By Nicola Kenton
- Scotland beat England for the first time since 2008
- Ireland claim a bonus-point win against Wales to stay at the top of the table
- France get their first win of the tournament at home against Italy
The middle weekend of the Six Nations saw a surprising result as Scotland beat England at Murrayfield, Ireland won against Wales while France defeated Italy.
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The two week break between rounds two and three of the Six Nations allowed the players to recover from the physicality of the tournament. France and Italy kicked off the weekend on Friday, where the hosts triumphed to earn their first win of the tournament and seemingly condemned Italy to the wooden spoon once again. Ireland sit pretty at the top of the table after a bonus-point win against Wales and thanks in turn to Scotland, who produced the shock of the round to comfortably beat England at Murrayfield.
Ireland show their strength in depth
In the two week break Ireland did not have the greatest news concerning injuries. It was confirmed that Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson would miss the clash with Wales due to hamstring injuries, with the side having already lost Robbie Henshaw in the win over Italy. Instead Joe Schmidt had to rely on the services of Andrew Porter, James Ryan and Chris Farrell.
Luckily for the Irish coach, all three stepped up to the plate along with Jacob Stockdale – who had already proved his worth by scoring two tries against Italy. However, it was not the first time that these players had played together. Stockdale, Porter and Ryan had all been team mates at the 2016 World U20 Championship, they reached the final of the tournament but lost to England. The Irish trio are the first from that generation of players to make the transition into the senior side and in their win against Wales, they showed that they are comfortable on the biggest stage.
Although Stockdale has caught the public’s attention because of his try-scoring ability, adding another two his tally at the weekend, it is Ryan who many are impressed with. The 21-year-old captained the U20 side in 2016 and has shown his leadership qualities on the field. In his first two games of the Six Nations, the second row has played very different roles making the most Irish tackles against France but only making two tackles against Wales and instead carrying 11 times. Additionally, Ryan seems to know exactly where he can improve his game and is not afraid to admit it.
Speaking afterwards about his performance, Ryan told the BBC: “I don’t think I’ll ever feel at home,” he said. “Some of the games are definitely a step up just in terms of the physicality. I think in the second half, we kind of got on top of them and we could have finished them off a couple of times. There was one incident where we were on their line and Dan Leavy made a carry and I’m braced over the ball and I kind of get dominated, pretty much. Well, I don’t kind of get dominated, I do get dominated – and as a result, [Conor] Murray is under pressure and we end up spilling the ball and giving them an easy out. Moments like that we could have been better at and as a result we could have put them away earlier.”
Errors and ill-discipline cost Wales
Having won the first match of the tournament and then losing to Wales, Warren Gatland‘s side went into the game against Ireland with an outside chance of still being in with a shot of the title. However, for his 100th game in charge Gatland saw his side’s ill-discipline cost them and ended any hopes of a late title charge.
There were glimmers of hope during match but the small things cost Wales the most. At half-time, the away side were unlucky to go back to the changing rooms behind but it was the return to the field that was most disappointing. Ireland scored two tries in the first 15 minutes to lead 27-13 and despite Aaron Shingler and Steff Evans late charge, Ireland pulled ahead in the last seconds of the game through Stockdale. Wales only had 31% of the possession during the match and conceded nine penalties, the same amount the side had relinquished in the first two games of the tournament, in comparison to Ireland’s four.
Although Wales’ tournament is over in terms of winning the Championship, they would still hope to finish strongly especially with players such as Liam Williams and Dan Biggar returning to full fitness. Playing their last two matches at home will be an advantage, alongside them being against seemingly the weakest sides in the tournament this year, France and Italy.
Calcutta Cup ignites Scottish passion
After a disappointing start to the Six Nations, Scotland pushed through to claim a result against France and earned their first Calcutta Cup victory since 2008 and their biggest winning margin in the fixture for 32 years. The Scottish play that everybody was so excited about came to fruition, as they scored three tries in the first 21 minutes of the game – having not score a try at home against England since 2004!
Eddie Jones was quiet in the build-up to the match; a stark contrast to the Wales games. The biggest news before the game began was the new heated trousers that England would be wearing and the scuffle that happened in the tunnel pre-match. However, the lack of pre-match talk did not matter as Scotland began their talking on the pitch almost instantly with Greig Laidlaw kicking a penalty.
It was at the breakdown where Scotland succeeded in frustrating England. The away side conceded 13 penalties, in comparison to the Scot’s seven and they also missed 13 tackles in the first-half of the match. There were mistakes that would not necessarily by associated with England: inaccurate passes, many knock-ons and a sin binning thanks to a no-arms tackle.
Scotland prevailed and they were strong in attack and defence. When England were playing for a losing bonus point, they couldn’t get past the Blue wall. Captain John Barclay was stoic contributing to the win with 13 tackles and three turnovers. Finn Russell bounced back from being substituted against France with a sublime pass to allow Huw Jones to cross the line; while Sean Maitland beat five men and made 133 metres.
Scotland, now in with a chance of the title, must hope a similar performance awaits them at the Aviva.
England show that they are human
It was a disappointing week for the England camp. Eddie Jones had secured training with the Georgian team, so that England could work on their set-piece. In fairness the set-piece held up during the match, it was other areas where England let themselves down. The defence seemed frail. The breakdown was poor.
As reported in the Daily Telegraph, speaking after the match, Jones said: “They beat us at the breakdown, we did not get our defensive spacing right in the first half and they were able to cut holes in us. That’s disappointing. I have got take responsibility for the performance because we weren’t there. I take full responsibility and I have to work out what I did wrong and work out how to fix it. Any time we got momentum, they were able to turn us over or get a penalty, which stifled our attacking game. They contested really well and read the referee superbly and got the reward for it. These lessons you don’t want to have but they are the best lessons in the world. We will learn a lot from this. Unfortunately the lesson isn’t sometimes nice to take but it is a great lesson for us.”
The quick starts that had happened earlier in the tournament disappeared. The fizz that players such as Anthony Watson and Jonny May was nowhere in sight. Scotland’s passion proved too much and England experience their second loss in 26 matches. However they need to fight back. The 2018 Six Nations is not over, it’s just as Jones told BBC 5 Live afterwards, “We’re humans, not robots.”
All eyes on the Aviva next time out
The final run-in of the Six Nations beckons and the big match of next weekend is Scotland travelling to Ireland. The Scots proved that they can beat better teams than themselves with a well-thought out game plan; however, this has happened on home soil. Their away form in the tournament in recent years has not been great and this year’s loss away at Wales did nothing to help turn their fortunes. Nevertheless, they will be hoping that they can get the better or Ireland and allow themselves to be in with a chance of the title come the final match.
England fans will also be hoping for Scotland victory. As long as they win their match in France, it means that the tournament will be decided on St. Patrick’s Day – potentially in the clash at Twickenham. Last year’s fixtures hoped for the same result, a showdown at the Aviva but England had already won the Championship and were denied the Grand Slam by the home team.
All eyes will be on the Aviva in the next round to see if Scotland can live up to their billing and win away to take the 2018 Six Nations into a final round decider.
The fourth round of matches begins on March 10th with Ireland hosting Scotland and England travelling to France, while on Sunday Wales host Italy.
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