Ireland’s trip to Twickenham steals the Six Nations show
The accolade of ‘Game of the 2014 Six Nations’ thus far certainly goes to England and Ireland, for their thrilling match at Twickenham on Saturday. England were able to overturn a 10-3 deficit, and emerge victorious with a 13-10 score line, but it was such a tight, compelling game that on another day, it could easily have been Ireland sneaking a three point win. Rob Kearney and Danny Care scored their side’s respective tries, and along with the likes of Joe Launchbury, Peter O’Mahony, Mike Brown and Cian Healey, were amongst the best players on the pitch. The win not only denies Ireland a shot at the Grand Slam, but also keeps alive England’s championship (and Triple Crown) aspirations.
Wales breathed life into their championship as they comfortably dismantled France, 27-6, at the Millennium Stadium, and their performance was unrecognisable from the side which were mauled in Dublin. Rhys Webb impressed mightily in place of Mike Phillips, providing an urgency which had been sorely missing before, whilst the pack were better to a man, with Jake Ball and Sam Warburton particularly strong. Italy and Scotland played out a thriller at the Stadio Olimpico, which Scotland were able sneak, 21-20, at the death. There were passages of good play from Scotland, but all in all it was a scrappy game, and though the win will come as sweet relief for the Scottish fans.
Gloucester deal a blow to Quins’ playoff hopes
Gloucester picked up their first win in the Aviva Premiership of 2014, by edging out Harlequins at Kingsholm, and given the two sides’ form this season, it represents one of the bigger upsets this season. Tries from Sione Kalamafoni, Matt Kvesic and Dan Murphy were enough to help Gloucester to a 25-20 victory, as the home side took advantage of Harlequins missing a number of key players to international duty. The loss means that Quins now sit three points behind Leicester in fourth, and eight points behind Bath in third, as they hunt to stay in the playoff race.
England hopefuls stole the show at The Rec, as Anthony Watson (two), Kyle Eastmond and Elliot Daly all scored tries in Bath’s 32-25 victory over London Wasps. Elsewhere, the rest of the top four all kept up the pace, with Saracens beating Exeter 23-10 at Allianz Park, Leicester saw off the challenge of London Irish, winning 20-15 at the Madejski, and Northampton were made to work hard on their trip north to take on Newcastle, but were still able to record a 22-16 victory.
High-flying Glasgow have their wings clipped by Newport
The Dragons stole a hugely impressive win against Glasgow at Rodney Parade, as a late try from Ross Wardle was enough to secure a 24-23 victory. The spoils may have gone to Newport, but Glasgow scrum-half Niko Matawalu stole the show, scoring a fantastic solo try from within his own 22. Matawalu’s try, plus an earlier one from Rob Harley, gave Glasgow a 17-10 lead at the interval, but a resolute second half performance from the Dragons was enough to earn them the narrowest of victories.
A close game between Treviso and Ulster, which the Irish province edged, 14-12, was another of the more compelling clashes in the RaboDirect Pro12 this weekend, with try scorer Darren Cave one of the few Ulster players to acquit himself well in a relatively disappointing performance in Treviso. Munster recorded an impressive 25-11 victory at the Liberty Stadium, denting the title hopes of the rival Ospreys.
Expectations do not fall short in Christchurch
There was no game, at least on paper, that compared with the Crusaders vs Chiefs in Super Rugby this weekend, and although the game finished with a relatively low score line, it was utterly compelling throughout. The Crusaders dominated possession and territory throughout the match, but the composure, both offensively and defensively, of the Chiefs saw them able to secure an 18-10 win in Christchurch. With the game poised at 11-10 to the Chiefs, and with the Crusaders bearing down on the Chiefs’ try line, it looked for all money like the home side would steal the game at the death, but an intercept try from James Lowe secured the points for the visitors, and denied the Crusaders a valuable losing bonus point.
Other results of note included the Lions winning their second successive match, humbling the Stormers 34-10 at Ellis Park, which included 29 points from fly-half Marnitz Boshoff. Israel Folau also had a weekend to remember as his hat-trick of tries of helped the Waratahs to an impressive 43-21 victory over Western Force. The Sharks continue to look good to make a title challenge, as they backed up an emphatic win over the Bulls with another solid outing against the Hurricanes, beating the New Zealanders 27-9, whilst the Reds won the battle of Australian contenders, defeating the Brumbies 27-17 at the GIO Stadium in Canberra.
Try of the Week goes to Robbie Fruean of the Chiefs. The try would have brought back dark memories for England fans, as Fruean powered his way through three would-be tacklers, doing an excellent impression of Jonah Lomu from the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Francis Saili ran Fruean very close with his chip and collect try against the Highlanders.
Duncan Weir is the Hero of the Week for his outstanding, game-winning drop goal against Italy. With less than a minute to play, Weir hit one of the better drop goals you’ll ever see, and gave Scotland a slender one point lead. Honorary mention must go to Warren Gatland, who very successfully lit a fire under the Welsh team, and got the desired effect with a great bounce back performance in Cardiff.
Villain of the Week goes to Louis Picamoles for his gestures towards the referee following his sin-binning against Wales. It may not be dangerous like a head stamp or illegal tackle, but it’s just as damaging to the game, if not more so.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images