Round 1 of the 2022 Six Nations concluded in the manner that many rugby fans across the globe had anticipated and on the full-time whistle in Rome, the results of round 2, too, transpired as expected.
A Wales side, invigorated at home, avenged their woes from Dublin with a scrappy yet determined performance against Scotland. France edged Ireland in an enthralling encounter in Paris, whilst it was, again, the hope of an improving Italian side that lead to another disappointing and convincing defeat to a reshuffled England team.
Wales v Scotland (20-17)
A beleaguered Wales team, returning back to the Principality Stadium, demonstrated a much-needed improvement on round one’s performances with a belligerent victory over Scotland, who were looking to build on their Calcutta success with a first win in Cardiff since 2002.
Wales raced into a 6-point lead inside 7 minutes owing to two Dan Biggar penalties. However, as they did so in Dublin, Wales looked vulnerable in defence. Scotland’s use of ball in hand proved dangerous when in attack. A period of 18 phases that started in their own half, saw Darcy Graham expertly finish in the corner on 11 minutes. Two Russell penalties on 15 and 19 minutes, later gave Scotland an 11-6 lead.
However, it proved to be a lack of possession and ill discipline from Scotland that allowed Wales to grow in stature and find a way back into the game. Although they remained limited in their attacking cohesion, it was their big-named players, showing up in crucial moments, that took them level going into half-time.
An exchange of penalties gave Scotland a 14-9 lead, but Dan Biggar’s bold decision to kick to the corner rather than go for the posts, proved prosperous as Tom Francis bundled over on 31 minutes.
The second half began with a dour aerial battle as neither team took onus with ball in hand. Eventually, the stalemate was broken as Russell restored Scotland’s lead on 49 minutes. But, it was ill-discipline from Scotland, that allowed Biggar to draw Wales back level.
A ricocheting penalty on 66 minutes, gave Cuthbert and Wales possession inside Scotland’s 22. Although, his attempt in the corner, a few phases later, was ruled in touch; Finn Russell was sin-binned as a result of a deliberate knock-on in the build-up.
Even with an extra man, Wales could not convert their advantage into points, forcing Biggar to resort to a drop goal on 69 minutes to give Wales the lead.
The roar around the Principality intensified, and so too did Wales’s defence. With Jonathan Davies coming on for his 100th international Test cap, he commanded a ferocity and line speed that was reminiscent to that of a Sean-Edwards defence of old.
Scotland were unable to maintain possession in crucial areas as every tackle, fuelled by the cacophony of the 70,000 home fans, forced Scotland further and further back.
A ruck penalty from one last Scotland attack in the 83rd minute gave Wales the win.
France v Ireland (30-24)
Touted the ‘Grand Slam decider’, this game was a heavy-weight clash that demonstrated the reason these two sides are a cut above the rest.Embed from Getty Images
France started in blistering fashion as Antione Dupont received an audacious inside pass from half-back partner Romaine Ntamack to score with just a minute on the clock. Melyvn Jaminet then extended France’s lead to 10 points on 6 minutes.
Now shook and with a raucous French crowd against them, Ireland needed to respond immediately, and immediately they did so. Joey Carbery’s restart was magnificently taken on the full by winger, Mack Hansen, who accelerated into the corner to close the deficit to 3 points.
The power and dominance that this Irish pack have profited from under Andy Farrell was well and truly tested against this French side. Both teams demonstrated ferocious defence and frightening line speeds but the physicality of France’s pack and control authority they commanded at the ruck, led to Ireland slowly crumbling; conceding 8 first-half penalties.
Jaminet capitalised on such ill-discipline from Ireland to extend their lead to 19-7 heading into halftime.
On 43 minutes, Jaminet slotted his fifth penalty to take France’s lead beyond two converted tries, cementing their ascendency in the game.
Nevertheless, as they did so incredibly in the first half, Ireland responded instantly. A kick deep into the French 22 allowed Josh van der Flier to split from the back of a driving maul for Ireland’s second.
Jamieson Gibson-Park then sniped through a gap at the base of the ruck to complete a pulsating five-minute period, that had Ireland’s deficit reduced to just a single point.
