Two countries went into the 3rd weekend of the 2014 6 Nations on course for a Grand Slam, France and Ireland. But, in a thrilling weekend of rugby, both were defeated. This leaves four countries with 2 wins from 3 games, – France, Ireland, Wales and England.
Wales v France
After their humiliation in Dublin, Wales not only needed a win against France, but ideally a convincing win. They could not have answered their critics more emphatically, thrashing France 27-6. Everything that went wrong in Dublin went right against France, the front five were immense and France were unable to cope with the power and execution shown by the Welsh forwards.
Wales scored two tries, including a try by George North within the first few minutes. By half time Wales were 20-6 ahead, and the game was essentially over. Remarkably, France had the lion’s share of the possession and territory in the game, but failed to take their chances. Not only will the Welsh camp be pleased with the margin of victory, but the way the Welsh defence completely shut out the dangerous French players will give defence coach Sean Edwards immense satisfaction. We can go into the match at Twickenham in two weeks’ time with our confidence restored.
Italy v Scotland
There has been some talk in the last two weeks that Scotland have been so dire in the 6 Nations of late that they should be replaced by another country! I am definitely not in favour of such a thing. People may forget that back in the late 1990s and early 2000s there were suggestions that France and England were so dominant in the 6 Nations that they should break away and join the southern Hemisphere teams in an annual tournament, and leave the Celtic countries and Italy to form their own competition. But, who has dominated the 6 Nations in the last 8 years? Wales! England have not won the 6 Nations since 2003! The strength of most countries (maybe with New Zealand as an exception) tends to come in cycles, and Scotland are just going through a bad phase at the moment.
I only saw the last 15 minutes of the game between Italy and Scotland, but what a thrilling final 15 minutes it was! In the short time I was watching, I saw Scotland score a try to take the lead, lose their lead with Italy scoring a try, then with less than a minute to go and the score at 20-18 to Italy, Scotland dropped a goal to make it 20-21 and steal a win. I am pleased for Scotland that they finally scored some tries, and pleased for rugby in general because a poor Scotland is not a good thing for the world of rugby.
England v Ireland
What a titanic game this was. At half time, England were ahead 3-0, with both teams knocking ten bells out of each other all over the park. Then, in the first two minutes of the 2nd half, Ireland scored a try and then a penalty to go 10-3 ahead. They looked dominant, and most people including myself probably thought that they would strangle England and go on to win. But, fair play to England, they kept their cool and came back with a try and penalty of their own, and then kept their narrow 13-10 lead despite immense pressure from Ireland in the last 10 minutes.
It really was a thrilling game, low scoring maybe, but pure attritional rugby and the level of commitment from all 30 players on the pitch was immense. It was also a landmark win for England. One amazing statistic I heard was that Brian O’Driscoll had 30-something more caps than the entire England backs, all seven of them together! Whatever England lack in experience, winning this game over Ireland will go a long way to making them believe in themselves.
The 4th round
This weekend’s results set up a mouth-watering 4th round in two weeks’ time. Ireland should have a relatively easy game at home to Italy. France take on Scotland in Edinburgh, which on paper should be a French win, but after their hapless display against Wales who knows? But, the big game of the 4th weekend is the Sunday match between England and Wales at Twickenham.
Wales went a long time in the 1990s and early 2000s of not winning at Twickenham, but have beaten England 2 of the last 3 meetings there in the 6 Nations. England have looked very good this 6 Nations, and as I said after the first weekend, they really should have beaten France in Paris in their opening game. Wales, on the other hand, had a lacklustre win over Italy followed by a pummelling by Ireland and then an emphatic victory over France. Both teams should go into the game with confidence, but will England be haunted by their thrashing in Cardiff last March? I hope so! It should be a real thriller.
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