Mike Stanton, Sports Editor, reviews the second round of Six Nations matches, which saw Ireland dominate a timid Wales, England show promise in a victory over Scotland and Italy come off second best to France.
Ireland v Wales
With Welsh wonder-boy Leigh Halfpenny earning his 50th cap and Ireland welcoming back Paul O’Connell, both were looking to continue their winning ways. Early on, it was clear Ireland had the upper hand, dominating possession and winning countless turnovers and penalties.
Whilst they defended well, the Welsh attack looked ineffective and failed to make use of their power runners in the back-line. Rhys Priestland played very deep in the first half, allowing the Irish defence to press up and put the pressure on, forcing turnovers and getting the momentum in the tackles – Peter O’Mahony proving to be instrumental in a well-balanced Irish back row.
Wales, having lost center Scott Williams early on, moved George North into the midfield alongside Jamie Roberts, a combination that should have proved devastating in crashing through the gain line. However; the simplicity and clinical nature of the Irish play, led from the front by Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip, who dominated their Welsh counterparts throughout, preventing the Welsh backline from building momentum.
Jonathon Sexton had a master class with the boot tactically, time after time pinning Wales deep inside their own 22 in a display Ronan O’Gara would have been proud of. The dominance of the Irish pack and Sexton’s boot were crucial; however, Wales were also the architects of their own demise, lacking accuracy and discipline.
Ireland bullied Wales out of this fixture to run away with an impressive 26-3 win, playing a devastatingly simple game plan that rendered the Welsh backline powerless and made the highly experience Welsh line-up, littered with Lions, seem timid and inexperienced.
Scotland v England
The atmosphere was electric as this clash kicked off, the sounds of Flower of Scotland still reverberating around Murrayfield as play got under way.
Despite this rousing environment, Scotland offered very little. With Kelly Brown dropped, Greig Laidlaw was given the captaincy and yet was unable to inspire his troops to victory as England showed glimpses of promise following a heart-breaking loss in France the week before, responding with a solid 0-20 victory.
The English pack dominated the set piece, Dylan Hartley having a 100% success rate in his lineouts and his Saints counterpart Courtney Lawes inspirational in the air. Owen Farrell and Luther Burrell linked well, with Burrell crashing over for his second try in as many games in an England shirt. Although it is still too early to tell, the young Saint’s center is certainly showing promises of finally filling the void in England’s midfield since Will Greenwood retired.
Billy Vunipola also played well, adding subtleties to his powerful runs, a beautifully weighted off load being the key to unlocking the Scottish defense and setting Jonny May free, showing he is maturing into an all-round eight. Mike Brown had a majestic second half, scoring his second try in two games and cementing his place in the 15 shirt.
There was little to shout about for Scotland, unimaginative in attack and looking weak at times in defense. David Denton once again was the stand out performer, carrying well and leading the team, begging the question of why on earth was he substituted after 60 minutes. The frustration was clear for all to see on the number eight’s face as he left the field.
England performed well in tough conditions, and keeping Scotland to nil was a big positive for the defense. However, a few chances were missed in crucial areas, so accuracy needs to improve if they are to pose a serious threat.
France v Italy
France showed both the good and the bad of French rugby on Sunday. In the first half they were unimaginative, predicable and offered little in attack. They seemed scared to try things, perhaps still licking the wounds from last year.
However, in the opening periods of the second half it seemed a new team was playing. Mathieu Bastareaud barreled through the midfield and the French did what they do best, ‘jouer’ with flair and excitement. Yannick Nyanga and Louis Picamoles were powerful as ever, whilst Wesley Fofana showed his class, scoring the second of France’s three tries with a final score of 30-10.
From the outset, it seemed it was going to be tough for Italy. Sergio Parisse seemed out of sorts; three of his first carries were either turned over or spilled, and when their talismanic leader isn’t firing, the Azzurri often fail to perform.
Bravery, however, often epitomizes Italian displays. Their defense held firm throughout the first half and after coming close twice in the second half, with lock Joshua Furno having an outstanding game, they finally crossed the white wash as showed the resilience they are renowned for.
Performance of the Week: Jonathon Sexton, who masterminded a clinical dismantling of defending champions Wales.
Worst Performance of the Week: The Welsh team, who were expertly nullified by Ireland in a lacklustre and uninspiring showing from the defending champions.
Wooden Spoon: Scotland, for failing to put any points on the board against England and without even so much as showing any suggestion of scoring.
Eventual Winners: Ireland, for showing maturity and unstoppable power against Wales. France failed again to deliver for the full 80 minutes, while England need to be more clinical to remain true contenders.bookmark me