François Trinh-Duc replaced Lionel Beauxis as fly-half for France in MarseilleAntoinewambach

Another round of games; another incorrect prediction. With two rounds to go, only one team remains unbeaten – and it’s not England. After a dire affair in Marseille on Friday night from which France eventually emerged victorious, Ireland held on to beat Wales before Scotland produced the shock of the tournament: downing England.

It was a weekend which showed the collective strength of rugby in the British Isles, starkly contrasted with the shambles on the continent (Spain excluded, of course), and it was one in which the championship was blown wide open. Ireland might now be favourites, but England and Scotland are very much still in the race.

 France 34 – 17 Italy

Though the scoreline might suggest an exciting game, this was anything but. Both teams were very poor. In the end, France were decidedly better, but still looked all over the place. They continue to have the individuals to create moments of excitement but continue to lack the attacking structure to put teams like Italy to the sword. The Azzurri, for their part, showed initial strength up front, before fading due to the sort of basic errors which are unacceptable at international level.

There were moments when France got themselves into great positions, but too often succumbed to unforced errors. If they have a game in which every pass goes to hand, and every piece of skill comes off, they could cause an upset against England, but if England put them under pressure, there should be little concern. Their exit strategies appear non-existent and, at times, their decision-making is baffling. Indeed, the decision to select Lionel Beauxis at fly-half continues to confound. Likewise, the decision to substitute their best player of the night, Yacouba Camara, before the hour was confusing.

One good decision, though, was the selection of Matthieu Bastareaud. After dropping eight of their best players for behavioural indiscretions, France almost had to pick the 20-stone centre but, despite being in worse physical condition than any of the props, he was key to their getting the win. Italy struggled to stop him making ground and he also showed some good hands, eventually bagging a try.

Nonetheless, his was only one of three, as France failed to get a bonus point despite having over 60% of possession and territory. This had a lot to do with the high number of turnovers conceded (14 for France, 13 for Italy), and simple inaccuracies.

They will no doubt raise their game for England in Paris but, until they get some consistency in selection and some structure in attack, there is no reason why they should win any more games.

Ireland 37 – 27 Wales

Unlike France vs Italy, this was as exciting as the scoreboard suggests. The lead changed hands throughout and, though Ireland looked to have wrapped up victory at 27-18 before the hour, Wales came back to set up a thrilling finish.

Indeed, it was in the last five minutes that Wales finally played their best rugby, scoring in the 77th minute to make it 30-27. After the restart, they won the ball back and threatened to steal victory before Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale intercepted to deny the visitors a point. That was Stockdale’s second of the afternoon and Ireland’s fifth, meaning they earned what could be a vital try bonus-point.

Jonny Sexton's kicking was wayward against WalesFlickr - Warwick Gastinger

Ireland dominated both territory (75%) and possession (69%), and would have been further ahead but for a rare off-day for the boot of Jonny Sexton, who missed four of his seven shots at goal. Wales will have been relieved after conceding over twice as many penalties as the home side.

Still, both teams had moments of real fluency in attack, with Jonny Sexton orchestrating the Irish backline in typical style, and centre Chris Farrell making an impressive Six Nations debut. Wales found their straps late on, particularly after moving Gareth Anscombe to 10, but also through the impressive ball-playing of their back-row. Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric both made try-scoring passes Sexton would have been proud of, while Aaron Shingler continues to stand out.

Of concern to Ireland will be the way in which they were so easily carved open for Wales’ late tries – both out wide. Having shown defensive vulnerabilities in the second half against Italy, Joe Schmidt will be wanting an improvement from his bench. That said, there were also moments of defensive weakness earlier on; perhaps showing the impact of another new centre-pairing. Their turnover rate, too, will be disappointing given the breakdown has been such an area of strength in recent seasons; but this was owing to the skill of Wales’ pack.

The Welsh will be pleased with aspects of their performance and excited by the return of a powerful George North but will be frustrated they weren’t able to stay in the game more during the second period. Ireland, meanwhile, march on undefeated, as they chase down the coveted Grand Slam.

Scotland 25 – 13 England

This was not a result I saw coming. After Scotland beat Australia at Murrayfield last year, we all wondered if it might happen, but there was no evidence from the opening rounds of the Six Nations to suggest that it would. They ground out a result against France after being badly beaten in Cardiff, but this was an entirely different performance. The game was won in the first half, with Scotland storming to a 22-6 lead, before England tightened things up, winning the second forty, 7-3. Still, England were properly beaten and couldn’t even manage a losing bonus point – something which may turn out to be crucial.

In the first half, I didn’t recognise the team playing in white. It was the sort of performance we might have expected from an England side circa 2008-2010: the sort of performance which left fans tearing their hair out and Eddie Jones perplexed. Quite simply, they were not at the races. In the first forty, Scotland were at their best, and England were at their worst – or at least, that’s how they were made to look.

Finn Russell silenced his critics in Scotland's stellar defeat of England at MurrayfieldDavid Molloy

There was no area of the game which England won. They were given a breakdown masterclass by John Barclay and Hamish Watson, left gaping holes in defence, and struggled to get themselves on the front-foot. Their penalty count was again too high, while the back row was exposed for a lack of pace: England missed Sam Simmonds. Nathan Hughes made some hefty carries while he was on but, for only the second time under Jones, England’s pack was outplayed.


Mountain View

Has football lost its touch?

The second half was markedly better, but England seemed to lack a game-breaking individual. Scotland marshalled Ben Te’o well when he came on, while Sam Underhill’s yellow card didn’t make life any easier. Indeed, where England may have had the rub of the green in recent times, every decision here seemed to go against them. They had two tries ruled out for infringements – the second more dubious than the first – while some of the breakdown law interpretations were generous. Even the ball bounced Scotland’s way. If England have been lucky of late, then this luck seems to have run out.

In the end, though, Scotland were by far the better team. Finn Russell put in a man-of-the-match performance to silence his critics, while Huw Jones comfortably outplayed the Lions opposite him. The challenge for them will be replicating this level of performance away from the incredible atmosphere of Edinburgh, while for England it will be about how much they can learn. The Webb Ellis trophy suddenly seems very far away 

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