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After a long wait test match rugby was back on our screens this weekend as a disrupted Six Nations campaign finally drew to an end, whilst down south Anzac rivals renewed acquantances in Sydney. Here are the headlines….
Scots dig out win in dire encounter
It was quite fitting that on October 31st Scotland and Wales served up a test match best watched from behind the sofa. Moved from Cardiff to Llanelli because of Coronavirus, windy West Wales conditions did not help anyone (least of all the hookers at line-out time) but neither side looked particularly good in a match desperately low on quality. As it was Gregor Townsend’s Scottish side were marginally better than their hosts, controlling territory and possession throughout and showing more willingness to attack against a woeful Wales team as the Scots came out narrow 14-10 winners for their first win on Welsh soil in 18 years. For Wayne Pivac’s Wales a shambolic performance saw them succumb to a fifth consecutive defeat, and whilst some positives might have been found in previous defeats they were certainly hard to find here. Alun Wyn Jones’ record-breaking day turned into a massive disappointment with errors aplenty and little attacking endeavour from the men in red across 80 long minutes for Welsh supporters. The only positive to come for Pivac and Wales would have been a promising test debut for flanker Shane Lewis-Hughes who produced a typically hard-working display. Heading into the Nations Cup there is a desperate need for improvement from Pivac’s side, whilst a young Scotland team continue to improve and build under Townsend’s tutelage.
England wrap up title in Rome
They came, they saw, they conquered. At least that is what the history books will say as Eddie Jones’ England secured their third Six Nations crown in five years under the Aussie coach’s leadership. On a milestone day for both Ben Youngs (100th test cap) and Jamie George (50th cap) it was fitting that both players helped themselves to tries with hooker George’s score going with a brace of tries from Youngs to record a comfortable 34-5 win for the visitors. In truth this was another poor encounter with just Owen Farrell’s boot separating the two sides at half-time as England went in for the break with a slender 10-5 lead. Two quick scores from Youngs and George early in the second-half took the match away from the hosts and then it was all about bonus-points and points difference as England looked for the tries that would keep France and Ireland – yet to play at the time of England’s match – at bay in the title reckoning. The tries duly came as an opportunist piece of play from Tom Curry saw the flanker sneak down the blindside of a ruck for a crucial bonus-point try before Henry Slade wrapped up proceedings late on with England’s fifth and final try. After an anxious wait to see the outcome of the game in Paris later that evening, England were able to celebrate another title after a workman-like performance that summed up a campaign whereby Jones’ side were solid rather than spectacular in winning the championship.
France overcome Ireland in entertaining Paris affair
With three wins from four matches, both France and Ireland came into this final match knowing the title was up for grabs. Of the two Ireland’s title aspirations looked more promising with Andy Farrell’s side needing a seven-point win to take the crown against a French side who needed an unlikely 32-point winning margin to secure a first Six Nations title since 2010. An even first-half saw Cian Healy mark his 100th Irish cap with a try from close-range to cancel out the ever-dangerous Antoine Dupont’s score. However late in the half a knock-on from Irish full-back Jacob Stockdale allowed Francois Cros to kick through towards the try-line where he would have scored were he not cynically brought down by a desperate Caelan Doris, that led to an Irish double whammy of a yellow card for Doris and a penalty try for France who led 17-13 at half-time. As it happened Ireland never looked like doing enough to threaten a win a against a classy French side who themselves looked the more likely to steal England’s crown when opening up a healthy second-half lead. With half-backs Dupont and Romain Ntamack running the show as always, the duo combined after the break with Dupont teeing up Ntamack for France’s third try before the skilful No.10 Ntamack produced a delightful chip over the top before collecting his own kick and putting centre Virimi Vakatawa over for yet another exquisitely-executed try. In between those final French tries Robbie Henshaw hit back for Ireland with a wonderful solo score, and Jacob Stockdale wrapped up the night’s proceedings with a consolation score in the final play of a game where France had just too much quality for an Ireland side still finding their way under new coach Farrell. By some way the most impressive side to watch in this year’s tournament, France will look back and wonder what could have been were it not for Mohamed Haous’ red-card against Scotland back in March which led to their first and only defeat of this year’s campaign, but the future looks bright for Fabien Galthie’s exciting side especially with the talents of Dupont and Ntamack pulling the strings.
Mounga magic secures Bledisloe Cup for All Blacks in Oz
After a draw and a defeat from their opening encounters in New Zealand, Dave Rennie’s youthful Wallabies side looked to keep the four-match Bledisloe Cup series alive back on Australian soil but the All Blacks once again proved too strong as they inflicted a record 43-5 defeat on Australia. Having ran them close in both matches in New Zealand hope was high amongst the Wallabies squad that they could level the series in Sydney but an inexperienced side produced an error-strewn display that saw New Zealand secure a comfortable and comprehensive win. A poor first-half in particular saw the All Blacks go to town on their opponents with prop forward Karl Tu’inukuafe charging over for the first score before All Blacks fly-half Richie Mounga produced an attacking masterclass mid-way through the half running in two tries, the first seeing him dart around a forward in the defensive line before evading the final cover tackle to score in the corner whilst the second a couple of minutes later saw him run on to an expertly-weighted chip kick from Beauden Barrett to collect and turn on the afterburners as he scorched past Aussie defenders to run in for his side’s third try. Things got even worse when Dane Coles added a fourth just before half-time as the visitors went in with a deserved 26-0 lead. The Wallabies did respond first after the break with fly-half debutant Noa Lolesio going over for his first test try but normal service was resumed in the final quarter. Rieko Ioane went in at the corner following good work from New Zealand No.8 Hoskins Sotutu at the back of a scrum and then Jordie Barrett rounded off the scoring breaking through and running in from distance to secure a resounding win for the Kiwis. A tough day at the office for Australia as the All Blacks secured the Bledisloe Cup for an 18th consecutive year, but this young side will improve over time and should they cut out the mistakes that frequently undermined them in Sydney they can put up more of a contest in Brisbane in the final Bledisloe test this coming weekend.