Match 1 – Ireland 26 Wales 3
Wales’ hopes of a third straight championship victory were dealt a crushing blow as they were completely outclassed by an inspired Ireland side in Dublin.
The game was built up to be one of the most important in the tournament: not only because these two were probably the two favourites after the first week, but also because of the bad blood between Warren Gatland, Welsh coach, and Brian O’Driscoll, Irish rugby’s darling (Gatland had controversially dropped the 34 year-old centre from the British and Irish Lions’ 3rd Test against Austalia). However, the game was almost completely one-sided and non-competitive from start to finish.
Jonny Sexton kicked the first points of the match after only 7 minutes then doubled his points tally in the 17th minute by slotting over another penalty. While Wales did manage to get into some attacking positions in the first quarter, they frequently lost the ball through handling errors or lazy infringements, with Dan Lydiate giving away four penalties alone. In the 32nd minute, the impressive Sexton hit a perfectly-positioned punt into the corner, resulting in an Irish lineout from which they outmuscled a weak Welsh defence with a driving maul which allowed Chris Henry to dive over, with Sexton’s conversion making it 13-0 at half time.
The second half was no improvement on the first for the Welsh: Jonny Sexton started by kicking a third penalty to give Ireland a 16 point lead. The brief spark of hope that was provided through Halfpenny scoring Wales’ first points with a 55th minute penalty was quickly extinguished by Sexton responding in kind to bring his tally for the match up to 11 points. Rhodri Jones was unlucky not to score a try for Wales in the 67th minute when referee Wayne Barnes judged that his dive for the line constituted an illegal double-movement, but it was no consolation for the visitors who were further bruised by replacement fly-half Paddy Jackson running in for a 78th minute try that he promptly converted to make the final score 26-3.
Ireland will be thrilled to have got revenge for their earlier perceived grievances at the hands of Welsh coach Warren Gatland and because they now sit atop the championship table. With their possession of several of the form players in world rugby at the moment, any team would be worried to face them. Wales, on the other hand, will be greatly disappointed with their exceedingly poor performance, but will take consolation from the fact that last year, after losing to Ireland, they went on to win the trophy.
Top Points Scorer: Jonny Sexton (Ireland) – 14pts
Man of the Match – Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
Match 2 – England 20 Scotland 0
In a second one-sided match of the weekend, England dominated a lacklustre Scotland to claim the Calcutta Cup.
In a match played in terrible, waterlogged conditons, open play was restricted, with the first score coming from a drop goal from scrum-half Danny Care after Owen Farrell slipped and missed a penalty, as did Greg Laidlaw a few minutes later. England extended their lead with a well worked line-out move that was scored by centre Luther Burrell for his second try in only his second international match. Laidlaw and Farrell traded missed penalties, before Farrell finally managed to score a penalty at the third attempt to make the score 13-0 in the 28th minute, which was the eventual half-time score as England’s attack was cancelled out by a stubborn Scotland.
After the break, the Scottish lineout started to crumble, and they had difficulty holding on to possession. Farrell missed a further penalty, but Scotland’s Alex Dunbar was sin-binned for illegally interfering in the ruck in the 53rd minute, leaving their situation dire. England took the opportunity provided by their man advantage to score a further try through Mike Brown, after which the match fizzled out in the Murrayfield downpour, with the disheartended Scottish fans voicing their disapproval as the final whistle blew with the score at 20-0.
Top Points Scorer: Owen Farrell (England) – 7pts
Man of the Match: Mike Brown (England)
Match 3 – France 30 Italy 10
France maintained their unbeaten record for the tournament with a lukewarm victory over a stubborn Italian team.
The first 26 minutes went scoreless, with both teams’ kickers performing atrociously: France missed two penalties and a drop-goal, whilst Italy’s Gonzalo Garcia was equally wasteful. Eventually, Jean-Marc Doussain opened the scoring with a penalty, but Italy quickly levelled through the boot of Tommasso Allan. Allan missed a further penalty which would have put the Italians into the lead, and France moved ahead through two more Doussain penalties to give them a 9-3 lead.
The French came out brilliantly in the second-half, with the sucker-punch of two tries in three minutes from Louis Picamoles and Wesley Fofana respectively. Doussain converted both, giving France a 20 point lead in a previously tight match. They extended the lead even further soon after when Wesley Fofana intercepted a lazy Italian pass, ran half the length of the pitch, offloaded to Yoann Huget who in turn passed the ball to Hugo Bonneval who ran into the corner for a debut score. This, with Doussain’s conversion, put France a 30-3 lead, from which point they seemed relaxed enough to concede all the possession and territory in the final quarter to the visitors. There was some drama in the 70th minute when both Michele Rizzo and Rabah Slimani were red-carded for brawling with each other, the first time two red cards had been given out in the same Six Nations match since 1992. In the dying embers of the game, Italian winger Tommasso Iannone was able to sneak into the corner to give the Azzuri a consolation try but it was not sufficient to prevent Italy losing their 17th consecutive away match.
France will be happy with the fact that, despite giving two unconvincing performances, they are still on track for the coveted Grand Slam. However, they will need to improve if they are going to take a victory in Cardiff from a Welsh team with a point to prove next time out. For Italy, it is the same old story of not having sufficient firepower to overcome one of the top teams, but they will be glad that their next fixture is back in Rome against a Scotland side who are also lacking in confidence.
Top Points Scorer: Jean-Marc Doussain (France) – 15pts
Man of the Match: Wesley Fofana (France)