The momentum had drastically swung in Ireland’s favour but France refused to deviate from the power game that they benefitted from in the first half. A colossal counter-ruck from second-row replacement Romain Taofifénua, gave France possession inside Ireland’s 22, which, prop Cyril Baille crashed over from a phase later.
A complete change in the front five for France on 55 minutes, reinstated their authority around the ruck and in the tackle. A sublime 50:22 from lock, Tadhg Bierne, gave Ireland possession at the line-out in France’s 22. Yet, a simple error led to coughing up possession and allowing France to clear their lines. Even with a Joey Carbery penalty on 72 minutes, France controlled the closing stages of the match to secure a phenomenal victory.
Italy v England (0-33)
After the performance of their U20s team on Friday night, the Azzurri were hoping they could replicate the historic feats of their younger counterparts with an improbable victory over England.
Italy’s prompt line-speed unsettled England, forcing them to rush their decision making in attack. However, constant ill discipline gave England the reprieve they needed to demonstrate fluidity in attack and get over the gain-line. The simple yet effective tactics of putting it through the hands gave Marcus Smith and England a 7-point-lead on 11 minutes
England then doubled their lead just inside 20 minutes after Jamie George burrowed his way over from the base of a ruck.
A change of starting scrum-half in Harry Randall over the ever-present, Ben Youngs, proved a dynamic combination with Marcus Smith. His elusiveness and speed at the ruck offered England a new dimension in attack; one of genuine pace and intent.
A disallowed try on 32 minutes for obstruction at the line-out was amended for by Jamie George just before the half-time break.
England then quickly secured the try-scoring bonus point in the second half with a simple score from Elliot Daly.
The game and bonus point wrapped up with 35 minutes left, saw clear shift in England’s mindset; preserving an impenetrable defence.
Although Italy demonstrated encouraging attacking spells, with slick offloading that troubled England’s organisation in defence, it was to no prevail. Italy’s ill discipline and lack of clinical edge prevented them from converting pressure into points.Embed from Getty Images
It was fitness that determined the final scoreline, as an Italian mistake from the high-ball led to Kyle Sinckler strolling in under the post with 7 minutes left.
A convincing win over Italy, in a game that rendered the hosts scoreless, was more about clinical moments here and there rather than a display of any genuine consistency over 80 minutes.
Wales again displayed an inauspicious performance that lacked clarity and cohesion, but with home advantage paying dividends for Pivac and his team, they will just be pleased to have rectified the defeat of round one and kick-start their 2022 campaign.
On the other hand, Scotland have taken a troubling step back from the success and performances shown against England. They were unable to handle the pressure and expectation that heavily weighed upon them prior to kick-off. It was paramount for Scotland, and their chances of a first-ever Six Nations title, to produce a repeat performance, especially away from home, worthy of securing back-to-back victories.
The only team unbeaten and for Grand Slam title desires still alive, France will be euphoric to have edged an expert Ireland. Although questions will be asked around their mental vulnerability to have let a 22-7 lead slip, their power and physical presence is indisputable. The resources of raw player talent and physicality, not only coming off of their substitute bench but in their wider squad, emphasises a strength in depth that is, arguably, unmatched by any other nation.
For Andy Farrell and his Ireland side, they will be rueing at the missed opportunity to turn over the favourites on home soil. Their uncharacteristically ill-disciplined first-half display was emphatically amended for with their second-half performance. However, with momentum on their side as well as seldom visits in the French 22, opting to take the 3 points rather than asserting pressure on a then vulnerable France will be a decision to reconsider for the future.
Unfortunately, the narrative continues for Italy in the Six Nations, another loss now extends their remarkable losing streak to 34 games. Conversely, for England, very little will be learnt as to where the direction of their performances and team are heading, but a win is a win, and their Six Nations is now up and running.
When the Autumn Internationals concluded on 21st November, the appetite for Test match rugby was well and truly whetted. The urge for more competitive international rugby instantly directed our attention towards that of the current Six Nations; and with just two rounds in, it has not disappointed. With now a fallow week to separate this round from the next, it will give a chance for the nations to recover and reflect on the previous rounds. But, unfortunately, for avid rugby fans, we are left in the doldrums, impatiently awaiting Round 3.