THE start of February usually means one thing for rugby lovers: the start of the Six Nations. As ever, the stadiums were packed, the crowds were in great voice, the anthems were rousing and the rugby was, as ever, thrilling.
The first game of the weekend saw France entertain Italy at the Stade de France. It was a tightly contested affair, in which the Italians will come away believing they should have achieved their first ever victory in Paris. New French head coach Guy Noves had been stating in the build-up that France were looking to play expansive rugby, and the two first half trys from both former sevens star Virimi Vakatawa and Damien Chouly were examples of just that. However, Italy had the dominance up front, keeping in touch with a Carlo Canna drop goal, and a Sergio Parisse try to make the score 10-8 at the half.
After the break, Italy began to control the game, with Canna finishing off a move started by inspirational captain Parisse, putting them 18-10 in front. France struck back with another well worked try through winger Hugo Bonneval. An exchange of penalties followed to keep the score line tight, but with 75 minutes gone, Jules Plisson landed a monster 54 metre kick to give France the victory, with the final score line being 23-21. The win was an unconvincing one for France, lacking in intensity and the forward platform to build upon. Yet, debutants Jonathan Danty and Vakatawa were clear positives for Les Blues.
If France could be accused of lacking intensity, then the opening 10 minutes of the Scotland vs England clash at Murrayfield perhaps had too much of it, with plenty of loose play. However, with 15 minutes gone, English lock George Kruis powered his way through the Scottish forwards, stretching out to score; putting England in front. Scotland hit back with two Greig Laidlaw penalties, yet the solid English defence prevented Scotland crossing the whitewash. The first half came to a close with the score 7-6 in England’s favour.
The second half saw far more structure in England’s game, and with that came a try from Exeter wing Jack Nowell, following slick hands from Mako Vunipola. Mako’s brother Billy had an outstanding game with ferocious carries and excellent leadership in defence. Laidlaw kicked another penalty, but the half rarely saw Scotland trouble England, who saw the game out to give Eddie Jones a 15-9 victory; a first as England coach. Stand out performances came from new captain Dylan Hartley, Billy Vunipola and Jack Nowell. Scotland again failed to score a try against England at Murrayfield, a feat they have not achieved since 2004.
Sunday’s provided a breathless encounter in Dublin, with Wales and Ireland sharing the spoils at 16-16. Drama is never too far away when these two clash, and in what was the best game of the weekend, Ireland raced into a 13-0 lead after half an hour, thanks to two penalties from Jonathan Sexton, and a smartly taken try from scrum half Conor Murray. By the end of the half, Wales had dragged themselves back in it, with substitute Rhys Priestland keeping calm off the tee and Taulupe Faletau scoring a try off the back of a dominant Welsh scrum. In the second half, Priestland slotted two more penalties to edge Wales in front, yet Sexon brought the scores level again. What followed was, to use a footballing cliché, ‘end to end stuff’, and when the clock went red, both teams refused to settle for a draw, until Murray was bundled into touch. A fair result, which sees the hopes of a Grand Slam fade away for both sides. Ireland’s C.J Stander received man of the match for a hugely energetic display.
Featured image: The Independent