WESTWOOD, CA – After another exciting weekend of international European rugby, the RBS 6 Nations title race has begun to weed out the lesser teams from title contention. Italy, Scotland, and Ireland all seem to be dead in the water, although Scotland do have a win under their belt. France’s hopes are on the fence after the loss to Wales at the weekend; they must now hope for England and Wales to rule themselves out of the title race. At the top of the pack it is England and Wales who after strong showings this past weekend have proven their ability to bring home the RBS 6 Nations trophy. Relive the weekend’s most exciting moments and see how our Experts faired in RugbyWrapUp’s Round 3 RoundUp™.
Expert Panel Picks Table:
Panel Rundown: With two rounds left in this year’s 6 Nations Championship, the title race in our Expert Picks Panel is heating up. Mr. WB and Mr. Harrington lead the pack with 6-3 records, followed by Mr. Frechette and I (Mr. Nelson) with 5-4 records, and rounded out by Mr. Yeats and Mr. Blaber with 2-4 records. France’s inability to score cost Mr. Blaber and Mr. Harrington a loss; Wales’ victory benefitting the rest of the pool. Ireland’s fall made everyone except Mr. Frechette and Mr. Harrington succumb to a loss, while everyone correctly predicted Scotland’s victory over the Azzuri.
Wales 19 vs. 10 France
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Halftime Score: 6-3
After an exciting, hard-fought battle in Cardiff, Wales extended their winning streak over France to 5 fixtures in a row, the longest streak for the Welsh over the French since the 1950s. Despite earning two wins in the first and second rounds of this year’s RBS 6 Nations, France succumbed to the first defeat of the Championship, the first loss of the Guy Noves era.
The opening 15 minutes of the match were spent almost entirely in the French half as Wales applied massive pressure to a French side that seemed unprepared for the physicality the Welsh put forth. After nearly a quarter of an hour the French defence made their first mistake and were penalised for a late hit, allowing Welsh fly half Dan Biggar to score the match’s first points.
Nine minutes later Biggar extended their lead to 6–0 when French fly half Jules Plisson was caught not releasing in a tackle.
The French response didn’t come until the 33rd minute when, after their first break out from Welsh captivity, Dan Lydiate made a no arms tackle on Guilhem Guirado, allowing Plisson to bring the gap down to 3 points.
Wales’ attack did not cease, though, and they almost went into the break with a try under their belt after Gareth Davies stepped and shimmied his way past French defenders into open space. The attack didn’t yield results though as Davies tried to kick himself into space but instead kicked the ball to touch to end the half.
Unfortunately for the French the second half started the same as the first with Wales bearing down on the French defensive line. After two minutes Biggar kicked his third penalty goal of the match and after five minutes Wales earned the first try of the match thanks to George North’s soccer skills.
After a turnover on the halfway line, Jonathan Davies kick the ball into space for North to run onto. North’s initial stab at the ball with his foot turned out to be a mistimed shank but French fly half Plisson’s attempt to kick the ball to safety, instead allowing North to flop on the ball in the try zone for the score.
A 65th minute penalty goal for Biggar put the game out of reach for the French who, despite a 78th minute consolation try, saw their grand slam hopes die as they slipped to 3rd place in the table. Wales, however, remain unbeaten going into a mouthwatering clash against unbeaten England in Round 4 that very well could decide who wins this year’s RBS 6 Nations.
Italy 20 vs. 36 Scotland
Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Halftime Score: 10–17
With a 36–20 win over the Italians in Rome, Scotland has finally ended their nine-game losing streak in the RBS 6 Nations while also avoiding “earning” the wooden spoon for a second consecutive year. The emphatic victory marked a turning point for the Scottish who, in previous matches, had showed so much promise and potential but nevertheless came up short.
It was the Italians, however, who got on the board first thanks to fly half Kelly Haimona’s eighth minute penalty goal.
