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Six Nations Week 2 | Highlights

13th February 2017

Saturday

Italy vs Ireland

The opening fixture of the second round of this year’s Six Nations saw Italy host Ireland at the Stadio Olimpico. This was always going to be a tough day out for Italy, and the situation was made no better by the opening day defeat that the Irish suffered to Scotland. Ireland really had to come out and make a statement to the rest of the competition that despite that defeat, they were going to be doing everything in their power to get themselves back in the mix – which was certainly possible this year with the introduction of bonus points.

The final scoreline, Ireland 63 Italy 10, reflected both Ireland’s attacking ability and efficiency, but also Italy’s reliance on the superhuman Parisse who seemed to be carrying a heavy knock throughout the game. Some of the tries were brilliantly created by doing simple things to a very high standard – a unique selling point of the Joe Schmidt era. Alongside some brilliant interplay, there were some superb individual performances, such as hat-tricks from CJ Stander and substitute Craig Gilroy – a brace for Keith Earls and a flawless kicking display from Paddy Jackson.

Another positive from this fixture was the performance of Niall Scannell, who showed that there is strength and depth behind captain Rory Best, and the opportunity to really use the whole match day squad. The Italians will be disappointed in themselves that they were unable to put up a better showing in front of their home crowd, but this is a rebuilding phase under Conor O’Shea, and they will be determined to improve before the England game in a fortnight.

 

Wales vs England 

This was a true test match and utter respect must go to both sides for the effort and commitment that was shown on Saturday night. These two teams went hammer and tongs at each other for 80 minutes. The game was played with great pace and physicality, which will leave many players and their coaching staff relieved that they have a two week break before the tournament resumes. The atmosphere in the Principality Stadium, often regarded as one of the finest rugby stadiums in the world, will have been electric for the 74,500 fans that were in attendance.

In defeat, the Welsh deserve a huge amount of credit for their performance. Special mention should go to players like Ross Moriarty, Alun Wyn Jones, Scott Williams and Dan Biggar who all put in gargantuan efforts in repelling the English waves of attack, whilst trying to unlock the English defence.

The game started with an exchange of kicks between the teams and a Ben Youngs try, which was akin to an American Football Quarterback sneak. Eventually, the England defence was breached as Liam Williams crossed over for a try from what was a brilliant set piece move, masking his run until the last second allowing him to scythe through almost untouched. The teams went into half-time with Wales holding a 13 – 8 lead.

Wales created a 16 – 14 lead as we headed into the dying embers of the game, but with the English hammering at their line, the Welsh nerves must have been growing. Then after a missed touch, the English launched a counterattack which was brilliantly finished by Elliott Daly, who evaded Alex Cuthbert’s last ditch tackle to score in the corner. The try was brilliantly converted by Farrell to ensure that Wales would have to score a try to win this game.

This was another weekend where England refused to be beaten and found a way to get ahead. They had some superb performance in the pack, notably MoM Joe Launchbury, as they went head to head with the Welsh. England will be worried that they eventually won’t be able to get themselves out of jail, and can’t afford to keep making the same mistakes. However, they will take a large amount of satisfaction out of their resilience,impact from the bench, and ability to squeeze a win whilst not always playing in top gear. This was, notably, another box ticked on a remarkable run of 16 straight wins.

Sunday

 Scotland vs France 

This was set to be an exciting game where we could learn a lot about the two teams. Was Scotlands performance against Ireland last week a one off? What is this new French side capable of?

This was a bruising encounter, typified by the number of HIA and the loss of some of Scotland’s key operators, in which the French held out for a 22 -16 win at the Stade de France. Scotland got the better of a fast start as Stuart Hogg crossed over for his 3rd try in 2 games, on the occasion of his 50th cap. The French then came into game as they got this monstrous pack carrying regularly, and were able to reply with a Gael Fickou try.

The sides went into half-time with only two points separating them, France 13 – Scotland 11. The Scots will rue some indiscipline, also whilst struggling at scrum time, they conceded a number of penalties which Camille Lopez struck over. Scotland then came right back into the contest with Tim Swinson’s charge over the line, to make the final minutes of the game a very tense affair. The French were able to hold out behind the performances of Picamoles and Vahaamahina.

The Scottish will feel disappointed that they weren’t able to convert their performance into a win this week, and despite losing some big game players to injury during the game, it will still feel like this is a win that got away from them. Finn Russell was at his industrious best trying to create openings in the French defence, and Josh Strauss had an impressive game with a huge number of positive carries.

Both sides will enjoy the fact that they have a fortnight off, so that they can recuperate and prepare themselves for the next round of fixtures. France will be heading to Dublin for a titanic clash with Ireland, and Scotland will host Wales at Murrayfield.

 

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