Updated: Mar 28
This Six Nations competition just keeps throwing up surprises. This time in the form of France v Wales, we knew it was going to be good but nobody could see how good. It was probably the game of the competition so far. And there’s still more to come! The delayed game between Scotland and France is going to be played today, Friday 26 March. If France wins by 21 points plus with four tries (and get a bonus point) they snatch the Championship from Wales. If Scotland win by five points or more with a bonus point try they secure the second spot in the championship something they haven't done for quite some time! Who said there’d be nothing to play for by this stage!!
Let’s start with Italy vs Scotland – 10-52
This was the last chance for Italy to show something of their future potential and they certainly got off to a great start with an early and well-deserved try for Bigi their hooker and captain. Sadly from thereon in it was literally one-way traffic. Scotland responded quickly with a try by Dave Cherry, in his first start at hooker and the tone was set for the rest of the game. Italy’s defence was at times almost non-existent. During the second half, Italy was starved of possession and territory. Garbesi, Italy's fly-half tried to bring them back into the game and Monty Ioane’s tackle on Darcy Graham (wing ) was fierce and legal … but that was about it for any highlights from Italy.
Scotland dominated all aspects of play. They were clinical and executed well, scoring four tries and gaining a bonus point in the first 30 mins. Captain Stuart Hogg took on the starting fly-half duties for the first time in 84 tests and was easily able to pull the strings for Scotland’s backs. Huw Jones was on fire. Van der Merwe's impressive form on the wing continued with another bustling performance. Watson at flank led the forwards' efforts. Scotland ended up with their biggest winning margin in Six Nations history and eight tries.
This campaign has been a baptism of fire for Italy's promising young generation of players. They have conceded more tries (34) and more points (239), and registered the worst points difference (-184), than in Italy's 21 previous Six Nations tournaments. You have to wonder what they need to do to improve. Continual defeats of this magnitude won’t help them build confidence or develop as a team.
Scotland has shown how close they are to being a real threat to any team in the competition. They could easily have won earlier games and been in contention for honours in this championship. Watch out France!!
Ireland vs England 32-18 - Win for Ireland
It was St Patrick’s day weekend, in Ireland which normally means the bars would be full and the crowd baying, but Ireland didn’t need this additional support. After a cagey start during which Irish wing, Keith Earls scored a well-worked try and England responded with Farrell taking a penalty, Ireland took over the match. England again conceded too many penalties and seemed devoid of any plan except to box kick.
30 minutes into the game, Ireland was leading by 20-6. They were ahead at half time, and never really looked like they were going to relinquish the lead.
Ireland’s 23 phases of play to score was exceptional with Conor Murray at scrum-half and Sexton at fly-half showing that they remain world-class. Conan on the Irish flank and Tadhg Beirne in the pack were at their rampaging best. Beirne playing at lock, outshone even Itoje for England. Tadgh Furlong, the prop was dominant in the scrums and Robbie Henshaw also played well, at centre.
England continued to kick away possession and give soft penalties. They conceded 14 penalties in this game and at this level, you can't win if your discipline is that bad.
Ireland’s Bundee Aki's (their centre) was sent off in the 63min and England’s Ben Youngs (scrum-half) and Jonny May (wing) scored late tries but this couldn't mask what was a dismal English display. No one in the team really sparkled.
England seems to have gone backwards as a team. They ended this competition with a record number of points scored against them, and a record for the number of penalties conceded by them (67 in the tournament matching Italy!).
England may have started as one of the favourites but have ended up fifth, to steal a commentator’s phrase with the “triple frown” – the last time they lost to Scotland, Wales and Ireland was in 1976!!
Let’s not take anything away from Ireland here, they deserved this win and were better in all facets of this game. Eddie Jones, England’s coach will need a major rethink if England are to do well in the 2023 World Cup.
France vs Wales – 32 – 30 points - Win to France
What can I say about this game other than it was mesmerising, captivating, fantastic, superb and just everything you’d want from a game of rugby. Wales were chasing the Grand Slam and France, well they wanted to keep their hopes of winning the championship alive and also prove after losing to England, the week before, wanted to keep their Championship win hopes alive.
For me Luke Pearce the referee contributed hugely to how this game was played, his constant call to both sides to use the ball, meant that we got fast-flowing Rugby. He let the players lose or win the game, not the referee's whistle.
The first 20 minutes were Six Nations rugby at it’s very best. Quick ball, hard running, frenetic defence and two tries apiece made for great viewing. Romain Taofifenua (lock) and Antoine Dupont (scrum-half) scored for France, whilst Dan Biggar (fly-half) and Josh Navidi on the flank for Wales both scored.
The try of the tournament has to go to France. Dulin at full-back dinked the ball over the top of the Welsh defence, it bounced up for Matthieu Jalibert their fly-half who passed to Dupont to score, c’est incroyable!! Seventeen points apiece at halftime says it all!! If you thought the first half was good the second was even better. Wales just kept coming and France's defence stood strong until finally, Josh Adams on the Welsh wing powered over to score with two French defenders hanging off him. The conversion (plus three points from an earlier penalty) put Wales into a ten-point lead. This could have been a decisive turning point, but France wasn’t going down without a fight. French Captain Ollivon scored a try in the 76th minute and Ntamack their fly-half kicked the conversion. With four minutes left to play France still needed a try to win the match, and keep their title hopes alive. Wales just needed to hang on for the Grand Slam. But it was not to be, and France stole the victory at the death with a superb extra-time try from Dulin their full-back.
Heartbreak for Wales but they can be proud of what they have achieved in the competition and will grow in confidence. Congratulations to France for a wonderful game.
So, we are left with one game to go and it promises to be a belter as both Scotland and France will want to finish on a high. What a tournament!!