Controversy and power dominate a thriller in Dublin
Far and away the best game of the weekend, Ireland and Wales produced a Six Nations classic in Dublin to really get the tournament up and running. The first half felt like a tale of Welsh frustration with Ireland essentially clinging on, before the second exploded after half-time.
Wales started out the blocks with a bang, controlling the game deep in Irish territory and making sure they committed numerous defenders through their powerful runners in Toby Faletau and Jamie Roberts. For all of their superiority, except a well taken try from Jonathan Davies following a beautiful Rhys Priestland offload, Wales failed to make the most of their chances, either through stray shots at goal from the Scarlets fly-half that cost them points or small handling errors. Eyebrows were understandably raised when it was Ireland who went in ahead at half-time after Rory Best went over unopposed.
But, Wales proved that they have enough spirit and fight to produce not just one comeback, but two. It seems wrong to single out individuals, but the performances of George North and Leigh Halfpenny made the difference. North’s raw strength created the space for Jonathan Davies to burst through and finish an excellent try, whilst Halfpenny’s boot starting landing the points that Priestland was missing. Ireland looked to have the game in their pocket after Tommy Bowe’s late try, but North had other ideas, barging through Rob Kearney to score in the corner.
That left Wales trailing by one, before Stephen Ferris tip tackled Ian Evans. By the letter of the law, it was a penalty and a yellow card, but compared to the recklessness of Bradley Davies’ earlier infringement, it didn’t even register. Halfpenny nailed the shot to win the game, and Wales’ Six Nations campaign is underway.
Careless Scotland throw the game away against England
No one cranked up the pressure more on Scotland than themselves, with their Calcutta Cup winners t-shirt along with firm words from Andy Robinson setting them up for a fall. Ironically, no one is in any doubt that Scotland should have beaten England on Saturday, but forgetting the contentious TMO decision that arguably saw Greig Laidlaw robbed of a try by his fingertips, Ross Rennie should still be cursing himself for failing to pass inside during a three on one against Ben Foden.
England though could only play what was in front of them though, and despite the defensive lapses they also made an impressive 73 tackles in the first half and another 69 in the second half, including 13 for Brad Barritt on debut. Every single player in an England shirt made their fair share of tackles, and their hard work and commitment was evident not just towards the opposition but to working together for each other. Additional work will be needed at the breakdown, where England struggled with the physicality of Dave Denton and Richie Gray, but it’s a good start for Stuart Lancaster, if not a spectacular one.
Four try France see off Italy in second half
Despite some early miscommunications and difficulty handling a feisty Italian side at the breakdown, France managed to get their wires straight and once they had established a connection between 8-9-10-12, the passes started to go to hand and the result looked more and more comfortable.
No side has had less training time together than the favourites, France, yet with their four tries from Aurélien Rougerie, Julien Malzieu, Vincent Clerc and debutant Wesley Fofana, their win in the end was a comfortable one, finishing half-chances without ever really moving out of third gear. What will have pleased new coach Phillippe Saint-André was the way his mixture of Clermont and Toulouse backs combined so well. Ominous signs for everyone else, because France have bigger and better performances within them.
Try of the Weekend goes to Julien Malzieu. Making his first start since 2010, Malzieu ran a strong support line as Louis Picamoles charged away from the base of the scrum, collecting the offload and fending off Giovanbatista Vendetti to race down the wing, before cutting inside Andrea Masi for the try.
This weekend’s Hero is Charlie Hodgson. Having received a fair amount of stick over the years for performances in a white shirt, Hodgson played well against Scotland, defending bravely and scoring a well-earned try after he charged down Dan Parks kick.
As for a Villain, let’s vote on it below. Your candidates are Bradley Davies, Dan Parks, Geoff Warren (TMO – Scotland v England) and Wayne Barnes. Go.
by Ben Coles