Italy 9 Wales 26
Italy will not be as disappointed by the result as they will be by the problems with their scrum – a yellow card and six penalties conceded by their hooker and tighthead prop mean their usual area of strength became an area of weakness which a rejuvenated Welsh front row exploited. The Italian defensive line was poor and their tendency to kick made little sense given how in-form Leigh Halfpenny has been. They will look towards the match at Twickenham in two weeks with trepidation.
Wales continue their comeback and they’re making vast improvements in critical areas – the halfback combination of Phillips and Biggar is starting to work and the individual performances of the two are improving. Wales adapted to the conditions in Rome and dominated the scrum in a manner few expected. If we have to find faults it would be the lineout, as usual. The big debates now surround who starts against Scotland – James or Jenkins, Tipuric or Warburton, Coombes or Alun-Wyn Jones, and these are the kind of debates it’s healthy to have rather than the navel-gazing of a few weeks ago.
England 23 France 13
This game will be as much remember for the way France lost it as the way England won it – it was highly competitive until Phillip Saint-Andre made the decision to bring off many of his best players and bring on those that had lost the previous two games. England did what England do best – even when France were outplaying them they just kept hitting the penalties and stayed within reach knowing their fitness levels would take them beyond France in the final half hour. There were areas of the game were England struggled – the front row conceded penalties and the breakdown was far from perfect. England also had the worst tackling success rate of all the teams competing this weekend which will give them a lot to work on before the next game. The back three of Ashton, Brown and Goode struggled to get into the game and many commentators have said it’s time for a shake-up in that area with Strettle, Monye and Foden being obvious contenders but I’d switch Tuilagi to the wing, play Barritt and Twelvetrees in the centre, keep Ashton on the other wing and bring Foden back to fullback. But England won and remain the only team capable of winning a Grand Slam.
France played so much better than they have in recent games but it was all blown away after Trinh-Duc was substituted for Michalak in the 52nd minute. France need to get their heads together because we saw in the first half that this is a decent team and they should be far more competitive. It will be a long two weeks until they play Ireland in Dublin.
Scotland 12 Ireland 8
You wouldn’t know it from the score but this was best game of the weekend and it’s extraordinarily impressive when you look at the statistics of the game – 71% possession and 77% territory in Ireland’s favour, 147 passes to 35, 123 runs to 36, more clean breaks, offloads, defenders beaten and breakdown success. The only stats that favour Scotland are the ones that mattered – the final score, the kicking success rate and the lineout. Jim Hamilton single-handedly demolished the Irish lineout and when they saw the threat of Luke Marshall they closed him down in the second half. This was arguably the best Scottish performance in many years – a victory based on hard work, doing what was needed and disrupting the opposition.
Ireland will have left Murrayfield pulling their collective hair out. For a team that scored everytime they went near the Welsh half of the field three weeks ago, this was a team that just couldn’t turn possession into points. Some will, inevitably, blame the loss of Jonny Sexton – Paddy Jackson played very well at fly half until he was asked to kick while his replacement, Ronan O’Gara, looked a shadow of his former self. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jackson will grow and his game management was one of the best we saw all weekend from a number 10, but you cannot win games if you cannot kick penalties and Ireland need to get this problem sorted quickly. If I were Declan Kidney I’d get Kearney, Gilroy and Earls to practice kicking – England, Scotland and Wales all have at least three 60%+ kickers in their team of 23 – if your first choice misses you have at least two options, and Ireland losing on missed kicks is not the way to build up confidence in a still-young team.
Team of the week
Where the best player is French or Italian the home nation’s player of the week is indicated.
1. Gethin Jenkins (Wales)
2. Tom Youngs (England)
3. Adam Jones (Wales)
4. Joe Launchbury (England)
5. Jim Hamilton (Scotland)
6. Ryan Jones (Wales)
7. Chris Robshaw (England)
8. Louis Picamoles (France) (Jamie Heaslip (Ireland))
9. Greig Laidlaw (Scotland)
10. Dan Biggar (Wales)
11. Vincent Clerc (France) (Chris Ashton (England))
12. Wesley Fofana (France) (Luke Marshall (Ireland))
13. Jonathan Davies (Wales)
14. Alex Cuthbert (Wales)
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
Lions squad of the week
As before, this is entirely on performances in this week’s games. The principle of the squad is simple – two players per position plus an extra loosehead prop, hooker, tighthead prop, second rower, back rower, scrum half and two utility backs. 38 players, 21 forwards, 17 backs, alphabetical order. Players marked * have featured in both previous weeks’ squads too.
Kelly Brown (Scotland), Geoff Cross (Scotland), Ian Evans (Wales), Toby Faletau* (Wales), Dougie Hall (Scotland), Jim Hamilton (Scotland), Dylan Hartley* (England), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland), Paul James* (Wales), Gethin Jenkins (Wales), Adam Jones (Wales), Ryan Jones (Wales), Joe Launchbury* (England), Joe Marler* (England), Sean O’Brien* (Ireland), Geoff Parling* (England), Chris Robshaw* (England), Mike Ross* (Ireland), Donnacha Ryan (Ireland), Justin Tipuric* (Wales), Tom Youngs (England).
Chris Ashton (England), Brad Barritt* (England), Dan Biggar (Wales), Danny Care (England), Alex Cuthbert (Wales), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Keith Earls (Ireland), Owen Farrell* (England), Leigh Halfpenny* (Wales), Stuart Hogg* (Scotland), Paddy Jackson (Ireland), Rob Kearney* (Ireland), Greig Laidlaw (Scotland), Sean Maitland* (Scotland), Luke Marshall (Ireland), Mike Phillips* (Wales), Manu Tuilagi (England).