England stay in the hunt, Ireland move into pole position
Twickenham played host to perhaps the most highly-anticipated game of the 2014 Six Nations, and although England’s winning score line of 29-18 suggests the game was competitive, it was one of the more one-sided fixtures of the championship. English indiscipline at the breakdown allowed Wales to keep it close, with Leigh Halfpenny’s boot accounting for all 18 of Wales’ points, but the home side were by far the more proficient side.
Danny Care and Luther Burrell both continued their recent good form with a try apiece, whilst Mike Brown laid down his strongest statement yet to be considered the player of the tournament, as he beat seven defenders on his way to making 156 metres from 18 carries. The engine room pairing of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes were both also in stellar form, and now can surely be considered as one of the premiere combinations in world rugby.
Along with Halfpenny, Jake Ball, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau can hold their heads high for Wales, but the visitors’ lack of energy and cohesion cost them dearly at Twickenham, and their remaining fixture with Scotland now holds no more meaning than being a potential confidence booster (or destroyer) ahead of their summer tour to South Africa.
Ireland kept their bid for the title on track with a comprehensive 46-7 victory over Italy at the Aviva Stadium. The match marked Brian O’Driscoll’s final game for Ireland in Dublin, and the talismanic centre bid farewell in emphatic fashion, setting up two of Ireland’s seven tries, and playing with the class that has so often separated him from mere rugby mortals over the years. It was an impressive all-round performance from the Irish, who now enjoy a significant advantage in points difference over their rivals, and a loss (or draw) in Paris in the final round is all that can now realistically deny them the title.
Scotland were left dejected after they fell to a 19-17 defeat at the hands of France, though you would struggle to find a single person in Murrayfield who would describe the French as worthy winners. The home side showed some nice attacking incision in the backs, and were justly rewarded with tries for Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour, but an intercept try for Yoann Huget and a late Jean-Marc Doussain penalty were enough to give the visitors a slender victory. The win keeps France in the hunt for the championship, and sets up a thrilling encounter with Ireland in the final round.
Shootout between Reds & Cheetahs, Force surprise the Rebels
Super Rugby offered up its usual compliment of high-octane action, but no game had spectators glued to their seats like the Reds 43-33 victory over the Cheetahs at Suncorp Stadium. The match set off at an electric pace, with four tries being scored in the opening 11 minutes, as both teams raced into a 17-17 tie. The Reds greater composure soon showed however, and try apiece for Chris Feauai-Sautia and James Hanson ensured that the Reds took a 29-20 lead into the interval, and although both defences tightened up in the second half, the momentum was enough to for the Australian side to control the second 40 relatively comfortably and seal the win.
The Crusaders picked up their first win of the season as they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against the Stormers, winning 14-13 in Christchurch, but the Hurricanes’ early season misery continued, as they fell to a 29-21 defeat at home to the Brumbies. Western Force stole a lot of headlines with their first win of the season, as they thumped the Melbourne Rebels, 32-7 in Perth, and they had actually led 32-0 at the interval, before dropping their intensity in the second half.
Northampton and Exeter move into LV final
The LV Cup semi-finals were the sum of the domestic club rugby action this weekend, but both games offered up enticing clashes. The Northampton Saints were the first team to book their place in the final, beating Saracens 26-7 at Franklin’s Gardens, thanks in large to a hat-trick from centre George Pisi. The Saints, who fielded a number of first XV players, were just too strong for Saracens, and although the visitors kept it close in the first half, the home side’s class showed in the second, as they scored 20 unanswered points. The Exeter Chiefs booked a place alongside Northampton in the final, as they beat Bath 22-19 at The Rec, ending their winless streak against the home side, which stretched all the way back to 1978. A brace from Luke Arscott was pivotal to Exeter’s success, and they’ll now contend with Northampton for the LV Cup at Sandy Park next weekend.
Zach Kibirige broke Super Rugby’s recent stranglehold on Try of the Week after his superb solo effort against Wales U20s. He was helped by some poor Welsh tackling, but the winger beat six men through a combination of footwork, power and pace on his way to the try line, and fully deserves this accolade. A good team try from the Stormers, which was scored by Damian de Allende, ran it very close.
Suitably, the Heroes of the Week are the England U20s, for their superb 67-7 dismantling of their Welsh counterparts. Just last summer these two sides, albeit with some considerable turnover, contested the Junior World Championship final, in a tightly-contested battle. On Friday night, the two teams were in entirely different leagues. Western Force deserve an honourable mention for their superb 32-7 victory over the Melbourne Rebels, which could help kick start their Super Rugby season.
The Melbourne Rebels are the Villains of the Week. After a highly impressive win over the Cheetahs in their first game of the 2014 Super Rugby season, they travelled to Perth to take on the Force, but may as well not have bothered, such was the listlessness of their performance. They were outplayed by a very average Western Force side from beginning to end, and talks of a resurgence in Melbourne after their opening win, may have been somewhat premature.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images