by Eoin Togher
The second weekend of the Six Nations had a lot of similarities to the first, with some exciting rugby and some very tight games. England vs Wales was the standout game of the weekend, as they went to battle at the Millennium Stadium with England coming out on top, while Ireland got their first win of the competition by dispatching Italy in a one-sided game in Rome and France just slipped by Scotland, in a tense encounter in Paris on Sunday. There are a lot of talking points after an interesting weekend of rugby.
Ireland kicked off the weekend with a 63-10 thrashing of Italy in Rome on Saturday. Joe Schmidt’s side became the first team in the competition’s history to secure the secure try-bonus point, they owe a big thanks to man of the match CJ Stander and replacement Craig Gilroy for this, as both men scored hat-tricks, while Keith Earls crossed the white line twice, to help Schmidt’s side make amends for last weeks loss to Scotland.
Earls got the first score of the game in the 12th minute after a slick run down the touchline to run over for the try, while Stander crossed the line on the opposite side of the pitch to get his first of the game and to give his side a 14-0 lead. The pair added another try each before the break, while Italy responded with a penalty try and a Carlo Canna penalty to make it 28-10 to the visitors at halftime.
Stander went over soon after the start of the second half, but a 20-minute period followed during which Ireland struggled to maintain their momentum, before a Craig Gilroy hat-trick and a Garry Ringrose try all within the final 12 minutes added the finishing touches to a nine-try win. It was a strong performance for Ireland and things are looking bright for the side as they prepare to face France, in Dublin, on the 25th of February.
Ireland head coach was delighted with his side’s performance and attitude towards the game:
“We showed we can start well and that gives a platform to build on.
“The players felt that they needed to make a statement. We know how good they can be.
“It was probably a bit of confidence to go out and do it. There were a few guys making Six Nations and Test debuts so it’s good for them to get those performances under the belt.”
“There’s no margin for error at all. It’s an open championship. Wales and England will be tight. It’s an open championship and people will be excited.”
Elsewhere in the competition, Wales and England put on the game of the weekend in Cardiff, with England coming out the victors at a scoreline of 21-16. The visitors left it late to secure the win, relying on a fantastic individual try by Elliot Daly in the 76th-minute to give his side the victory.
Leigh Halfpenny and Owen Farrell traded penalties in the opening exchanges. The next score was thanks to Ben Youngs, who scored a try in the 18th minute after he darted from the base of the ruck to race over the line for the score.
It looked like the teams would go into the break with England ahead, but a Welsh scrum on the English line saw a planned move send Liam Williams over untouched to give the home side a 13-8 half-time advantage.
Farrell and Halfpenny traded penalties again in the third quarter, with Farrell bringing his side back to within 2 points of the hosts. Wales were almost able to hold out and secure the win, before a brilliant run down the left wing by Elliot Daly who brought down the curtain on a fantastic encounter.
England will welcome Italy next, while Wales will travel to Edinburgh to take on Scotland where they will be hoping to bounce back and get their campaign back on track.
In the last game of the weekend, Scotland travelled to Paris to take on France. Scotland were riding high after a huge win over Ireland last week, while France were desperate for a win, after just coming up short to England last weekend.
Two late penalties from the boot of fly-half Camille Lopez secured France a 22-16 Six Nations victory over Scotland.
A Stuart Hogg try had given Scotland a 17th-minute lead but, after a sustained period of pressure, France replied through Gael Fikou on the half-hour mark. Lopez kicked two penalties and a conversion to put France in control at 13-5 but Finn Russell knocked over a pair of three-pointers to keep the Scots in touch at the break.
Scotland went over the line four minutes into the second half, thanks to replacement Tim Swinson. However, their lead was quickly cancelled out, as Lopez slotted three from the tee to level things up instantly.
The hosts dominated the half, nearly scoring through Remi Lamerat, before being denied by the television match official. Pressure finally turned into points for the hosts, as they turned to their marksman Lopez who slotted two kicks in the last 10 minutes to give his side a 22-16 win and finally kickstart Les Bleus campaign.
The Six Nations has certainly been one to remember so far this year, as the tight encounters and exciting rugby just keeps coming. With a week off next week, we can only hope we get treated to the same excitement in the next round of the competition.