Last Updated on 1 Mar 2022 8:50 pm (UK Time)
After a sombre week without international rugby, round 3 of this year’s Six Nations opened in explosive fashion at Murrayfield. A destructive and pragmatic performance from France maintained their Grand Slam hopes, whilst simultaneously ending any title chances for Scotland.
In complete contrast, England’s victory later that afternoon was rather unconvincing. They managed to scrape past a spirited, second-half comeback by Wales to keep their title hopes alive.
Ireland then stormed to an effortless nine-try thrashing over an afflicted Azzurri side; yet again, rounding off another weekend of the Six Nations that sees Italy on the receiving end of another convincing defeat.
Scotland v France (17-36)
In a sensational display of attacking rugby, France’s power, athleticism and tactical astuteness, again, proved too much for their opposition as they achieved a bonus-point victory in ruthless fashion; their first-ever at Murrayfield in the Six Nations and their first victory there since 2014.
France started in blistering fashion thanks to the captain and ‘Le Petit General’, Antoine Dupont. A magical run, starting from his own 22, took France within striking distance of Scotland’s try-line. In the following phase, Paul Willemse crashed over with just 7 minutes on the clock.
The French then flaunted their attacking flair with a sublime showing of deft hands. A superb kick from Melvyn Jaminet gave France possession at the lineout inside Scotland’s 22. The following attack was expertly shifted from one side of the pitch to the other, which allowed Yoram Moefana to sneak over in the right corner.
Scotland’s springboard into the game arrived courtesy of a collision between Jaminet and Sam Skinner that resulted in a penalty for Scotland. Opting for the corner, Ali Price was held up just 3 phases later after his sniping run from the base of a ruck. However, Scotland was given a second opportunity as it was brought back for a high tackle. This time, Ali Price provided debutant, Rory Darge the glory to dive over.
At this stage, with just 2 points separating the sides, the game was evenly poised as Scotland were matching France for pace, aggression and attacking ambition. However, a chance that should have taken them into the lead going into half-time, Scotland were the making of their own downfall.
A brutal and direct break up the middle of the pitch from Duhan van der Merwe left Chris Harris in space with a four-on-one opportunity. The outside centre opted for a speculative 2-man miss pass to his captain, Stuart Hogg, out on the wing. Whilst a player of his calibre will be extremely frustrated to not have capitalised on this opportunity, a simple draw and pass would have easily seen the fullback run in clear.Embed from Getty Images
This proved to be the game-defining moment as Gaël Fickou made Hogg pay for such aberration by finishing off his side’s clinical phase play from touchline to touchline with a superb arching run into the corner. A game that Scotland was still very much in, took less than 2 minutes into the second half to be put completely out of reach.
A punt downfield from Penaud, bounced kindly into the hands of Jonathan Danty to launch France to the try-scoring bonus point. Not even an hour on the clock and Damien Penaud cantered in for France’s fifth; extending their lead to 31-10. He then collected a beautifully weighted cross-field kick from Romain Ntamack to grab his second and round off an extremely devastating French performance.
If it wasn’t for the aberrant kicking accuracy of full-back Jaminet, the score-line could have looked a whole lot worse from a Scottish perspective; yet even a Van der Merwe try at the very end of the match to reduce the gap to 19 points, emphasised the gulf in class between these two sides.
England v Wales (23-19)
The last time England hosted a Six Nations game in front of a capacity crowd at Twickenham was 2020, and the visitors that day were again, Wales. The manner in which the game unfolded two years ago was startling similar to that on Saturday.
On both occasions, England raced into an unassailable lead, only for a second-half Welsh fightback to make the closing stages a tense watch for the Twickenham faithful.
Again, England was victorious but neither team will be satisfied with their performance. It was a feeble display of tactical vision and playing style from two sides that are still nothing more than average.
As was the case two years ago with an early Anthony Watson try, England raced into an early lead. This time, two penalties at the breakdown gave England a 6 point lead inside 5 minutes.
Whilst Wales’s chances were limited, the first half score-line could have been a whole lot worse for them. A missed chance on 12 minutes when Biggar opted for the corner, only to lose the resulting lineout, was followed by a missed penalty from Marcus Smith three minutes later. England then failed to capitalise when Wales were down to 14-men.Embed from Getty Images
Denied a certain try-scoring opportunity just a metre out, Luke Cowan-Dickie had the ball slapped out of his hands by Liam Williams on the floor. An act of clear cynicism saw him straight to the bin, but only 3 points from Marcus Smith was all England could muster during his dismissal.
