By Felix Bolton | Contributor
A historic win in Cardiff keeps Welsh Grand Slam hopes alive as they rolled over an England team in dire need of leadership and direction. With France’s game against Scotland postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the French camp, the wait for the 2021 Six Nations champions may have to be extended for another week. A comfortable win in Rome sees Ireland climb up the table, making amends for their shaky opening games. Ultimately, however, it was a Welsh weekend. While a feast of rugby still remains, all eyes will now be on the potential Grand Slam decider in Paris.
Ireland cruise past a bruised Italy
The weekend’s action kicked off in an all to familiar style for the Italians. Promising bursts of flair was outweighed by defensive frailty and poor game management. For Ireland, the game became about redemption for their struggles in the tournament so far. A more concise attacking game plan easily out muscled Italy, as they ran in six tries to secure the bonus point.
First half tries from Leinster trio Will Connors, Hugo Keenan and Garry Ringrose gave the Irish a strong platform to build on, showcasing slick handling and a desire to move away from their previously one dimensional style of attacking play.
The 48-10 score line arguably flattered the Azzuri, who looked flat and lacked direction. Poor discipline highlighted through their 18 penalties conceded and two yellow cards stands out as the significant problem for Franco Smith and his coaching setup. If Italy are to ever compete in the Championship, a foundation of aggressive defence and a good relationship with the referee must be developed.
Ireland travel to Murrayfield in two weeks for a mid-table clash. Will they be able to maintain their altered game plan against an opposition riding the wave of their own success?
Wales win big against the old enemy
A fixture renowned with tight score lines and cagey rugby, this year’s rendition of Wales vs England strayed away from tradition. Winning by their biggest margin against England since 2013, Wales looked merciless in both defence and attack. Their clinical dynamism suffocated Eddie Jones’s men from the outset, racking up two first half tries from returning Josh Adams and Liam Williams. A strong English response in the second half drew the scores level at 24-24, before the boot of Callum Sheedy and bonus point try from Cory Hill put the game well and truly out of England’s reach.
Both opening Welsh tries have sparked a tyranny of debate surrounding the decisions of referee Pascal Gauzere, who allowed Dan Biggar’s quick thinking cross kick assist to stand, then disregarded a contentious Louis Rees-Zammit knock on in the build-up to Liam Williams’ score.
Regardless of the referee, England’s performance was sub-par, even when compared to their opening round loss to Scotland. Lacking leadership and structure, they seemed flustered by the Welsh aggression and gave away an abundance of needless penalties that proved costly. A team penalty count of 14 consisted of five from Maro Itoje, who epitomised a sloppy English performance.
The World Cup runners up looked a shadow of their former selves, and whilst there were glimpses of attacking resurgence after the break in the form of a well taken Ben Youngs try, England’s stagnant approach must be analysed in the up-coming fallow week.
With a clear Cardiff sky, silverware on the line and 100 not out for George North, the stars seemed to align for the Welsh in round three, who will now be eyeing up the most unexpected Grand Slam.