Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes boosted with win over the champions
Welsh hopes of a Grand Slam died in Dublin this weekend, and the defending champions were dealt a hammer blow to their chances of retaining the title, as Ireland cruised to a 26-3 victory at the Aviva Stadium. Ireland imposed their game on Wales right from the off, and Warren Gatland’s side lacked both the intensity of their opponents, and the tactical nous. Tries from Chris Henry and Paddy Jackson, as well as a proficient kicking display from Jonathan Sexton, were enough to consign Wales to their first away defeat in the Six Nations since 2011.
Wales did not match the defensive intensity of their opponents throughout the game, which was characterised by their poor defence of the driving mauls which set up both Irish tries, whilst the speed of Ireland’s line meant they were able to effectively cut off Welsh attacks at source, and prevent Wales’ dangerous wide men from getting their hands on the ball. The breakdown was another area that Wales struggled in, with the usually highly-effective duo of Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton overpowered by their dynamic opposite numbers, Peter O’Mahony and Henry.
England cruise to comfortable victory at Murrayfield
Murrayfield played host to a fairly unspectacular encounter on Saturday, as England retained the Calcutta Cup with a 20-0 victory over Scotland. The terrible state of the pitch arguably made the headlines more than England’s victory or Scotland’s dire performance, and the planned hybrid pitch really cannot come soon enough. Luther Burrell scored England’s first try of the game, his second in as many weeks, and a second half try from Mike Brown ended any hopes Scotland had of pulling off an unlikely comeback.
It was a case of ‘job done’ for England, who were the better side in all facets of the game, but will be slightly frustrated they weren’t able to turn that dominance into a bigger lead. The pitch conditions obviously played a significant part in limiting the winning margin, but there were also unconverted half chances that coach Stuart Lancaster could come to rue in a closer match. Scotland meanwhile were just not at the races, and if it wasn’t for the carrying of David Denton, and the defensive work of Alex Dunbar, the score line could have ended up even more one-sided.
France reclaim the Garibaldi Trophy in convincing fashion
The Six Nations action was wrapped up in Paris, as France reclaimed the Garibaldi Trophy with an emphatic 30-10 victory against Italy. The home side took the game away from Italy early in the second half, as Louis Picamoles and Wesley Fofana both went over for tries in the space of two minutes, as Les Bleus established a 20-point lead. The French were not finished however, and a try for debutant Hugo Bonneval further extended the home side’s lead, after great work from Fofana and Yoann Huget in the build-up.
Tempers flared late on with Michele Rizzo and Rabah Slimani both being shown red cards for headbutts, but by this point the result was well and truly sealed, and their antics had no effect on the outcome of the game. The win keeps France in the hunt for a Grand Slam, and will have to contend with an under-performing Welsh side in the next round, whilst Italy will welcome Scotland to Rome, and should be very confident of their chances of keeping Scotland’s 2014 campaign winless in the Eternal City.
Spectacles aplenty in the Aviva and Rabo
Attention may have been focused on the Six Nations this weekend, but there were a number of eye-catching performances in the Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect PRO12, some of which had real title implications. A tight 17-16 victory for Northampton Saints away to Exeter Chiefs was enough to move them top of the Premiership, thanks to London Irish upsetting Saracens at Allianz Park, 22-13. Leicester were also pushed extremely close by a Chris Pennell-inspired Worcester side, but the Tigers ultimately proved victorious, winning 23-22 at Sixways.
Munster strengthened their grasp on the top spot in the PRO12 with a six try, 54-13 demolition of Cardiff, which included a try for Simon Zebo, who will consider himself very unlucky to not have been playing in the green of Ireland this weekend, rather than the red of Munster. The Scarlets certainly treated their travelling fans to a real show as they beat Treviso 41-33, despite the score line being just 13-9 to the Welsh side at the interval. The other match of note was Ulster’s 10-7 win over the Ospreys, as the result saw the Irish province leapfrog the Welsh side into third place in the PRO12.
Try of the Week goes to Hugo Bonneval for his effort on debut against Italy. The move started with a Fofana intercept, and the centre went on a lung-bursting run, before finding Huget in support, and although the winger didn’t quite have the legs to make it to the try line, he showed his composure with a superb offload to Bonneval, and the debutant was able to dive over the line.
Nematodes, and the general state of the pitch at Murrayfield, were the clear Villain of the Week. The pitch may have not adversely affected the result of the Calcutta Cup, but it was certainly the worst I’ve seen at test level since the advent of professionalism.
Hero of the Week goes to Peter O’Mahony for his highly impressive all-round performance in Dublin. With Henry alongside him, O’Mahony comprehensively outplayed Warburton and Lydiate, and his individual performance must already be in contention for the best of the tournament.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images