The battle for consistency is still being waged in this year’s Six Nations. France again proved the exception to the rule in recording their third win, but arguably the five other teams are still incapable of stringing two consistent performances together.
It has certainly added to the unpredictability of the 2007 tournament – other than the fact that the French remain favourites for the Grand Slam, of course – but at least during week 3 we’ve seen a little more quality.
All three matches produced some interesting passages of play and some well taken tries. There was plenty of emotion in all three matches too – for a variety of reasons.
But at least everyone concerned – players, officials and supporters – seem to remember that “Super Saturday” was just about rugby.
- Scotland 17 – Italy 37
Three tries in the first six minutes catapulted Italy towards their first and thoroughly deserved away victory in the Six Nations. The fact that the three touchdowns – a charged-down kick and two interceptions – were a result of Scottish ineptitude should not gloss over the fact that Italy were good value for their 20-point margin of victory. The Scots on the other hand obviously didn’t learn any lessons from their hard-fought win over Wales two weeks ago, when they capitalised on the fact that their visitors thought they could play flowing rugby from their own try line from the opening kick off. The Scots did hit back with two tries – although Rob Dewey’s first-half effort came as a result of some blatant obstruction by the referee on two Italian defenders – but too often they were out-muscled by the Italians and more worryingly out-thought. The Italians took their points when opportunity arose and Scotland wasted half a dozen kick-able penalty chances in the mistaken belief that only tries would do.
Verdict: A big step forward for Italy, four tries away from home and a deserved win from a side that remains unpredictable but will take a lot of confidence into their next match. The Scots were as bad as they had been against England in week 1 and lacked the guile and the ability to claw their way back into a match that was as food as lost after 6 minutes.
- Ireland 43 – England 13
An historic encounter and a record margin of victory in a match that put the current standing of both sides firmly into perspective – Ireland finally came good after going through the motions in weeks 1 and 2, while England buckled under the pressure exerted by a good team. England’s two victories up to this point – against a woeful Scotland and a battling Italy – flattered to deceive and this result is arguably a truer reflection of where they stand ahead of the World Cup. Ireland on the other hand finally delivered on the promise of recent years. It is no coincidence that their forwards put in a dogged, determined and disruptive performance – the front-row mastering the tight, the back-row taking a grip on the game and Paul O’Connell producing a display that matches his reputation. Behind the scrum, arguably, the Irish are still stuttering a little and they squandered a few opportunities with some mistimed passes and wrong options – on a side note Shane Horgan always treads a fine line between aggressive and illegal play and his forearm smash into the face of Dave Strettle deserved a yellow card at least. As for England, the outside half again looked their best player but elsewhere they lacked the direction, ability and confidence to match the Irish.
Verdict: Ireland ground out a barely deserved win against Wales, threw away victory against France and finally produced the sort of performance they are capable of – they just need consistency. England’s pragmatic coaching team know where they stand – struggling to find any form or confidence – now many of the supporters and the media do too.
- France 32 – Wales 21
Many were predicting a one-sided romp for the French, but we got a much closer encounter. France didn’t dominate throughout this match but they proved why they will be a genuine threat to New Zealand at the World Cup. They still have flair and imagination – witness Dominici’s try and some great back play involving Poitrenaud, Marty and Jauzion – but with the excellent David Skrella controlling things at outside half and Rafael Ibanez as an inspiring leader they also have a more solid and dare one say dour approach that enables them to keep a grip on the opposition and the game. They stifled Wales in the second half after the visitors had momentarily threatened to pull off an unlikely victory. Wales produced two well-taken and deserved first-half tries and almost produced a third after a thrilling opening to the second. But then France closed things down, kept the ball and so kept Wales out of reach. A late Jamie Robinson score – good to see the centre finally showing what an exciting runner he is, turning the French inside-out – was a deserved consolation for a side that went some way to redeeming themselves after their ineptitude against Scotland. It also highlighted just how ridiculous and misguided most of the criticism of the coach, the captain and some of the players have faced from some of the Welsh media in the last two weeks.
Verdict: France are building nicely towards the World Cup and look a class apart in the Six Nations – plenty of flair, consistency and dogged determination that they’ll need to take on the Southern Hemisphere. More frustration for Wales, a third defeat in 2007 but arguably their best all-round performance – the forwards competed and the backs finally looked threatening.