May-Day For France

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Image Credit: [The Times]

A Jonny May hat-trick within the first half hour set England on their way to a thumping 44-8 victory over France – sending them top of the 2019 Six Nations table with maximum points from their two games. Wales and Ireland also won to keep pace with Eddie Jones’ side, however the ruthlessness of England’s victory suggests that they are the pacesetters in this years’ championship.

Like last week against Ireland, England’s start was lightning quick. A French knock-on led to Elliot Daly kicking forward for May to pounce, the Leicester flyer opening the scoring 65 seconds into the contest.

May’s second was even more impressive. After being set up by a pinpoint Owen Farrell pass, May’s footwork dazzled France winger Damian Penaud, who couldn’t stop the England flyer touching down again on 24 minutes.

May & England’s third came just before the half hour mark. Almost identical to the first try, another French mistake led to a kick through, this time from Chris Ashton, with May again winning the race to give England a commanding 23-3 lead 30 minutes in.

France finally showed some composure to reduce the daylight between the sides on 35 minutes. Some lackluster ‘tackles’ allowed fullback Yoann Huget to scythe through England’s defence and grant Penaud some redemption by finishing in the corner.

Despite this, England rounded off the first half by securing their four try bonus point. England’s smart regather and kick from another France knock-on culminated in a long ball finding Henry Slade, who stepped inside to finish expertly.

England showed little prospect of relinquishing their 30-8 halftime lead after the break, with Slade’s interception and kick resulting in Gael Fickou taking Ashton out illegally and a penalty try being awarded. The somewhat controversial decision also saw Fickou receive a yellow card.

Fickou’s sin-binning left France massively exposed, which England exploited on 55 minutes. Farrell kicked through for May to chase, but despite France’s cover defence denying May his fourth, Farrell was on hand to finish off the scoring. The England captain converted his own try to seal a thumping 44-8 win at Twickenham, a result that shows England mean business in 2019.

Wales kept pace with England by beating Italy 26-15, equalling a 109-year win record in the process. A low-scoring first half saw Italy lock Braam Steyn get the only try. However, four Dan Biggar penalties gave Wales a 12-7 halftime lead. 

A fluid backline move after the resumption saw the ball passed through five pairs of Welsh hands to give Josh Adams an easy stroll to the line, giving Wales a 19-10 lead.

Wales extended this when Gareth Anscombe’s chip over Italy’s tryline resulted in Owen Watkin touching down with 10 minutes remaining, to all but seal victory for Warren Gatland’s men.

A smart break from Italy fly-half Tommaso Allan on 76 minutes sent winger Edoardo Padovani in the corner to tighten the scoreline, however Wales held on to win 26-15 and remain the only other team with a 100% record in this year’s championship.

Defending champions Ireland responded to last week’s defeat by England to beat Scotland 22-13 at Murrayfield. Early, relentless pressure from Ireland forced a Scotland error on their own line, with Conor Murray gratefully regathering to score Ireland’s first try 10 minutes in.

Ireland’s second was far more intricate. A cleverly-worked set play close to the ruck sent Jacob Stockdale racing through a gap, with Scotland’s defenders left in the wake of the winger as he touched town to extend Ireland’s lead.

Scotland’s response came on 29 minutes. Finn Russell’s interception of Joey Carbery’s pass saw him tackled 5 metres short of the Ireland line, however the Scotland number 10 smartly popped the ball up to centre Sam Johnson to score in only his second test.

Some stoical Irish defence prevented Scotland from scoring again, and when Carbery broke through 15 minutes into the second half, the supporting Keith Earls was on hand to extend Ireland’s lead.

Both sides exchanged penalty goals, however Scotland couldn’t break through Ireland’s brutish defence, which held on to record a 22-13 victory and get the defending champions’ Six Nations campaign off the mark.

Jonathan Burnett