Round 2 of the RBS 6 Nations was as actioned packed and eventful as the opening round and after three more bruising fixtures all six nations now have a week to rest up and refine their strategies.
After the opening exchanges England are sitting pretty at the top the table thanks to their superior points difference over Ireland whist at the other end Scotland and Italy are yet to get off the mark.
Round 2 kicked off on Saturday afternoon in South West London as England welcomed the Azzurri to Twickenham Stadium. England’s thirty point winning margin looked empathic on paper however by their very high standards Stuart Lancaster and his coaching team weren’t wholly satirised with the performance. Once again England started slowly and found themselves on the back foot thanks to an early score from Sergio Parisse however like a week ago England patiently found their feet and pressed on. Early in the opening half Mike Brown bravely put his body on the line for the side and received a brutal head blow for his troubles, thankfully Mike was back out to watch the second half however his injury resulted in a wholesale reshuffle. In previous years this change would have de-railed England however with the quality now housed in their back line they focused on their game plan and delivered.
Throughout the game Jonathan Joseph was absolutely sublime, his feet were electric and he thoroughly deserved his tries. In the forwards England continued to ply their trade with World Class proficiency pacifying an area of usual Italian strength. Italy’s Luca Morisi proved himself to be a strong all rounder and had Kelly Haimona been more accurate from the boot the scoreline could have been more respectable.
As always Parisse was the heart and soul of the side with 13 carries however his side didn’t have the collective power to stay with England.
At the Aviva Stadium Ireland bravery took every blow that France threw at them and kept their 100% record intact. Prior to kick off the focus was on Jonny Sexton due to his return from a 12 week concussion lay off and in spite of a world of pressure and focus on him, he played tremendously well.
The opening forty minutes and indeed the majority of the game was an arm wrestle between the two sides however you always felt that Ireland had more strings to their creative bow, even if they didn’t quite have the same ballast and power in their centres. The loss of Teddy Thomas on 33 minutes was a blow for Philippe Saint André for early on, Thomas had been creating chances and living up to his club reputation on the International stage. Pascal Pape’s yellow card on 53 minutes provided Ireland with the opportunity that they needed to press on and secure the match however with Rory Best heading to the bin shortly after for that man advantage slipped away.
Romain Taofifenua’s late try, from patient and well worked attacking phases caused Irish hearts to palpitate until the final whistle however Paul O’Connell’s men dug deep and delivered the vital victory that they had set out to do. Without a doubt Jonny Sexton was the stand out performer of the day, during his time on the field he executed his job with accuracy and was utterly fearless in spite of such a long period out of the game. Sexton is a world class professional and without him on the field the result may not have been so positive for the home side. For France Bernard Le Roux delivered defensively and Camille Lopez coolly made all bar one of his goal kicks however they surged just a little too late.
The final game of the weekend was at the BT Sport Murrayfield Stadium where Scotland hosted Wales. Scotland’s performance was without a doubt their strongest against Wales in recent years as they pushed Warren Gatland’s side throughout the game and will feel aggrieved by some of the second half officiating decisions.
Scotland started with purpose, Stuart Hogg’s try inside 10 minutes was beautifully executed from the Full Back, his raw speed and awareness of others around delivered a memorable score for the home crowd and Scotland pressed on from there. Indeed statistically Stuart was the stand out performer across both sides with 123 meters made and 10 carries.
As expected, Wales were made to work extremely hard for their victory however they showcased a touch more confidence and belief to finish the game off. Alun Wyn Jones’ work rate was at a level that only he can deliver and Leigh Halfpenny, as always, produced an assured kicking display. Scotland had their chances thanks to and they will certainly feel that on a different day with a different referee things could have gone their way for three penalties inside their 22 often results in a their opponents losing a man.
Scotland played with purpose in both attack and defence, Blair Cowen epitomised their new found physicality and Finn Russell will learn a lot from his own second half performance as he could have given more. Questions will be asked as to whether or not there was time to restart the game following Jon Welsh’s 79th minute try however as we know the referees decision is final.
Overall it was a step in the right direction for Scotland and the gutsy win that Wales needed to keep their Six Nations hopes alive.