The Italians had absolutely no time to even think about their lead before Scotland scored the match’s first try. Scottish full-back Stuart Hogg danced his way along the left touchline into the Italian 22 before offloading to flanker John Barclay who crashed over for the score. Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw added the afters to bring the lead to 7–3.
Not six minutes had passed before the Scottish found themselves seven more points ahead thanks to the team work of fly half Finn Russell and flanker John Hardie. Russell’s break into open space allowed quick recycled ball to Hardie who crossed over the line in space on the left. Laidlaw kicked a successful conversion and successive penalty to bring the score to 17–3.
The Italians were not going to go down without a fight, though, and responded in emphatic fashion when Leonardo Ghiraldini smashed his way into the try zone in the left corner to bring the score to 17–10 after the Haimona conversion. ‘Tis how the teams entered the break.
The second half started with Scotland applying most of the pressure in the Italian half, but the match eventually opened up into an exciting attacking battle as Italian captain Sergio Parisse commanded his team from the front. By the 60th minute the Italians had been pinged for three penalties, all of which Laidlaw converted, while the Scottish paid for just one, Haimona doing the honours for the Italians.
With the score at 26–13 it looked as though Scotland would see the game out, but the Italians bravely responded in the 65th minute when second rower Marco Fuser cruised over for the Italians second try. Haimona’s conversion was successful and the gap came down to just six points.
It was not to be the Italians day, though, and the Scottish, despite too late yellow cards, managed to see through a victory in the face of brave Italian resistance. Winger Tommy Seymour put the icing on the cake for the Scottish in the 77th minute as he easily crossed over in space on the right for the match’s final try.
For the Scottish, their unbearable losing streak is over, but for the Italians a long drought may just be beginning.
Ireland 21 vs. 10 England
Twickenham Stadium, London
Halftime Score: 3-6
On a cold winters day at Twickenham last Saturday, Ireland’s gutsy defensive effort proved unfruitful as England marched on to their third victory in three matches in this year’s Championship. England head coach, Eddie Jones, coached his side to their first victory on home soil since the end of the rugby World Cup, putting the English in sole possession of first place with one point over second placed Wales.
The match started out rather positively from the Irish and after five minutes fly half Jonathan Sexton notched his first penalty goal of the game after English prop, Dan Cole, was penalised for changing binds at the scrum. England’s Owen Farrell responded five minutes later through a penalty goal of his own after South African born Irish flanker, CJ Stander, was penalised at the ruck.
With a scoreline level the English took absolute control of possession and laid siege to the Irish defensive line, wave after wave charging and being repelled until it looked as though captain Dylan Hartley cross the line for a try. Luckily for the Irish, Hartley’s efforts were dismantled by TMO review, but the sustained pressure didn’t cease until half time. Farrell notched one more penalty goal in the 34th minute to give England it’s first lead of the game going into the break.
After a nerve-wracking first half, the Irish came out with a vengeful zeal to start the second period, most likely building their attack on the confidence built from the first half’s massive defensive effort. The Irish got an opportunity early when English flanker James Haskell received a trip to the sin bin for a high tackle. With a man in the bin, the Irish once again kicked for the corner and executed a driving maul that, after initial resistance, eventually allowed scrum-half Conor Murray to dot over for the game’s first try; the Sexton conversion giving the Irish a 10–6 lead.
From there, though, it was an English show of dominance over Ireland’s walking wounded. The home side earned their first try after winger Antony Watson received the ball from winger, Jack Nowell, and found himself in open space for the try. Not five minutes had expired before fullback, Mike Brown, had England’s second try after he found himself an open space thanks to the work of forward and man of the match, Billy Vunipola. Farrell kicked through his first conversion of the game to bring the score to 21–10.
Seeing all hope of a third consecutive Championship fading rapidly, Ireland mounted a strong comeback against the English, spending much of the later second-half sending wave after wave at the English defence all to no avail.
The English stood firm and stifled the Irish attack until the final whistle. England’s hopes for their first grand slam since 2003 remain alive as they now have command of their own destiny going into a potentially title deciding fixture against Wales in two weeks.
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