Best of the Weekend: Grand Slam finish looms for Wales
Four from four as Wales eye climax against France
Not many sides makes 121 tackles in a match and lose. Yet despite one of the better first halves from Italy in recent memory, they capitulated following a breakaway Jamie Roberts try, with the win polished off by Man of the Match Alex Cuthbert’s score late on.
The 24-3 scoreline appears comfortable in truth, but Wales were not at their best. The lineout ran efficiently, 12 won out of 14, whlist the scrum was on top. But it was at the breakdown where Wales were poor, conceding 9 out of their total of 13 penalties at the ruck. They also lost possession an alarming 24 times, more than Italy, and especially in the 22 which will give France hope with their aggressive back row trio of Dusautoir, Bonnaire and Harinordoquy.
Statistics aside the Welsh defence was generally excellent, missing just 5 tackles. Cuthbert’s performance was his best yet in a Welsh shirt, whilst Justin Tipuric put in a stirring performance in the absence of captain Sam Warburton. Whether they like it or not, the pressure ahead of France next weekend is already cranking up.
Scottish slump continues with defeat in Dublin
The occasional spark was not enough for Scotland at the Aviva Stadium as they ultimately were heavily beaten by Ireland, conceding four tries with three coming in the first half. Richie Gray shone for the Scots, scoring a superb solo effort to keep them in the hunt after Eoin Reddan’s try.
Ireland were bold early on, pulling off an excellent lineout move to see Rory Best charge over in the corner. The opportunism of Reddan followed to stretch the lead, so by the time Andrew Trimble burrowed over on the right into injury time at the end of the first half, the match looked sown up. But Scotland frustrated Ireland after the break, stepping up the physicality and preventing Tommy Bowe from yet another try in this year’s championship. There was contention towards the end, when after a moment of brilliance from Rob Kearney, Keith Earls was taken out off the ball by Max Evans. Ireland would not be denied though, Fergus McFadden scuttling over eventually.
Glory for exciting England in Le Crunch
What a story this might have been had François Trinh-Duc slotted his drop goal attempt late on. Instead, there was great celebration from all the travelling English supporters in Paris as their side picked up their third away win of the tournament, giving Stuart Lancaster the unique record of being the first English coach to win all three matches away from home.
Sticking with that number, England’s three tries were all exceptional. Manu Tuilagi showed his wheels as he thundered away for the first after a thunderous tackle from Chris Ashton in midfield lead to a turnover. The next one was even better, Ben Morgan bursting past Thierry Dusautoir before delivering a beautiful offload into the hands of Ben Foden who rumbled over. France inevitably came back into the match, the boots of Lionel Beauxis and Morgan Parra ticking the scoreboard over during which Charlie Sharples endured a spell in the sin-bin, but Tom Croft’s solo break looked to have won them the match with 8 minutes to go.
There was another French surge, threatening twice through Wesley Fofana before the young centre went over third time lucky in the corner, setting up a tense finish. Trinh-Duc’s drop goal fell short. Stuart Lancaster’s chances of securing the job full time grew stronger.
Try of the Weekend goes to Ben Foden, following up on the good work from Ben Morgan. Credit to Jamie Roberts and Richie Gray.
This weekend’s Hero is Phil Dowson for sticking his body on the line and preventing a certain French try. Credit to Rory Best for his leadership as Ireland’s new captain.
Finally, the weekend’s Villain is Max Evans. Taking out a man, then gesticulating your innocence, is not on.
by Ben Coles