England and Smith continued to show their attacking threat, constantly breaking the gain-line with deft footwork and slick offloading. However, for all their territory and possession, a 12-0 half-time lead was all they had to show for their dominance.
The hopes for a Welsh comeback suffered further fragmentation on 43 minutes as Dombrandt pounced on an overthrown lineout from Ryan Elis to stretch over and score.
At 17-0 down, England appeared to have cemented a foot-hold in the game that would be irretrievable. However, as they have done so often at Twickenham, Wales conjured up the spirit and belief from nowhere to fight back.
A cutting pass from Tomos Williams to Josh Adams, who ran in unopposed, gave Wales a glimmer of hope. Then, Biggar’s decision to go to the corner over the three points paid off as English-born, Nick Tompkins, closed the deficit to just five points.
England, who previously acquired such control over the game, looked dishevelled and completely mystified by the earlier events. In desperate need to regain composure and level-headedness, England called upon their record test cap holder in Ben Youngs.
Appearing as though the game was slipping away from them, Youngs’ calmness, experience and tactical excellence saw England home.
Two further England penalties, one win at the breakdown and one at the lineout, gave England an 11-point lead with 8 minutes left.
Wales’s replacement scrum-half, Kieran Hardy’s late score proved only to be of consolation as 4 minutes into the red, England’s Maro Itoje stole the ball to leave Wales with just a losing bonus point.
Ireland v Italy (57-6)
The weekend concluded with the most confusing moment of the weekend as fans, pundits, even players, were baffled by the law that forced Italy down to 13 men. If defeat wasn’t already a full-gone conclusion before the match, Italy was subjected to an afternoon of torment as Ireland crossed the whitewash nine times in Dublin.
The opening quarter was far more competitive than the final score-line would suggest. Aside from Joey Carbery’s try inside 4 minutes, Italy was very much in the contest, making life difficult for Ireland to gain any hold in the game.
However, 18 minutes in was the moment the game completely turned on its head. When replacement hooker Hame Faiva was red-carded for a high tackle, Italy was without a specialist replacement in the scrum. They were left with no choice but to enforce uncontested scrums, but, as a result, were made to sacrifice another player for doing so.
Defeat for the Azzurri was inevitable before kick-off but now down to 13-men, questions pre-match surrounding their competitiveness quickly became defeatist ones of “how points can they now ‘not’ concede against Ireland”.
An hour left on the clock and, as expected, the rest of the game became a training run for Ireland. Scrum-half, Jamison Gibson-park run in just behind the posts before debutant, Michael Lowry skipped in on the half-hour mark.
Captain Peter O’Mahony wrapped up the bonus point for Ireland before half-time.
The biggest cheer of the second half was reserved, yet again, for a debutant, Lowry, who crossed for his second on 56 minutes. Two additional scores in the half from Ireland extended their lead to 43-6.
If Italy had not already suffered enough, replacement flanker, Braam Steyn was sin-binned for deliberately slapping the ball in to touch. Now, down to 12 men for the final 5 minutes of the game, Ireland crossed twice more; winger, James Lowe grabbed his brace before Kieran Treadwell concluded their nine-try romping over an enervated Italian team.
A home defeat for Scotland will feel like another step back. Although they displayed encouraging moments, they were against one of the best sides in Test rugby at the moment and anything short of exceptional would be untoward. For France to replicate such performances away from home, establishes what a formidable outfit they are under Galthié and company. Another away win in Cardiff in two weeks and their rise to tournament triumph appears inexorable.
England will be pleased to have maintained their title hopes, but they, along with Wales, will be extremely disappointed with their performance. Neither team demonstrated an understanding of the style of rugby they wish to play.
Whilst it is unclear as to the identity of both teams, what is obvious is the need for significant improvements when both sides host the two best teams in the tournament in two weeks’ time; Wales v France on Friday night and England v Ireland on Saturday afternoon.
Circumstances aside, it continues to be the case when playing Italy in the Six Nations that very little is learnt about either side. For Italy, another tournament loss brings up the dreaded landmark of 100 Six Nations defeats, whilst Ireland will know that they will have to employ a far more definitive attacking performance against England in a fortnight.