By Nicola Kenton
- Ireland run-in eight tries against Italy
- England grind out a win against Wales at Twickenham
- While Scotland get their first win of the tournament thanks to Greig Laidlaw’s boot
The second week of the Six Nations saw Ireland secure a bonus point victory against Italy, whereas England and Scotland picked up wins in close matches against France and Wales.
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After a week of Eddie Jones trying to play mind games with the Wales team, it was the Australian’s men who came out on top at Twickenham – although the match was much closer than anticipated. Ireland thrashed Italy, as expected, but played in a completely different style to the first round and Scotland overcame France, at Murrayfield, in the final few minutes of the game.
Ireland show their attacking prowess
In the first match of the tournament, Ireland played very defensively against France and to rely on the boot of Johnny Sexton to secure the win. It was a match where they carried heavily and had most of the possession, but they didn’t gain many metres as they were playing very direct and with little width. Whereas against Italy they played an almost opposite strategy. Ireland used width to their advantage with Robbie Henshaw, Conor Murray, Bundee Aki and Keith Earls all scoring tries in the first half. With the bonus point secured, they continued to run in the tries in the second half through building their phase play; however, they showed some weakness and conceded three tries in the last 25 minutes of the game where the final score was 56-19.
Coach Joe Schmidt told the BBC after the match, “Both teams tried to use the ball in dry conditions and we got some good width to our game. That was the positive. The negative is conceding those tries – that was the disappointing thing. In the context of the championship hopefully it won’t damage us too badly, perhaps on points differential. We had two 21-year-old wingers out there in the end and it’s a good learning experience.”
Although the result was pleasing, there were a couple of injuries during the match that could impact future results. When scoring his second try, Henshaw injured himself and has been ruled out of the tournament; while Tadhg Furlong went off with a hamstring injury. Ireland sit at the top of the table having secured nine points from their first two matches and they are ahead of England on points difference. However, in the next round they play Wales which should be a harder game and it will be interesting to see which Ireland turn up. Being the home side should lend them to play their own attacking game but Wales will hope to pressurise their defence and score tries.
England clinical in ugly win
England were the victors against Wales in a tight match at Twickenham, winning by a score line of 12-6. After the opening weekend saw both teams earn bonus point victories, there had been much talk about the inexperience of many Wales players would let them down. However, both sides performed well but it was England who scored two early tries and never lost their lead.
Johnny May opened the scoring in the second minute, after Owen Farrell placed a perfectly weighted kick in his path. May’s second try came in the 20th minute of the match and again Farrell was involved in the build-up. The link-up play and vision that the Saracens fly-half has on the field has been crucial in the opening fixtures. Against, Italy he continually linked up with George Ford to provide opportunities for Anthony Watson. Even though, he had missed some of his kicks over the past two weekends, his reading of the game has been vital.
Given that England did not score any more points in the match after the second try, Wales had many chances to claw their way back into the game. Rhys Patchell kicked a penalty to make the score 12-3, there was Gareth Anscombe‘s no try and just after the hour mark, a Sam Underhill tackle denied Scott Williams. England were clinical in their approach as they had five chances in their 22 and scored two tries, while Wales had six chances and did not score. If England are to continue to build to the next World Cup becoming more clinical in their approach to scoring is key.
The mystery of Gareth Anscombe’s ‘try’
The key talking point from the England and Wales match was Gareth Anscombe’s disallowed try. The law specifically states, ” A try is scored ‘by pressing down on the ball with a hand or hands, arm or arms, or the front of the player’s body from waist to neck’.” Full-back Anscombe seemingly grounded the ball before England’s Anthony Watson managed to get his hands on it; however, the TMO decided that the Welshman had not applied enough pressure.
When any decision is referred to the TMO, the language used is always important as it decides what the match official is looking for. The referee asked the question: “Try: yes or no?” – this means that the official needs to be certain that a try has been scored; if the question had been “Is there any reason I cannot award a try?”, the footage would have to reveal an infringement that definitely means a try cannot be allowed.
This all happened in the first half. It could have changed the game, England would have had to adapt their strategy and it could have been a higher scoring contest but that was the TMO decision at the time. As with other sports, although the TMO is there to help in difficult situations there can never be 100% accuracy due to the interpretation of laws but teams must move on from a wrong decision and Wales continued to battle.
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Scotland must change their slow starts
In the first two games Scotland have been slow to get points on the board. Against Wales they didn’t score until the end of the match, whereas during the France game they scored much earlier – in the 12th minute – but didn’t take the lead until the 70th minute. In the next round, Scotland will host England and they have had a completely contrasting start to the competition; in both of their opening matches they have scored tries in the first two minutes of the game.
If Scotland want to do well against England it is imperative that they stop them from scoring early on. When facing Wales, they let in two early tries in the fifth and eleventh minutes and they never recovered.
Despite playing better rugby in this game, Scotland relied on the fact that France do not have the same fitness levels as other countries and they can be worn down in the final quarter of the match – they succeeded and won by a score line of 32-26. However, it won’t be that easy against England or Ireland, who are better conditioned and can adapt their game-play depending on what is happening on the field. Scotland must take the break to learn either how to stop England from scoring quickly or learn how to score quickly themselves.
Laidlaw helps provide a different shape for Scotland
In their match against Wales, Scotland stuck with their usual shape of providing width through the long pass from the half-backs, but this was predictable and Warren Gatland‘s men had figured out this plan. Whereas, against France they slightly tweaked their shape so that they were less predictable. They decreased their width slightly to allow more offloads to take place, so when there was a ruck further infield, the French had the outside covered and there was a gap just outside the ruck which Huw Jones took advantage of.
Having clawed back the score, Gregor Townsend made the daring decision to substitute Finn Russell for scrum-half Ali Price; this was so that Greig Laidlaw could switch from scrum to fly-half. Laidlaw, who was making his first start in a year having been injured in the 2017 Six Nations, had been kicking the points in the match anyway, but was moved across to see out the game.
As reported by the BBC, speaking after the match Laidlaw said, ” It was a bit of a surprise but thankfully the forwards were on top at the end of the game and I didn’t have to do too much heavy work.
“It was easy enough to slip back in. The forwards were starting to carry well by that point and once you’re on the front foot as a nine or a 10, it becomes so much easier. Ali came on and added a bit of zip and again that just added to our game plan to finish strong. Ali, ‘Dents’ [Dave Denton], [Ben] Toolis, the boys that came off the bench really added impetus. That’s something we’ve been trying to build over the last few seasons – the impact off our bench – and I really felt we got that today.”
The third round of the tournament starts on Friday 23rd February with France hosting Italy, while in Saturday’s matches Wales travel to Ireland and England make the trip up to Murrayfield.
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