Starting with the first game of the weekend at Murrayfield where Grand Slam hopefuls France looked to continue their impressive run so far against a Scotland side who have looked promising, but it’s felt like they definitely have more to offer.
After a slightly shaky start by France, kicking the ball straight out from kick-off and missing a rather kickable penalty, they soon showed us why they are favourites, and the only remaining unbeaten team with some unbelievable rugby.
The first display of this was from scrum-half Antoine Dupont, who caught the ball from a Scotland clearance kick, and ghosted through most of the Scotland defence, gaining at least 50 metres, before a few forward phases eventually led to Paul Willemse crashing over.
France continued to play excellent rugby and they were over the line again not long after; after some excellent offloads, Yoram Moefana coasted over and put France in a comfortable position.
Scotland managed to get back into the game with a try from flanker Rory Darge, and they actually had the opportunity to head into half-time leading. A line break from winger Duhan van der Merwe gave them a 4-on-1 overlap. Van der Merwe passed it to Chris Harris, who went for a glory pass, skipping out a couple Scotland forwards to try and find Stuart Hogg, but it was a poor pass and Hogg fumbled it.
Things got worse for Scotland before half-time as well, with another try from France. Outside centre Gael Fickou picked up the ball, with his head down he charged round the right of the defence and finished excellently – a destructive try from a player who seems to improve year on year.
Damian Penaud, number 14, had a really impressive game too and looks to be just another star player for France. The second half saw him produce a great run down the wing, followed by a perfect kick and chase. The bounce threw him off, but also threw the whole Scotland defence off too and landed perfectly in Jonathan Danty’s arms, who finished with confidence. This sealed the bonus point win for France, but they weren’t finished yet, with Damian Penaud crossing for another two tries, sealing a very comfortable win for France and just adding to their confidence ahead of the final two rounds.
Scotland did grab one late, converted consolation try as Duhan van der Merwe showed what he can do, but it wasn’t anywhere near enough to stop the French momentum.
Final score: Scotland 17 – 36 France
Heading down to Twickenham for Saturday evening’s clash between England and Wales, it was always going to be a nerve-wracking game as both country’s title hopes rested on it – especially after France’s impressive win earlier in the day.
Marcus Smith has stepped up to the plate this Six Nations incredibly well. With Owen Farrell injured for the first games, but back now, many might have thought he would’ve taken the starting fly-half position away from Smith, but he continues to look comfortable at any and all levels of rugby he’s playing at.
By half-time, he had England 12-0 up with four successful penalty kicks, who had really taken advantage of some early Wales indiscipline. In comparison to last year in Cardiff, where Wales only conceded five ruck penalties in the entire game vs England, this year they conceded four in the first 15 minutes and with someone as ruthless as Marcus Smith kicking, that’s something you simply cannot afford to do.
On Alex Cuthbert’s 50th appearance for Wales, he really stood out as the one Wales players who was consistently trying to make things happen. He had one specific run in the first half where he beat a handful of England players, before heading into a huge collision with England full-back Freddie Steward, who defended excellently, and that run only resulted in an England penalty.
Half-time came and Wales were desperate for the rest, having made nearly twice as many tackles as England. However, it didn’t take long for things to go against them in the second half too, as a huge error from a Wales lineout gave Alex Dombrandt the freedom of Twickenham to head over the try line. Wales had attempted to clear the lineout with the throw, but it fell directly to Dombrandt, who, given his current form at Harlequins, was always going to finish. Smith failed to convert, though, leaving the score at 23-0.
Wales did begin to put up some real resistance at one point in the second half, and a fine Liam Williams pass put Josh Adams over in the corner. Immediately from kick-off, Wales were in again and as Tomkins picked a great line, and Biggar converted the try, Wales found themselves right back in it, only five points behind with just under 20 minutes left.
Much to England’s delight, they managed to regain some form of control. Marcus Smith slotted two more penalties over and sealed a vital 23-19 win. Eddie Jones will be worried about England’s offensive game yet again, though, after being outscored 3-1 in tries despite getting the win, largely in thanks to Marcus Smith’s right boot.
Final score: England 23 – 19 Wales
Perhaps the strangest storyline of the weekend occurred in the Ireland vs Italy game.
After only 20 minutes, Italy already found themselves down to 13 men. Losing two hookers in the first quarter of the game is always going to majorly affect your chances of winning, and in this case, it really ruined any chance of a close-fought game.
Their first hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi went off after nine minutes through injury and his replacement was soon given a red card for a shuddering high tackle on Ireland’s hooker Dan Sheehan.
Due to both Italian hookers now being unavailable, a law in the rule book states that Italy must go down to 13 men as it is their fault that there cannot be contested scrums. In hindsight, Italy should’ve registered one of their props as a stand in hooker before the game in order to avoid this, but in fairness, no one could have predicted they’d lose both after only 20 minutes. Spare a thought for Italian number 8 Toa Halafihi and right winger Pierre Bruno, who had to be sacrificed.
Ireland surprisingly didn’t cope too well with these strange circumstances. At one point they had a scrum and it was the perfect scoring opportunity as Italy only had four backs defending. They were not accurate or precise enough, however, and somehow managed not to score.
Saying this, they did have the bonus points wrapped up after 38 minutes and the win itself was never really in doubt from kick-off. There was one try scored with all 30 players on the pitch after only four minutes by Ireland’s Joey Carbery. From there it was a bit of a walk in the park from Ireland, who in spite not being entirely comfortable, still managed to pick up the five points.
Final score: Ireland 57 – 6 Italy
With England still to play Ireland and France, the table could look vastly different to how it does now, but they’ll really need to improve from their first three games.
France at the moment look rather unstoppable and could secure a Grand Slam victory for the first time since 2010.
Ireland will be hoping to return to normality next round after a strange game vs Italy, and their game away at Twickenham could be the catalyst for them to win the trophy.