PARIS, France, Feb 10 – Ireland outmuscled Wales to remain unbeaten, while England battled through the rain and wind to scrape a victory over Scotland, and France also made it two out of two with a victory over Italy.
AFP Sport looks at what we learned from the three matches of the second round of the 2020 Six Nations:
France 35 Italy 22
— France ended the weekend atop the Six Nations table after overcoming Italy 35-22 at the Stade de France.
The home side outscored the visitors five tries to three for a bonus point, but will doubtless be dreading their next defensive session with Shaun Edwards after a couple of elementary mistakes in placements and drops in concentration allowed the Italians to keep a foothold in the game.
Fabien Galthie has found himself a dynamic backrow based around skipper Charles Ollivon and No 8 Gregory Alldritt, while Toulouse half-backs Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack are steadily bringing their synergetic club form on to the international stage.
There are, however, some defensive glitches, notably out wide, for rugby league legend Edwards to iron out before the French travel to Cardiff to play Wales.
The figures offer no hiding place for the Italians: the defeat was their 24th on the trot in the tournament, stretching back to 2015. They host Scotland knowing a victory in Rome might be the easiest way to avoid a 15th Six Nations wooden spoon.
Ireland 24 Wales 14
— Jonny Sexton seems to have taken royally to the captaincy of Ireland, the 34-year-old fly-half having regained some of the prime form that saw him named 2018 World Rugby player of the year.
Cleverly marshalling Ireland’s attacking forces, Sexton has also been accurate with the boot. The team’s strengths nevertheless lie in the breakdown.
South African-born No 8 CJ Stander and flanker Peter O’Mahony have been in irrepressible form, making the most of a solid front five and key linking men Conor Murray, the master of the inch-perfect box-kick, and in-form replacement John Cooney.
Defeat was a first bump on new Wales coach Wayne Pivac’s road to replace Warren Gatland.
Wales produced an astonishing 16 offloads over the 80 minutes, a statistic never seen during Gatland’s successful 12-year reign.
Also noticeable was a narrower defensive line, not employed by specialist Edwards (now with France), that allowed the Irish back three, and Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour in particular, more space than they are normally used to both in attack and defence.
The Irish, with two wins from two, face a tough third round match at Twickenham against England. Wales host France before also travelling to England.
Scotland 6 England 13
— Outspoken England coach Eddie Jones came in for criticism for not picking an out-and-out No 8 to replace injured Billy Vunipola after Tom Curry failed to produce the goods in their opening round defeat by France.
But Curry upped his game, alongside openside flanker Sam Underhill, against Scotland, proving to be constant thorns in Scotland’s side in atrocious weather at Murrayfield, the English team forcing an impressive 21 turnovers.
It will hopefully silence critics try-scoring prop Ellis Genge described as “a lot of sausages (who) just say what comes into their head.”
It is unlikely Jones will take too much note of some poor out-of-hand kicking, notably by half-backs Willi Heinz and George Ford, given the extreme conditions at Murrayfield.
The World Cup finalists subdued a Scots side, who were beaten by the Irish on the opening weekend of action and are still missing the verve at fly-half of banished Finn Russell, who has blamed a breakdown in relations over “a long time” with national coach Gregor Townsend for his ongoing exile.
Scotland face a testing away trip to play Italy in Rome in round three, with the losers of that game likely to be the unwelcome recipients of the wooden spoon.