Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Wales vs Scotland
After Wales’ stuttering performance in their defeat to Ireland and the positives from Scotland’s encounter with England there were whispers that this could be the upset game that heralded Scotland’s comeback and first win in five years. The close 23-10 loss shows that the gap is closing, but the wait isn’t over yet.
A powerful Welsh pack overwhelmed their opposite numbers in a way they couldn’t against the more physical Irish,tightening the screws in the second half as the outmuscled Scottish pack began to buckle against the onslaught.
Scotland, like their male counterparts, come out of the game winless but filled with positives. Their line speed remained impressive and their wide game is starting to come together as the team play with each other more and the skills begin to match the game plan. They can count themselves unlucky not to have eked another try out wide as handling errors brought an end to the good work from Lisa Martin and Lisa Thompson in the midfield.
Wales took their chances, however, and relished driving through the forwards in close and took the opportunities England did not in going around the quite narrow Scottish defence to earn their tries. The match will be encouraging with Italy, France and England yet to come and they’ll rate their chances to bounce back to wins against two of the three if they can keep up the momentum.
Wales stand-out player: Sioned Harries
With captain Rachel Taylor out of action this week Harries had a greater role providing the forward momentum that was vital for her team’s second half win – and she seized it with gusto. Freed from the sheer aggression of the Irish pack she lead the effort that drove the tiring Scots back with phase after phase of powerful carries and breakdown clear outs. The question is now whether she can replicate the effort against the much more physically dominant French and English packs.
Scotland stand-out player: Jade Konkel
Konkel has been on the radar since her stand out performances in last year’s tournament but against Wales she really caught the eye. One of the best sources of forward ball in the Scottish line, her break and offload for Megan Gaffney’s try showed that she has far more to offer than your standard no.8. In Scotland’s wide game plan this could prove vital and if she continues to build, Konkel could cause major problems for Italy’s defence next game.
France vs Ireland
This was possibly the game of the tournament and the crowd turned out to prove it – a second week with over 11,000 spectators has cemented France as the home of women’s rugby in Europe and has put down a challenge to the other five teams to step up their promotional game. This was a huge match pitching the champions of the past three years against one another and the physicality did not disappoint.
The 18-6 win to France was a game of missed opportunities for the Irish that must be becoming an issue of real concern. Even Niamh Briggs joined the ranks of players misfiring with unforced errors and despite good work from the pack to front up against the larger French forwards, the back line just didn’t seem to be able to convert their opportunities.
Meanwhile the French carried on their good work from their victory over Italy with another clinical performance. When the Irish left opportunities hanging the French converted them; when the Irish fumbled the French recovered it; when the Irish strayed offside the French punished them through fly-half Audrey Abadie’s boot. France will be going to Wales confident they can deliver another dominant win and their March game against England will not be worrying them. With these two performances they already have a hand on the cup.
France stand-out player: Gaëlle Mignot
What a game for France’s talismanic captain. They lost out to the Irish on point’s difference last year and It was clear she had the drive to take that narrow loss and throw it straight back at their championship opponents. Explosive carries, breakdown work across the park, a sterling line out performance and a try showed off Mignot at her best – and demanding the best from her team as well. With Mignot at the helm France look to have another Championship in their sights.
Ireland stand-out player: Paula Fitzpatrick
It was not a great day for the Irish pack after their dominance last weekend but Fitzpatrick was everywhere and worked well with the back line to allow them to play some far more slick rugby than they managed against Wales last week. Her experience playing in France showed as she got around the gigantic French pack in attack and repeatedly pulled them down in defence to give some hope of the Irish turning over their Championship challengers. Unfortunately it was not to be, but her performance will give Ireland confidence that they can turn over the English pack in a similar physical challenge next match.
Italy vs England
Italy may have lost last weekend but they did so with the kind of display that would have worried a stuttering England side. A blistering try in the first 30 seconds of play would have worried them a lot more. But in the end England was able to close out another victory that looks a lot more comfortable than it was, at 33-24.
It was very much a game of two halves down in Turin with an exciting first period of Italy and England throwing everything at one another. The Italians struggled to retain possession but when they did they looked threatening. In defence they threw everything forward and left England with the same myriad of tactical errors that plagued them last week away to Scotland. England played safe with powerful carries through the forwards and successful turnovers giving them plenty of ball – enough to go into the break ahead.
Italy just couldn’t keep up the tempo into the second half and their lack of fitness compared to their opposition began to show – the line speed dropped off and the forwards lost more ball in contact. England began to play with the ball a little more but still have yet to really produce anything that will worry France and Ireland in coming weeks, even with two wins now in hand. A strong and fit pack is all well and good, but unforced errors and failures to take advantage of breaks and overlaps remain a problem, even if it is a problem shared by their Gaelic neighbours.
Italy stand-out player: Manuela Furlan
Furlan put in the shock first score against England and continued to shine throughout the match, charging in from range to cause real problems for the English defence who continued to get caught on the back foot by her fantastic attacking lines. Her experience is obvious but her potential is greater and there could be a lot more to see from Furlan in the remaining Six Nations fixtures.
England stand-out player: Lauren Cattell
Unlucky not to win this award last week, Cattell represents the flame of the potential of the English back line. Her lines created attacking opportunities for the side and one has to wonder whether a little more ball to her would have resulted in some more one-sided scorelines in the past couple of weeks. A stalwart in defence and threatening in attack – the Irish and the French will have to take her threat seriously to not leak tries out wide in the next two fixtures.
By Tristan Gray (@RuckingGray)