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RBS Six Nations 2017: Round Three

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The rules of rugby are no great mystery. The players should know them by now and be able to understand what they, and the opposition, can and cannot do. However, Italy last week taught England a few surprising lessons... 

England 35 – Italy 16

For England the mission was simple; score points and stay top of the table. For Italy the task was to prove a point and not be humiliated. The game was dominated in the first 40 minutes by Italy’s innovative tactic of not committing players to the ruck and thus not creating an offside line, so they could instead charge the England lines. Despite an early Dan Cole try England could not fathom the Italian system.

With Owen Farrell seemingly lost for parts of the game (despite it being his 50th cap) the points were a struggle; after 40 minutes Giovanbattista Vendetti’s try and an Italian penalty gave them a lead of 10 points to 5.

The second half saw England dismantle the Italian tactic, crash balls and close play pushed Italy back and soon the points flooded in. Danny Care and Elliot Daly crossed the line followed by Italy’s last repulse of the day with a try thanks to Michele Campagnaro’s foot work. England finished the day though with a Ben Te’O try and a Jack Nowell double.

Twickenham breathed a sigh of relief and the English RFU had to find a rule book to figure out what exactly they had endured.

Ireland 19 – France 9

Ireland returned to the Aviva Stadium looking to secure the win that would keep them in the running for this year’s RBS Six Nations title. The deadly boot of Camille Lopez though set to work early in the game trying to upset Irish hopes; two penalties in the first 20 minutes gave France a 6-0 lead with a disallowed try stopping France from capitalising fully on their early advantage.

Jonathan Sexton masterminded Ireland’s comeback, his eye for space seeing Ireland securing territory and a scrum on the French five metre line. After an initial breakdown an Irish drive saw Conor Murray go over and a Sexton conversion followed, the score 7-6 to Ireland. The French defence held though and Ireland turned down plenty of chances to kick for points.

The second half downpour aided the Irish, their movement on and off the ball was slick whilst France began to flounder. A penalty and closely followed by a drop goal stretched Ireland’s lead to seven points. French substitutes could not turn the game either, and even when a penalty was scored and play remained on the Irish 22 for a while, Ireland responded well. A final penalty ensured France was to leave empty handed.

Scotland 29 – Wales 13

A decade is a long time in rugby; 3 world cups have passed, each team has played roughly 50 Six Nations games and Wales have won the tournament 3 times in that period. So for Scotland to end such a long period and in with such confidence is a great statement of intent for Murrayfield’s heroes.

In a physical game the sides traded penalties at first, Finn Russell and Leigh Halfpenny opening the scoring respectively. But Wales began to stretch out and excellent work in the backs saw Liam Williams score with the conversion from Halfpenny giving Wales a 10-3 lead. However failure to score another try and a penalty miss saw Scotland build momentum, two Russell penalties ending the half at 13-9 to Wales.

Early in the first half Scotland Tommy Seymour scored thanks to the ingenuity of Stuart Hogg and Tim Visser, Russell adding the extras. Then came the magic; Stuart Hogg showed how you execute a perfect pop pass at speed that sent Visser over the line. Scotland could now relax. Wales floundered and could not usurp the confidence of Scotland who added a penalty to give them a historic win, 29 points to 13.

Another weekend break means Six Nations action resumes this Friday, the 10th of March. Wales host Ireland in a game that, for much of the last decade, has decided who would win the tournament. Then Italy faces France in Rome, looking to perhaps get something from this tournament in terms of progress. However, the game to watch is England versus Scotland at Twickenham, which will be the most hotly contested Calcutta Cup in years. The two current favourites to win the tournament will also play for the prestigious Triple Crown.

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