PARIS , FRANCE – Comprehensive victories for Ireland, England and France marked the second round of the 2014 RBS Six Nations Championship. While none of the three matches were particularly suspenseful, there was some entertaining rugby on offer, as Ireland made their title credentials clear, England rebounded from a disappointing loss to France and the French avenged themselves for last year’s loss to the Italians... Now, let’s get to this week’s Six Nations Recap: Round 2.
Wales v Ireland
Welsh Takeaways: Wales can expect a tough two weeks of training, ahead; Warren Gatland bemoaned their performance against Ireland as the low point of his tenure with the national team. The Welsh were thoroughly bossed in every aspect of the game, conceding an alarming number of penalties at the ruck, particularly in the first half, and losing control of the scrum. Star wingers George North and Alex Cuthbert were practically nonentities, struggling to get involved in a game plan that never clicked. A 26-3 defeat certainly marked the end of Wales period of Six Nations dominance. While the nation was undone last year by a sloppy half against Ireland at home, at that time they could at least point to stirring second-half comeback that fell just short. After a lackluster effort against the Italians, no such comfort exists, and now the Welsh must look at their away match against England with trepidation, in addition to facing a relatively fresh French side. It does appear that the number of Welsh Lions is beginning to take a toll. It has now been almost three years since players such as Alun Wyn-Jones, Adam Jones, and Sam Warburton had significant, non-injury related breaks from the game.
Ireland Takeaways: If any doubted Ireland’s title credentials before the match, the stunning display in Dublin surely dispelled the worry. Bookmakers are expected to make Ireland favorites or second-favorites for the title upcoming days. Anchored by a spectacular game managing performance from Jonny Sexton (RWU’s man of the match, even if Peter O’Mahony won the official award) the Irish simply out-muscled, out-thought, and outplayed the defending champions. Sexton’s positional kicking was truly superb, and frustrated French spectators will surely be wondering where such performances are when he is manning the pivot for Racing Metro. The Irish now must visit Twickenham, a trip which has given them no end of difficulties in recent years. If they can defeat the English in an away match, a Grand Slam may very well be in the cards for Brian O’Driscoll’s swan song. While the centre has been relatively quiet through the first two matches, the nature of Ireland’s comprehensive victories thus far seems to ensure that he will exit the international stage on a high note.
England v Scotland
England Takeaways: The English will be relatively pleased with their gallop to victory over their northern neighbors. The pitch conditions were always going to make running rugby tricky. However, Stuart Lancaster and his coaches will be worried that their team was not able to turn possession in the opposition 22 into points more consistently. The English were able to run 20 set plays from inside Scotland’s 22, and only came away with two tries for their efforts. While the 20-0 scoreline reflects England’s defensive dominance, they will have to be more clinical to stand a chance against the reinvigorated Irish at home in two weeks’ time. Billy Vunipola continued to impress, while Mike Brown has made the fullback position his own. Jonny May continually was a menace along the left wing, seemingly securing his spot for the next clash. England’s wealth of back three options sharply contrasts to their situation during the autumn internationals, where Chris Ashton struggled and Ben Foden played due to a lack of viable alternatives following injuries to Marland Yarde and Christian Wade. England will be happy with the victory, but know they need to do more to mount a realistic title challenge.
Scotland Takeaways: Yet another miserable performance from the Scots has them looking like very realistic contenders for the Wooden Spoon once more. After a brief reinvigoration last year under Scott Johnson, the Australian’s bizarre management decisions have backfired spectacularly. Kelly Brown’s exclusion was a mistake from the word “go,” and rugby writers the world over are now questioning Scotland’s management setup. Set plays were a disaster, Duncan Weir does not look like an international fly half (he repeatedly kicked the ball out on the full, at least twice while under no pressure). It is a sad situation to see a once-great rugby nation reduced to also-ran status, but that is where the Scots will languish for the immediate future.
France v Italy
France Takeaways: The French, as is their nature, seemed to coast in the first half before turning on the jets in the second. A meagre 9-3 halftime lead turned into a 30-10 victory as the French romped through a tired Italian defense. Wesley Fofana proved his immense talents once again, scoring a quality try early in the second half and making yards every time he touched the ball. Louis Picamoles continued to be a workhorse for the glamorous French, doing a solid job in both defense and attack. Phillipe St. Andre can rest easy for another two weeks, but the French will face much sterner tests against the Irish and Welsh in the weeks ahead.
Italy Takeaways: It was always going to be more difficult this year for the Italians, with three matches away from home. What is truly alarming is the recurrence of old problems, with atrocious twenty minute passages proving to be their undoing. Normally, the fiftieth minute brings the start of Italy’s difficulties. Sunday, the schedule was pushed forward and France completed their demolition in the third quarter of the game. Jacques Brunel must be tired of singing the same song to Italy’s increasingly impatient support and players. A fight that broke out in the 70th minute marred the contest for both sides, but Italy saved some dignity with a late try from winger Tomasso Iannone. Unfortunately, the match between Italy and Scotland will likely decide the Wooden Spoon once more.
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