By Nicola Kenton
- England thrashed France 44-8 at Twickenham with Jonny May scoring a hattrick
- Wales overcame Italy 26-15 in Rome to extend their unbeaten run of Tests
- Ireland beat Scotland 22-13 at Murrayfield in a game of high physical intensity
SIX NATIONS – England sit at the top the table after securing back-to-back bonus-point victories in the 2019 Six Nations, with Wales in second place.
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England’s quick starts continue
Another weekend and another try within the first two minutes. Impressively, England managed to score even faster than the 95 seconds it took against Ireland. This time it took Jonny May only 65 seconds to score and he completed his hattrick within half an hour. Everything was too much for France. England controlled their kicking game and they increased their physicality against the humongous French pack.
Owen Farrell was once again able to control the game for England, while tactical nous from Elliot Daly and Chris Ashton and their kicking into space allowed May to score his second and third tries. Having already secured the bonus-point through Henry Slade’s score, there was a bit of luck, as ever, when England’s fifth try was awarded as a penalty try after Ashton was brought down without the ball. It is questionable whether Ashton would have actually been able to score if he had received the ball, but the French had to suffer as Gael Fickou was sent to the sin-bin.
Consistency is the key for England now. They have started well in their first two matches, applied pressure when needed and been clinical in their scoring. Their next match is the potential title-decider in Cardiff when they will have to continue to improve on their games thus far.
Wales have some work to do
After their game of two halves against France, Wales were hoping to beat Italy convincingly but show the strength of their squad depth. Warren Gatland made 10 changes to the line-up and they managed to claim a win in Rome but it wasn’t easy. Wales were unable to record a bonus-point victory and as a result sit two points behind England in the table.
In the first-half Wales kept the scoreboard ticking over through penalties as they had the best of the possession and territory statistics. However, it was Italy who scored the first try and closed the gap to 12-7 at half-time. After a few changes on the field, Wales began to get more of the ball and found a way over the try-line with Josh Adams and Owen Watkin scoring. Despite the scrappy performance, Wales continued to extend their unbeaten run in Tests to 11 and equal the record set between 1907 and 1910.
Gatland told BBC Sport: “A lot of people will write us off, which is a good position to be in. Hopefully we’ll go under the radar. You’re not always brilliant and we weren’t today. We will be a lot better against England. A lot of people will look to criticise us but you have to give Italy some credit for how they played. That’s probably the best Italian performance I’ve seen since I’ve been in charge of Wales.”
More mind games from Eddie Jones?
Before the start of the championship, Eddie Jones was playing the underdog card for his England team with expectations at a lower level than last year. Ireland were the favourites according to the bookies and Jones was happy to go along with that philosophy. Then the opening round happened and England comprehensively beat the Irish on their home soil.
Although the mind games may not have played any role in the result, it has not stopped Jones from making more statements ahead of the next round. Wales coach Gatland has stated that this Welsh side are the greatest ever, despite not looking at their best against Italy at the weekend. Although, the squad depth they have shown is an advantage and something that Wales have been working on in recent years.
Jones told BBC Sport: “We are playing the greatest Welsh side ever. That’s what we are hearing, we’ll take it at face value. We’re going to have be at our absolute best. You’re playing against a tough, physical team. They contest hard at the breakdown. You’ve got to earn every point against them. We’re looking forward to going down there. It should be fun.”
Ireland hold their nerve for first win of the championship
It was a fierce encounter at Murrayfield, as the Irish got the better of the Scots and secured a 22-13 victory. Scotland had periods with lots of possession and territory, piling the pressure on the visitors to make a mistake but they held firm. The home side went ahead through a penalty but Ireland struck back with tries from Conor Murray and Jacob Stockdale. Ireland lost Johnny Sexton after 24 minutes and Scotland came back into the game scoring their own try through Sam Johnson. However, Ireland withstood the pressure and prevented any more Scottish tries.
Head coach Joe Schmidt told BBC Sport: “We just muscled our way through it to be honest. “It wasn’t the prettiest game, we got a peach of a set-piece try and we got a couple of broken-field running tries and I think we restricted them to an intercept try so from that perspective (it’s positive). In that first half, we were in our 22 for 34% of the time and in our half for about 72% of the time so that was a massive defensive effort and even the intercept was on our advantage so we went to sleep a little bit there and we’ve got to be better than that.”
Scotland not clinical enough
In the intense encounter at Murrayfield, Scotland had their chances to take control of the match and put their names forward to be in with a chance of winning the Grand Slam but they lost 13-22. Stuart Hogg who is so pivotal for the Scots went off injured with a shoulder injury on 15 minutes after a late tackle from Peter O’Mahony.
Many of the statistics between the two teams were very similar in terms of tackles missed, rucks won and defenders beaten. Yet what was clear was that Scotland made 202 tackles in comparison to Ireland 156 and they won five turnovers in contrast to Ireland’s three. Scotland had opportunities to go in front but they couldn’t convert those situations into points.
Just before half-time, Scotland had 25 phases extremely close to the try-line but the Irish wall held strong and it was Ireland who scored the next try. The bonus-point system has added an extra impetus to the championship and so when Greig Laidlaw closed the gap to six points, many thought Scotland would receive the losing bonus-point but Joey Carbery extended the Irish advantage and ended Scottish hopes of any points from round two.
After a break, the third round of fixtures takes place on Saturday 23 Feb when Scotland travel to France for a 14.15 GMT kick-off and Wales hosting England at 16.45, with Ireland play against Italy in Rome on Sunday 24 Feb at 15.00.
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