Huget gifted Scotland their first try but the French winger later redeemed himself by reading a pass from Duncan Weir – the drop-kick hero of Round 3 – and streaking 90metres up the pitch untouched.
Amongst a generally poor performance from the French, the back row was the only shining light, despite missing Louis Picamoles and Yannick Nyanga. Damien Chouly filled in admirably for Picamoles but will be the victim of Philippe Saint-Andre wishing to re-bolster his squad by recalling Picamoles for the final Round bout – and potential title decider against Ireland.
The poor French lineout display can largely be put down to the disruptive work of Jim Hamilton and Richie Gray and elsewhere among the Scots there were admirable performances. David Denton carried well, the front row embarrassed their counterparts and there were the usual sparks of brilliance from the back in Stuart Hogg.
Scotland have conceded the most penalties of the Championship (51), however and it was this ill-discipline that cost them dearly at the death at Murrayfield. A penalty in front of the posts saw France claim their third victory of the tournament, which still gives Les Bleus a chance – albeit slim – of claiming the trophy.
England v Wales
12 Lions in the Welsh starting XV, pretty much all out-performed by their opposite men.
Mike Brown was again outstanding and now leads the Championship rankings for metres gained (410), clean breaks (7) and defenders beaten (20). Along with his back-three colleagues Jack Nowell and Jonny May, the trio had by far the best attacking stats of the round, clocking up almost 350 metres between them.
In the centres, there is a faint whispering that England might have found a pairing with which to challenge the best in the world in 18 months’ time. Under the pressure of a fit-again Manu Tuilagi returned to England training, Luther Burrell did everything necessary to assure England fans that he is, in actual fact, a more than worthy candidate for that no13 shirt. The combination of Burrell and Twelvetrees, who showed his distributing capabilities and chipped ahead with perfection for Burrell to pounce on, is starting to look like the real deal.
Danny Care also deserves a mention for continually injecting pace into the England side and two tap-and-go penalties in quick succession led to his own try.
In the scrum Gethin Jenkins struggled all day long against David Wilson to the point where referee Romain Poite had enough of his persistence in driving at 45 degrees into Dylan Hartley and sent Jenkins to the bin in the 53rd minute, only to be replaced by Paul James when his ten minute sentence was completed.
Behind him the second row pairing of Jake Ball and Alun-Wyn Jones was amongst the better performing partnership of the day but was still out-classed by the ever improving duo of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes. The ever industrious Launchbury beavered away in another incredible shift while MOTM Lawes asserted himself over the Lions captain Jones at the lineout and also worked tirelessly in defence with ten tackles.
The back row too, though quieter than in the game against Ireland, kept their Lions counterparts at bay. England are therefore, thanks to their defeat of the reigning Champions, still in the running. The nation will wait with bated breath for the result of that game in Paris.