Rugby fans were treated to some positively gladiatorial clashes this weekend as round three of the Six Nations got underway.
First up saw Ireland take on Italy at the Aviva Stadium in their first game since they were unable to challenge France due to a perilously cold bout of weather and a dangerously hard pitch. Italy were a lynchpin down in Castrogiavanni who was recovering from a broken rib and was apparently using rather colourful language in the commentators box throughout the game.
The first half promised a tense match and the half time score (17-10) reflected Italy’s excellent control and defensive strength. Unfortunately Botes was unable to capitalise on the points offered to him and sent a couple of kicks wide of the posts. The second half did not deliver the rollercoaster fans might have expected: Italy collapsed and Sexton took every advantage to drive nails into the Italian coffin kicking magnificently to nab 17 points. Tries came from Earls, Bowe (x2), Court and Trimble and Italy were unable to muster any more points onto the board. The cancellation of Ireland’s clash against the French a couple of weekends ago may have been a well timed reprieve for the Irish who are looking in much better form going into the rest of the competition.
Round two of a great day of rugby brought England face to face with Wales. After two very tough and close games away English fans were understandably hesitant about how a very inexperienced English side were going to cope with the onslaught from Wales. They needn’t have worried. England came out firing on all cylinders and made Wales up their game in order to stay in the fight. Tuilagi and Barritt soaked up tackles and were roared on from the stands (and from sofas around the country) every time they ran into a punishing Welsh line making ground in situations were there wasn’t much to be had.
Owen Farrell had a stormer of a game at 10 and proved his mettle with a cool head on such young shoulders. He kicked with composure and didn’t shy away from the physicality of the game, earning him a little smile from his dad in the coach’s box. At half time the score was tight at 9-6 to England. The second half brought just as much brutality as the first with Warburton and North charging around the park and putting in some excellent hits. A last minute break from Williams gave Wales the lead and everyone thought it had to be over.
However England were not to be dismissed so easily and Strettle went over the line in the dying moments. You could have heard a pin drop as the stadium held its breath for a decision. The try was not awarded and England lost by seven points but will be buoyed by the performance they put in under skipper Chris Robshaw who is proving a well-equipped leader, quietly and calmly laying some great foundations.
Phewph, thank goodness there were only the two games on Saturday as adrenaline was running high. On Sunday it was off to Murrayfield to see France square up against Scotland. Missing Euan Murray for religious reasons, only holding one victory over France in 2006 and looking a surer bet for the wooden spoon than Italy it wasn’t looking great for Scotland. That said the Scots put the pressure on the French in the first half with Hogg scoring a try on his test debut. France racked up the points too with a slick try scored by their number 12, Wesley Fofana, and the sides went in level at 10 a piece after 40 minutes.
France looked dozy for much of the afternoon and were lucky to make points out of Scottish errors. Despite a lovely second try for Scotland by Jones France picked up the pace and replied in style with a stylish try from Medard. A drop goal from Beauxis extended the French lead to six points and the boys in blue remained disciplined to snatch the win: 23-17. Things are looking better for Scotland despite being unable to scrape a win in the competition so far but they will have to concentrate on their discipline in order to side step the wooden spoon. France look back to good form and will be keeping a close eye on Wales who are continuing their campaign for the grand slam.