Round 2 – The second round of the 6 nations proved to be a bruising spectacle and the Scotland v Italy clash aside, one lacking in tries, flair and creativity but no less compelling as a result.
Scotland 34 V Italy 10 – the pre match talk surrounded the Italians victory over France and whether they could make it two wins on the bounce in Edinburgh. The short answer to that question was ‘No’ as the Scottish defence hammered early Italian advances and the home side began to take a stranglehold on both territory and possession. The Scots also added some vital flair into the mix (which proved a rare commodity in the 2nd round). With excellent handling skills, running angles and support play, causing no end of problems for the Azzuri rearguard, early pressure finally told as Tim Visser crossed the whitewash. The Italians weren’t able to live with the scraps of possession and lack of go forward and aside from a moment of magic from Sergio Parisse setting up a consolation score for Zanni, there was little to celebrate.
France 6 V Wales 16 – This encounter at the Stade De France proved to be as compelling as it was nervous, and just as close as predicted. Both sides set their stall out that the match was to be head on, physical and unrelenting in the cold Paris evening. The pitch did little to add to what was a pragmatic contest (cutting up under the forwards at scrumtime), leaving the resulting penalties as something of a lottery from referee George Clancy.
France enjoyed the early pressure and territory making ground and threatening the welsh line on a number of occasions. Some huge pressure and composure from the men in red prevented any such advances and rendered the clash at 6 points apiece right up until the 71 minute.
That was, of course, until a deft chip and a kind bounce saw George North touchdown in the corner much to the delight of interim coach Rob Howley. The try was majestically converted by Lee Halfpenny, who, fast forward 4 minutes, was again going through his pre-kick routine to kill the game off.
In this match the commentators talked of neither side wanting to lose rather than one side wanting to win. ‘THAT’ bounce of the ball and the two kicks that followed saw the pendulum of pressure swing away from Rob Howley and firmly towards Philippe Saint-Andre. Wales are back in the hunt and will have restored invaluable confidence, France however, face a daunting mission to HQ in a fortnight.
Ireland 6 V England 12 – All of the players lining up for their respective anthems must have had one thought on their minds in the dire Dublin conditions – this is going to be a nightmare – and for the players it was, but not the spectators. Both sides employ an in-your-face, physical, rush defence and with a slippery ball this was to prove a match the purists need not have tuned-in to watch.
That said I found it to be an enthralling game and early injuries to Simon (Giggsy) Zebo and Sexton sapped some of the Irish momentum and gave that 1% extra to England that proved to be critical. In an exchange of pressure, territory, handling errors and possession, England dug slightly deeper than Ireland when James Haskell was sin binned and ground out the match by four converted penalties to two. Ireland are far from out of the competition but the defeat will hurt both physically and mentally. England are now the only side left with grand slam ambitions and (unlike Wales and Ireland) will hope France don’t come to London to play for the first time in the competition.
All in all the second round dished up a brutal slice of physical ‘win at all costs and win it ugly’ rugby. It wasn’t pretty, and thankfully, nor was it predictable and I for one loved every muddy minute.