After the weekend’s games we are over the hump of the RBS Six Nation’s Championship. We have just 2 more weekends of games. Still a possibility we have both a team going for a grand slam and one fighting to avoid a whitewash. This weekend brought in some great matches that surpassed my expectations competitive-wise. Let’s break down what we saw in these great games.
Italy 9 vs. Wales 26
This game was our least competitive of the weekend (if that tells you how good the games were). A torrential downpour that soaked the field only made things harder on the players. Although it was still an excellent match. If you look at the score you probably assume Wales jumped on the Italians from the start and just coasted. It didn’t really go that way though, I mean it was just a 3 point game at half. It was a low scoring first half only mustering 5 penalty kicks from both sides. Wales lead 9-6 at the break and it looked as though it would be a battle of the penalties, but Wales came out in the 2nd half and put on a scoring clinic rivaled to that of their 2nd half against Ireland.
Just 4 minutes into the half and Wales break the plane for a try thanks to a short kick by Mike Phillips that gets scooped up by Jonathan Davies for the uncontested try. Halfpenny hits the conversion and the grasp Italy had in their 3 point deficit is looking awfully weak after a quick score from the Welsh put it to 10.
Another 4 minutes later and the Italians are showing they aren’t about to roll over. Kris Burton hits his 3rd penalty goal of the game and brings the lead down to 7. For the Italians at least, the scoring would stop there.
The Welsh in need of some fresh legs and to keep the attack pressing sub on another 2 fresh bodies, shortly before Halfpenny hits a penalty goal to bump the lead back to 10. After which the Italians sub on 3 fresh legs of their own, it wouldn’t make a difference though. The fresh legs were shortly undermined as the Italians went down a man thanks in part to a yellow carding of Martin Castrogiovanni who was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes for repeatedly popping up in the scrum despite numerous warnings. The Welsh capitalized on the man advantage.
Wales scores their 2nd try of the match when Alex Cuthbert finds a line in on the corner. Leigh Halfpenny hits another conversion. The Welsh were rolling now. It was well beyond what they needed for the win, and the scoring ended there for them.
The next 20 minutes are spent with Italy trying to overcome field conditions, clock management, and a ruthlessly stingy Wales team that was laying the tackles on. In the end after a number of great advances the Italians are kept from scoring another point and lose their 2nd straight game. All this despite once again holding onto the majority of the possession. The Italians are in danger of slipping out of contention with another loss or another English victory.
Meanwhile the Welsh who rode an embarrassing losing streak into the Championship are well within contention for the overall win. They are actually setting it all up for quite an epic finish to it all as they are pitted to face the currently undefeated England in their final match. If they can beat a tough Scotland team on March 9th the Wales vs England game will be insane.
England 23 vs France 13
There was a lot at stake coming from either side of this matchup. I’ve said it countless times in my articles this weekend and I’ll say it again England is fighting for that grand slam perfect Championship with 5 wins. Meanwhile as if the wooden spoon isn’t unfortunate enough, France is fighting to avoid a whitewash with 5 losses. In the early parts you might have not been able to distinguish one from the other though as they both fought very hard and kept it a close game. I know I was on the edge of my seat for the majority of the game.
England was looking like they would run away with the game early when their first score — a penalty kick– came within the first minute of play. Owen Farrell had the English on the board early. France didn’t waste much time to return the favor, letting the field know they weren’t getting whitewashed without putting up a damn fight. Morgan Parra kicked a penalty goal 4 minutes in and it was evident the French who are very capable of getting the win, shouldn’t be taken lightly.
For the next little while the two teams went back and forth down the field. A number of tightly fought rucks and some nice takes but no scores resulted until the 27th minute when England was able to break the tie on another Farrell penalty kick. England was up 6-3. It wouldn’t last long though as the French make quick work to get the first try of the game.
Wesley Fofana breaks from nearly mid field to take it all the way for the try. He breaks 3 tackles on the way and just out races the other defenders on the biggest play of the day. France goes up 8-6, and after a Parra conversion the French are up 10-6. A few minutes later France is penalized for failure to roll away and it sets Farrell up for the penalty goal just outside the 22. The lead drops to 1 and nobody scores in the next 7 minutes so surprisingly France goes into half with a lead.
The second half starts off just has hotly contested as the game started and a nice back and forth with a couple great defensive stops keeping the score the same. In the 47th minute France concedes a penalty for collapsing a ruck deep in their territory which sets Farrell up for the straight easy penalty goal. The English take the lead and wouldn’t look back.
After the goal, England subs on 3 fresh legs looking to capitalize on the slight momentum advantage. France subs on 2 to counter. 7 minutes later and we have the 2nd try of the game on an awesome score from Manusamoa Tuilagi who shows off his footwork to keep the push going. Farrell misses the conversion but the pressure is put on France now as they now trail 17-10. They sub on another 2 looking to regain some stability.
Two minutes later and the French get what they need to claw back into things. Thanks to an English penalty deep in their own territory, Frederic Michalak scores on the penalty goal. The lead gets cut to 17-13.
No scores but a lot of subs come in the next 8 minutes. 4 players for England and a full new front row for France as they look to make that final push to reclaim the lead. In the 72nd minute England dashes those hopes a little more when Toby Flood kicks home a penalty goal for his first points off the bench. Once again France failing to roll away and paying dearly so. Another 4 minutes and the chances are all but gone for France. Flood kicks home another penalty goal to put the English up 23-13 where it would remain.
