By Ros Satar
- France 23-21 Italy for the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy
- Scotland 9-15 England for the Calcutta Cup
- Ireland 16-16 Wales
RBS 6 NATIONS, ROUND ONE – England top the table after the first weekend of the 2016 tournament, France claim a lucky win, and Ireland hold a resurgent Wales to a draw.
All eyes had to be on England as the second of the two opening matches came around, with the Calcutta Cup on offer. A chance to banish a truly woeful World Cup performance, a coach gone, a new coach courting the press and a new captain who would have to be on his best behaviour – what could possibly go wrong?
Nothing much, as it turned out, as the visitors silenced the Murrayfield crowd in a tight match against the old adversaries. For once, Scotland were to be the favourites, having done the best of all the home nations, while curiosity would surround England with their new line-up on and off the field.
The men in white struck first as George Kruis drove through the scrum to put England on the board, ably added to with an Owen Farrell conversion – 7-0 to the good after just 15 minutes. Scotland made sure they did not get too cocky, getting a penalty goal by Greig Laidlaw just a minute later, and bringing the hosts to within a point with another penalty a couple of minutes before the end of the first half.
Scotland wanted to make good on their momentum, having played the better attacking rugby towards the end of the first half, but could not quite break through a resolute England defence, and with England finding a second wind, Jack Nowell put England comfortably ahead with a try, although Farrell seemed to be just off the mark.
Luckily he found his kicking boots at the end, with a penalty goal that left Scotland with it all to do. There was a brief moment of respite for the hosts as another Laidlaw penalty pulled them back but with England in the ascendency, at least in this match Scotland were staring a seventh consecutive home defeat in the face, while England hoisted the Calcutta Cup for the eighth straight time.
Earlier in the day France perhaps were lucky to sneak the win in the opening match of the RBS 6 Nations, as the unconvincing hosts made good on a controversial penalty at the end of the match.
Italy took the early initiative with a drop goal by Carlo Canna but it was France who got the first try, care of Virimi Vakatawa on his debut, ably backed up by Damien Chouly, to help neutralise a Sergio Parisse try, for the hosts to just have the edge over the Azurri at half time.
Quick off the mark once more at the restart, Canna picked up a penalty goal before claiming a try and the conversion to put the Italians firmly in the driving seat. The hosts looked all at sea, trailing 10-18 and were given a boost with a Hugo Bonneval try and Jules Plisson conversion keeping them in contention, now just a point adrift from the visitors.
With the teams trading penalty goals, Italian captain Parisse that may well feel the most aggrieved, being on the receiving end of a rough decision which set the French up with a penalty goal from near the half way line that was a pure belter of a kick that made the difference for the hosts.
To add insult to injury Parisse’s last gasp attempt at a drop goal missed the mark, leaving the Azurri frustrated and wondering what might have been, and the French on top of the table by the leanest and luckiest of margins.
Closing out the weekend, Ireland prevented a mighty comeback from the Welsh, holding them to a draw for the first time since 1974. Between them, these two nations have won the last four RBS 6 Nations with the Irish looking for an historic third straight title.
At the start, it looked as though Ireland were well on their way to planting their hands on the trophy, leading 13-0 thanks to a Connor Murray try and two Jonathan Sexton kicks on the money, while Wales lost Dan Biggar after just 2 minutes of play.
To that end their comeback was remarkable, with a Taulupe Faletau try and Rhys Priestland on kicking duty to put them ahead 16-13.
Sexton’s late penalty saved the Irish some embarrassment as both sides flagged after a game with a lot of ambition. Given the heartbreaking steal by the French, this was probably the right result.
Round two of the RBS 6 Nations continues 13-14 February.
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