We had another wonderful weekend of rugby that I think highlighted the strengths and some weaknesses of the 6 Nations. Here is my review of the action from the weekend.
France 23 – 21 Italy
Scotland 9 – 15 England
Ireland 16 – 16 Wales
2 from 3, with a draw I think that’s as good as a clean sweep.
France gained the expected win over Italy but it took a late penalty to snatch it. In fact Italy took the lead with a drop goal only for the Vakatawa to show his 7s skills and get the opening try. The ever impressive Perisse was at the back of a maul to dot down and regain the lead for Italy. The first half though was tilting this way and that and from a tap penalty France crossed the white wash to lead 10-8 at the break as both sides were missing their kicks. Italy could easily have led having a move stopped just short of the line late in the half. They continued the good form early in the second half first scoring a penalty and quickly following up with a converted try to lead by 8 points. On the hour mark France burrowed over to make it a 1 point game. Then came the frenetic finish where exchanged penalties meant France took the lead only for Italy to come back and then have it snatched away from them late on. Italy pushed France much closer than most of us expected and as a friend has said “Italy are good for 1 win a year.” So England and Scotland beware as they are the two sides visiting Rome.
There was a frenetic start up in Edinburgh with England trying to spread the ball wide without earning the right to do so with the only reward being a missed drop goal attempt. A good chip and chase from Nowell earned England a 5m scrum from which they barged over for the first try. Scotland couldn’t string enough phases together to trouble the England defence much either getting penalised or turning over the ball. England though equally couldn’t take advantage and Scotland worked their way back into the game with a couple of penalties. It could’ve been better but for a couple of missed kicks so they trailed 6-7 at the break. In the second half a turnover ball led to good field position for England and after a couple of phases worked the ball wide to Nowell who went over in the corner. A penalty to Farrell made it a 2 score lead as England controlled the territory well. Scotland did pull back a penalty but even when they got an interception the ball was kicked out rather than being run back. There is plenty for England to work on as Farrell showed the bad side to his competitiveness with a needless push in the back giving up a penalty and field position. But a win is a win and something to build on. There was a lot of gloom afterward for Scotland who came into this game with a lot of optimism from the Rugby World Cup. Everybody seems to have forgotten that Scotland didn’t beat any tier 1 sides and were in touch with Australia due to interceptions. Yes Scotland were better but the press built them up and a trip to Cardiff next will be a stern test.
Early on both Ireland and Wales Were able to put phases together but not make much ground once in 22. Ireland’s better early discipline allowed Sexton to kick them into a 6-0 lead. Zero got a bit lucky when he kick out on the full after the ball was passed back into 22, Wales tough weren’t able to take advantage. Wales had already lost Bigger to injury after he had been limping for a while when Ireland stretched their lead. Murray who had a good game dummied and nipped over from the back of a ruck after pressure on the Welsh line. That all came from Priestland not touching down for a 22 drop out and having a poor clearance kick instead. Wales then had a golden ten minutes heading into half time first knocking over a penalty and then forcing a try form a scrum after a couple of attempts. That meant the half time score was 13-10. Wales got an early penalty to even things up after that neither side was able to add to their tally until the last ten minutes. Then it was the exchange of penalties to leave the game all tied. Both sides started to play more expansive rugby towards the end but it really felt like plan C and all a bit too late. The lessons from the last day of the 6 Nations last year and the Rugby World Cup don’t seem to have been learnt yet.
Bath 11 – 15 Gloucester Rugby
Harlequins 23 – 27 Northampton Saints
Wasps 9 – 8 Newcastle Falcons
Leicester Tigers 3 – 10 Sale Sharks
Exeter Chiefs 11 – 14 Saracens
London Irish 20 – 13 Worcester Warriors
3 from 6, average picking but there were a couple of big upsets.
Bath scored the first and only try taking advantage of Gloucester being reduced to 14 men. But those were the only points they could score in the first half where they had the upper hand in territory and possession. Once restored to 15 men Hook was able to knock over a penalty so that they only trailed 7-3 at the break. In the second half Gloucester used the conditions to control territory meaning that when ever Bath transgressed Hook could have a shot at goal. He wasn’t perfect with the boot but still knocked over another 4 penalties with Homer only able to add one for Bath for the LBP.
In a frenetic first half the lead change many times, first Saints capitalised on early pressure with a penalty. Then we had the exchange of tries as Quins scored only for Saints to reply and then it all happened again for a half time score of 14-17. Quins started the better and took the lead back with two penalties. Then we have a frantic last ten minutes where and exchange of penalties first saw Saints level and then Quins pull ahead again. But the talking point of the match came at the end where Botica failed to find touch and Saints ran it back for the winning try.
Wasps won the tightest of games where both sides were happy to kick the ball away. Goode even managed to kick the ball more than he passed it. Even when the ball was passed it was mainly one out running. Wasps took the lead with a penalty but Falcons responded quickly for it to be all even at 3-3. Falcons managed the only try of the game early in the second half and survived a yellow card soon afterward for the loss of only 3 points. It wasn’t until five minutes from time that Wasps managed to knock over their third and decisive penalty.
In another low scoring game Tigers suffered a surprising loss to
Falcons who are fight a relegation battle Sale who gained their first away win of the season. The first half only saw a penalty each as reward for all the effort put in. The stalemate was broken just after the hour mark as Sale decided to go for the corner and catch and drive scored the only try of the game. Sale should have been clear as Cipriani missed 5 penalty kicks at goal.
Edit – Sorry a lack of sleep means you make silly mistakes.
With half an hour gone Exeter were cruising and had an 11-0 lead via two penalties and a Short try. But this is a Saracens side that won’t let that kind of situation worry them. A late try meant that they had closed date gap to 11-5. In the second half Saracens managed to force enough penalties for Hodgson to kick them to victory. It wasn’t with out a scare though as Hodgson was intercepted but Chudley wasn’t quick enough to go all the way.
Irish got a much needed win against their relegation rivals Worcester. A solo effort in the first half opened the scoring with a try and Geraghty added the extras. An exchange of penalties left it 10-3 at the break. As much as Worcester tried to get back into the game Irish kept them at arms length. Worcester got the first try of the second half to narrow the gap to 2 points. A second yellow card for Worcester though reduced them to 14 and Irish took advantage with a converted try to reopen the two score lead. This meant when Irish went down to 14 men they had a cushion for when Worcester got their second try. A late penalty to Irish then closed out the game.
Ulster 17 – 15 Newport Gwent Dragons
1 from 1, kind of a clean sweep but there was only one game…..
Ulster climbed to the top of the table with this win, Leinster still have game in hand that could take them top. With Munster also having a game in hand that would put them on equal points with Scarlet and Connacht, the table is having a familiar look.
New Zealand became the first side to win two stops of the HSBC World 7s Series. They beat Australia who climbed to 4th place in the standings. Fiji downed South Africa in the Bronze final to tie the top of the standings.
Americas Rugby Championship
Chile 25 – 22 Brazil
Canada 33 – 17 Uruguay
USA 35 – 35 Argentina XV
Canada lead the way and the draw between USA and Argentina make it for an interesting championship. For Chile and Brazil it’s going to be a great experience but I think both will lose to the rest of the sides.
For a fuller report check out Harpin’ On Rugby.
Super Rugby starts soon, to join in the predicting fun click here for my SuperBru prediction league.