The French replacements fail to make a decent push into England territory and as the final minutes expire frustration begins to show. Dan Cole gets a yellow card in the final minute of play, and as time expires Chris Ashton and Benjamin Fall get into a tussle which is broken up by the conclusion of the game. Chris Robsaw claims the man of the match and the teams retreat to their respective lockers after a much needed congrats from both sides in the nick of time before the tempers really flare. England’s hope for a grand slam remain alive, while France’s fear of a whitewash only grows.
Scotland 12 vs Ireland 8
Our Sunday matchup might have been the most intense of the weekend despite the late game fireworks displayed in the England vs France game. The game was scoreless for a long while, and not from lack of skill but instead from a couple of teams just laying into one another. Both teams came into play today very much alive in the Six Nation’s play, although a win here was necessary. Since England has now beaten both of these teams, for either of them to win it all, England would need to lose both of their next games. Still with the hopes high, both teams were fighting like they were playing for the title now.
The first 35 minutes of the game are a grueling back and forth filled with rucks and hard hits. The Irish got to within 2 meters of Scotland’s line. After a penalty is called the Irish go for a kick to touch which results in a lineout. Scotland pinches the lineout and the Scots win the penalty. A moment Ireland might look back and regret upon later.
Ryan Grant collects the games first and only yellow card early in the match just 15 minutes into play. A tap and go from Connor Murray was the play to draw the penalty. Paddy Jackson shanks his kick, another moment the Irish will probably regret heavily later on. The battle for position rages on.
The first points of the match come in the 35th minute. A Scottish penalty sets Jackson up for a moment of redemption and he boots it home to put the Irish on the board first leading 3-0. The half would end and no more score would come. Every point would be needed in this game and Ireland had already blown a couple of occasions to put points on the board.
Early into the 2nd half (43rd) and Ireland was laying the pressure on the home team. After a relentless barrage of pushes from Ireland, the Scots who were back up deep finally had a hole break open allowing Craig Gilroy to score the games only try. It had seemed that despite their earlier blunders the Irish might be able to hold onto the win, currently holding onto their much deserved 8-0 lead. They miss the conversion which only adds to the games list of regrets for Ireland.
Just 5 minutes into the half and Scotland subs 2 fresh legs, another 5 minutes later and Denton who had just come on, resubs for Brown who had just come off during a key push fort Scotland. After an Ireland penalty within their 22 Scotland lines up for the penalty goal for their first points of the match. Greig Laidlaw kicks a beauty, and the Scots are on the board.
The Scots immediately up the ante and lay on the pressure. Finally on the board with the crowd into the match and the team was feeling it too. After a ton of early penalties the Scots are finally finding things going their way as the Irish are hurriedly catching up in penalties conceded. Another 7 minutes and the Scots find themselves with a penalty that puts them 35 meters out, Laidlaw kicks home his 2nd penalty goal of the day and Scotland draws to within 2.
Meanwhile the Irish are seemingly at a loss of moving the ball forward and more importantly showing discipline and not picking up the penalties. 4 minute later and they concede another penalty that lines up Laidlaw to overtake the lead. It was over from there. The Irish go the next little while clawing inch by inch taking the 128 tackles Scotland threw at them. They do a good job to rotate fresh legs on as they are just getting bashed. It just isn’t enough and Scotland pushed Ireland back into their own territory where they give up another penalty and kiss that 1 point deficit goodbye. Laidlaw kicks home his 4th penalty goal on the day and Scotland is enjoying a 12-8 lead with 7 minutes to go.
At this point the Irish are forced to go for the try and conversion, looking back and hating themselves for the missed conversion and 2 missed penalty kicks earlier. They do a great job to get into opposing territory but need a try, Scotland steps up it’s D and keeps the Irish out. Giving up a penalty that did the Irish no good as they required the try, Scotland hold on deep backed up to their line.
Jim Hamilton earns himself man of the match, he had 5 tackles and 6 lineout wins, 1 of which was stolen from the opposing throw in. Scotland lays on 128 tackles to keep the Irish from scoring late. They overcome the 16 penalties they conceded, much in thanks to the 2 missed penalty kicks from Ireland. Also surviving a sin bin trip from Grant. Ireland had all the opportunities they needed to come away with the win, including an impressive 71% control of possession. They really have to be kicking themselves as they are now eliminated from contention. Scotland stays alive barring a couple of England losses but the hope is there, and they deserved the hard fought win today.
The RBS Six Nation’s Championship take the weekend off again this upcoming weekend and will resume March 9th & 10th, followed by the concluding day of games and ceremonies on March 16th. You can bet we will have all your coverage pre and post game, so you know where to come read. Have a good one.
(Photo 1 source) http://img.skysports.com/13/02/496×259/Ian-Evans-C-of-Wales-runs-with-Italians-Kris-_2905051.jpg
(Photo 2 source) http://static0.demotix.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/a_scale_large/1800-0/photos/1361641943-six-nations-wales-wins-vs-italy-26-9_1821810.jpg
(Photo 3 source) http://www2.pictures.zimbio.com/mp/2Gq7z_JdLnRm.jpg
(Photo 4 source) http://www.espnscrum.com/PICTURES/CMS/28000/28025.jpg
(Photo 5 source) http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02490/heaslip_2490877b.jpg
(Photo 6 source) http://www.therugbyblog.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/scotland-ireland.jpg