By Patrick O’Brien
This week has seen the return of the Six Nations and it was immense. There was something for everyone, with plenty of tries coming in all three games, setting up this year’s competition as one of the most promising in recent years.
The opening match between France and Wales saw the home side dominate in the first half in Paris, scoring an unanswered 16 points, including a well worked try scored by Yoann Huget as well as a drop goal from Camille Lopez to finish the first-half. Despite the jittery start, epitomised by the two missed penalties by Gareth Anscombe, Wales fought back scoring 3 tries, two being scored by George North.
Wales played well in the second-half but ultimately the French team made some costly errors which led to their defeat, most noticeably a dropped ball by Huget on the French try line gifting North his first try and a long pass from Sebastien Vahaamahina that North was able to intercept to score his second. Overall, both sides looked good at one point in the game and had their share of errors, but Wales were the sharper team at the end of the night and were perhaps better able to capitalise on their opposition’s mistakes helping them to a tightly fought 19-24-point win. Despite the loss France were fantastic in the first-half and if they can manage to maintain the composure for a full game, they will be a difficult side to beat this tournament.
The Second match between Scotland and Italy was also a good showing for both sides but there was really only going to be one winner. Scotland were dominant for most of the match and likely would have won by an even more significant margin if not for the yellow card received by Simon Berghan in the final 10 minutes, after which the Italians scored 17 points.
While unfortunate the Scotsman still sit atop the table after the first week due to their bonus points for scoring over four tries and their points difference. Blair Kinghorn had a phenomenal game scoring a hattrick after just 54 minutes with a further two coming from Stuart Hogg and Christopher Harris. The Italians once again look set to receive the wooden spoon at the end of this championship and still look like the weakest of the 6 teams overall but the 3 tries they scored in the last 10 minutes showed they are getting better albeit they required a man advantage to really get the pressure on. Italy did do well to score as many tries as they did in the last 10 minutes but by that late in the game Scotland were never going to be caught and deserved there 33-20-point win.
Finally, England were away in Dublin for one of the biggest games in the championship for both teams with many pitching it as a decider between the 2nd and 3rd ranked teams in the world. Of all the games this week, this one was the must-see for any rugby fan and it absolutely did not disappoint.
England scored after just 90 seconds and Ireland were unable to overtake them even while they were down to 14 men after Tom Curry received a yellow. Ireland did however strike back 25 minutes in after Cian Healy burrowed his way under the English defence to give Ireland the lead, for the last time in the game. A fumbled ball by Jacob Stockdale in his in-goal area allowed Elliot Daly to regain the lead for England. Two more unanswered tries from England meant their lead was secured despite an Irish try in the last minute.
England were simply the better team on the day. Their kick-chase game was extremely impressive, and the Absence of Rob Kearney at Full-back for Ireland was definitely noticeable in this game as while Robbie Henshaw has experience playing at full back, he was caught in poor positions on a number of occasions putting extra pressure onto Stockdale and Earls which may have caused their own errors. In addition to this, the English defence was very sharp all game and the Irish struggled to break it down and Owen Farrell didn’t miss many points off the kicking tee which only served to emphasise the gap between the two teams.
Winning any game in Dublin proves difficult but getting a bonus point win proves even more difficult making the result for the English even more impressive. They are currently second in the table despite their bonus point win due to the Scots having a greater points difference after their win at Murrayfield but this likely won’t be any concern to any English fans who are likely full of confidence after their sides 20-32-point victory.