Round Two produced 17 tries and three victories for the home teamsPixabay - hirobi

Round two of this year’s Six Nations was one in which all three home sides claimed victories and the scrum-feed rule was once again forgotten. Ireland thrashed Italy, England beat Wales, and a tiring France succumbed to a resurgent Scotland.

Ireland 56 – 19 Italy

This weekend’s opener was high-scoring if not thrilling, as Ireland ran in eight tries before leaking three late on, as they lost their structure after making substitutions. They were clinical for 55 minutes, romping to a 42-0 lead, as Italy provided little in terms of opposition. 

Whenever Ireland were on the ball in the first half, they were very fluent, running great lines and showing plenty of control, especially among the half-backs. Their early ambition was marred by some basic errors, but any suggestion that Italy would be competitive vanished after 11 minutes, when Robbie Henshaw scored his first try.

Man-of-the-match Conor Murray was at his attacking best, assisting two tries and scoring one. Likewise, Ireland’s back-three shone, as veterans Keith Earls and Rob Kearney showed that they have plenty left in their legs, while young Jacob Stockdale showed his pace to score his second try after a 70-metre foot-race. My ‘player to watch’, Jordan Larmour, earned his first cap off the bench and showed glimpses of dazzling footwork.

For their part, Italy were poor. They were unable to slow Ireland’s ball down and were at sea defensively. Though they now seem more comfortable with ball in hand, they don’t have the powerful scrum that they once had, and their decision-making is below Tier One standard. That said, they deserved their tries and would have got themselves a bonus point but for a stunning length-of-the-field cover tackle from Earls. When space appeared, Italy exploited it but until it did, they never threatened.

It was, overall, a dominant display by Ireland, who will be troubled by injuries to Lions Tadgh Furlong and Robbie Henshaw and their poor display in the last quarter. If Italy continue to lose by such margins, the calls for Six Nations relegation will be going nowhere.

England 12 – 6 Wales

This was tense. Very tense. After England stormed to a 12-0 lead after 20 minutes, I thought it would be a rout. Jonny May’s two tries were brilliant: one after a perfect kick from Owen Farrell, and another from Joe Launchbury’s sumptuous offload. There, however, ended England’s scoring. Wales failed to offer much attacking threat in the first half due to England’s outstanding kicking game and rush defence, but were disciplined in defence in the second period.

Wales’ kicking game did not match that of their opposition, as Rhys Patchell too often looked flustered in possession and under the high ball. Eddie Jones questioned his “bottle” in a press conference this week, warning him that Jonathon Joseph would be in his eye-line all day, and so it proved. On multiple occasions, Joseph caused Patchell to fluff his lines and he was withdrawn after 56 minutes.

After Sam Simmonds was replaced, injured, at half-time, England seemed to lose some of the breakdown dominance they had in the first 40; Wales started to generate quicker ball and, as England tired, looked threatening in broken play. Simmonds’ replacement, Sam Underhill, had a key part to play, though, making a crucial tackle on Wales’ Scott Williams to prevent a certain try.

Indeed, England’s defence won them the game. They will be delighted not to have conceded a try but can count themselves lucky, as the TMO erred in not awarding Wales a five-pointer when Anscombe beat Anthony Watson to the ball. Welsh coach Warren Gatland was understandably unhappy with the decision, but Wales cannot use it as an excuse. Firstly, because it would have changed the entire game and it is impossible to know how England would have reacted and, secondly, because champion teams are able to overcome such setbacks and win when below their best, just as England proved again.

Mike Brown was a deserving man-of-the-match and showed exactly why he is Eddie’s No.1 fullback. Captain Dylan Hartley continues to justify his selection with excellence at the set piece and an improving carrying game. Elsewhere, Launchbury outplayed each of the 4 Lions locks and Mako Vunipola put in a huge shift. For Wales, Alun-Wyn Jones and Aaron Shingler were outstanding but, for me, Farrell stood out. His kicking, running lines, and all-round defence were immense, and he is developing into a world class 12.

In many ways this game didn’t follow England’s usual script, as they were at their best in the first, rather than last, quarter – the effect of a six-day turnaround showing. Still, the finishers again played a key role: particularly Richard Wigglesworth. In the 23 for the first time since 2015, he brought vital control off the bench at a time when the game could have slipped away. He could yet play a key role in the outcome of this Six Nations.

Scotland 32 – 26 France

On Sunday, Scotland came from behind to beat France in what was truly a game of two halves. The first was far more open than expected, an exciting contest in which both sides looked to play at pace. However, it came back to bite Les Bleus, as they tired in the final quarter, losing their discipline and allowing Greig Laidlaw to kick Scotland to victory.

Owen Farrell put in a stellar performance at 12Wikimedia - Richard Allport

Scotland looked the more organised in both attack and defence, showing glimpses of the attacking flair with which they played in the autumn. Still, they were exploited out wide for both of France’s first-half tries and, against a better-structured attack, would have been vulnerable.

Although they started better than last weekend, France continue to amount to less than the sum of their parts. It is moments of individual brilliance, mainly from Teddy Thomas, that are making them look good. The Frenchman scored a carbon copy of the try he scored last weekend and is a man all teams will have to mark more closely.

There were moments of good French cohesion early on, while strong breakdown work in the second 40 slowed Scotland down, but defensive lapses cost them points. They are now without a win in their last eight outings. The selection of 32-year-old Lionel Beauxis provided a stark contrast to that of 19-year-old Matthieu Jalibert against Ireland but was ultimately a mistake. He threw some wild passes and fumbled the ball after tiring early: he looks a long way off the pace for international rugby.

Neither side looked after the ball well for the first 60 minutes, and the Scots were not aided by a poor kicking display from Finn Russell, giving away territory and possession cheaply. They looked more assured when Laidlaw shifted to 10 on 65 minutes, as he brought great leadership and patience in a man-of-the-match performance.

Scotland were much improved from last weekend: the forward pack turned up and were far more cohesive. Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist and Ryan Wilson all justified their selection with powerful carrying, alongside the tireless Jonny Gray. In the backs, Stuart Hogg lived up to his billing as one of the tournament’s most exciting players, and Huw Jones was also superb playing in his preferred position of outside centre. The forward thrust they lacked against Wales was vital for their win here.

As the teams take a week off to regroup and recover, Ireland lead the way narrowly on points difference, but England remain the team to beat. All roads lead to Twickenham on 17th March


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