A breathless second week of Six Nations actions saw a huge victory for Ireland in Rome; England extend their unbeaten run to 17 test matches with a late win in Cardiff; and France see off a resilient Scotland team to record their first win of the tournament. There were lots of huge talking points, so here’s the full round-up, along with a few predictions of what Round 3 may bring…
- A thoroughly absorbing contest between Wales and England in Cardiff saw the home team agonisingly close to victory, only for Wales to relinquish the lead in the 75th minute, shattering any Welsh hopes of a Grand Slam (and this Welsh Rugby Man’s heart to boot). The game was played at an exhausting pace, the teams well matched in both attack and defence, with a couple of small individual errors from Wales and English opportunism perhaps ultimately contributing to the result. England performed far better than they did against France, but I would say they are still some way from reaching their potential during the Six Nations, and could end up putting a cricket score on Italy next weekend if everything finally clicks. Wales looked much more organised and indeed a lot more ambitious in attack at times – maybe sometimes too ambitious, as two kickable penalty opportunities were spurned in favour of a kick to touch. Still, Alun Wyn Jones was every bit the warrior in the engine room, and there are indications the back-row combination of Warburton, Tipuric and Moriarty is really starting to find its mojo. Moriarty enjoyed an exceptional evening, carrying well and defending aggressively. He divided the audience with a colossal but slightly late tackle on the superb Owen Farrell – just how late the tackle was depends on which side of the River Severn you’re from. Taulupe Faletau’s appearance from the bench to replace Moriarty on the 50-minute mark actually felt premature, an indication of the Gloucester back-row’s influence on this contest. I now believe we have two world-class operators competing for the No.8 jersey in Wales. Final Score: Wales 16 – 21 England
- Ireland thrashed an Italy side that sadly seemed to have conceded defeat after the 60-minute mark. To be honest, even a losing bonus point felt out of reach at that stage, Joe Shmidt’s side making amends for their defeat against Scotland in Round One. This game was pretty much one-way traffic, with virtually any enterprise shown by the Italians undone through some ferocious, well-drilled Irish defending. Italy made too many unforced errors and some poor decisions, and Ireland looked in an unforgiving mood. A standout performer was Ireland blind-side flanker CJ Stander, who was just absolutely relentless all afternoon. This man will win a British and Irish Lions cap. His man-of-the-match performance saw him run in a staggering hat-trick of tries, one of two Irishmen to record hat-tricks in a remarkable rout. It was a complete team performance, superb to watch. On this sort of form, Ireland could yet go on to be title contenders. Final Score: Italy 10 – 63 Ireland
- The Sunday afternoon game saw Scottish hopes of beating France in Paris dashed by two late penalties. Greig Laidlaw and Josh Strauss were casualties in a close, exciting and brutal encounter, with both key players now sadly set to miss the rest of the Six Nations. Interestingly, Scotland have never won a Six Nations game in Paris – their last victory there coming in 1999 as Scotland won the old Five Nations tournament. There is a deserved optimism surrounding this Scotland team. Their back line, anchored by live-wire Stuart Hogg, looks inventive and unpredictable, willing to attack from anywhere. I’m also a big fan of Glasgow try-machine Tommy Seymour, who could be another good bet for making the Lions tour. Final Score: France 22-16 Scotland
Round Three will see Scotland host Wales, Ireland face France, and England meet Italy. Wales will certainly look to keep their tournament hopes alive, and could have the firepower and experience to outmuscle Scotland. It’ll be a tight affair, but I’m backing Wales to win that one. Given Ireland’s performance against Italy, I think they will face France with some confidence and could win by ten points, especially as they’ll be looking for bonus points now to make up for their opening round loss. England v Italy will surely only end one way, and although the Azzurri will be really fired up to take on England at Twickenham, if England find the kind of form they hit in the November series, I fear things could really get ugly for Italy after the hour mark.