IN A NUTSHELL
Scotland 19-22 Italy
When Mark Bennett roared in for an intercept try at the start – scoffing up a looping, slow Kelly Haimona pass – you’d have thought this had the hallmarks of an open-running classic from Scotland. But the Italians trundled back, with a score by Josh Furno from a driving lineout. Kicks were exchanged but the highlight of the first half was a Giovanbattista Venditti try after the winger followed a wayward Haimona penalty kick. It bounced, he tracked it, and pushed the ball down, just to the side of the left-hand post to score.
After the half Greig Laidlaw helped himself to another penalty late, making it 19-15 to the Scots, but the Italians set up camp on their opponents’ line, and despite Scotland winning an unlikely penalty from a snarling Italian scrum. They couldn’t clear their lines and once Ben Toolis took a yellow card for sacking a maul it felt inevitable that Italy would earn a penalty try to win it, right at the death.
France 13-20 Wales
Wales won a tight game in Paris thanks to a Dan Biggar try and 15 points from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny. Sam Warburton’s side dominated the first half, both in terms of territory and possession with Jamie Roberts running hard at France, but only led 6-3 at the break and it was actually France who had gone closer to scoring a try. In fact, Yoann Huget did cross the line but his effort was ruled out for a forward pass in the lead-up.
France proved how dangerous they are early in the second half, putting width on the ball and showing far more pace and accuracy in attack – but it was Wales who scored the first try of the game in the 62nd minute. After George North had made a half-break, Rhys Webb darted through the French defence and passed to Dan Lydiate. The flanker produced a sublime offload to free Biggar, who ran diagonally to score his first Test try in the corner.
France hit back with a try of their own a few minutes later, Brice Dulin diving over in the corner after Wales’ defence had been stretched left and right, but two Halfpenny penalties and some strong tackling saw the visitors close out the win.
Ireland 19-9 England
The aerial onslaught that had been predicted arrived in the first minute for England and they were unable to recover from that nervy start. Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray not only peppered England’s back three with high ball after high ball, but they also managed the game better than their English counterparts. Put simply, Ireland were smarter and sharper.
Ireland dominated the first half and went close to scoring a try during a concerted period of pressure in England’s 22, including two five-metre scrums, but it was Sexton’s boot that gave them a 6-0 lead after ten minutes. George Ford halved the deficit with a drop-goal but England’s continued ill-discipline allowed Ireland to clear any danger.
The definitive blow came after 52 minutes. Murray put up a clever kick and Robbie Henshaw beat Alex Goode to the ball to score in the corner. The conversion made it 19-3. Two Ford penalties closed the gap and England did go close in the final ten minutes, but they could only put pressure on in short spells and struggled at the breakdown.
While Stuart Lancaster ponders his side’s decision-making and lack of composure at times, Ireland head to Cardiff in two weeks with a Grand Slam still in their sights.
50% – Italy’s success rate from the tee against Scotland.
21 – The number of tackles Italy missed. Despite both of these stats, they won the game.
416 – The number of metres made by France, including 94 from full-back Brice Dulin, compared to 294 by Wales.
11 – The number of carries made by both Brice Dulin and Jamie Roberts, more than any other players at Stade de France.
44 – The number of kicks from hand made by Ireland compared to 27 by England.
7 – The number of line breaks made by England compared to 1 by Ireland.
“We’ve let the fans down – we’re disappointed with that. We let each other down.” Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw
“I don’t think there’s a lot of complicated things to change…” Scotland head coach Vern Cotter
“Our compusure and experience is what got us over the line. I thought we matured and grew as a team a lot tonight.” Wales coach Warren Gatland
“We built it up as a big game and I never thought I’d look at the scoreboard and it would be 19-3. It’s a great feeling.” Ireland captain Paul O’Connell
“In territory and possession we struggled. The pressure put on from the breakdown put us under the pump.” England assistant coach Andy Farrell
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