Here are the headlines from the second round of this year’s tournament…..
A star is born as Wales edge Celtic classic at Murrayfield
The best game of the championship so far, Scotland and Wales put on a hugely entertaining show in Edinburgh with Wales coming back from a 17-3 deficit to edge a seven-try thriller, with young Wales winger Louis Rees-Zammit announcing himslef on the world stage with a man-of-the match performance. A fast start by a Scotland side high on confidence following their Twickenham triumph in round one saw the hosts grab the first try as a smart piece of improvisation from scrum-half Ali Price caught the Welsh defence unawares as his chip-kick through was gathered by wing Darcy Graham who evaded Leigh Halfpenny’s tackle to go in under the posts. Scotland continued to put a nervy Wales under pressure and when Stuart Hogg put a kick in behind the Welsh defence, Halfpenny failed to gather the loose ball and Hogg made the most of the error by pouncing for Scotland’s second try. However Scotland were left kicking themselves after building a comfortable first-half lead before leaving the door open for Wales’ second-half comeback by conceding a try late in the first-half that reduced the Scottish lead and offered hope to the visitors, as Welsh winger Louis Rees-Zammit went over for the visitors first try. Wales coach Wayne Pivac then made a gutsy move early in the second-half as he brought on inexperienced half-back duo Kieran Hardy and Callum Sheedy for Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar. The move proved to be an inspired decision as the new half-backs provided quick ball for the Welsh attack with a nice piece of interplay in midfield from Sheedy and fellow replacement Willis Hallaholo saw Rees-Zammit carve through a gap in the Scottish defence before putting Liam Williams over a try that reduced the Scottish lead to just two points. Then for the second week running Wales’ opponents were reduced to 14 men following a red card, although Zander Fagerson’s dismissal for making contact with Wyn Jones’ head clearing out a ruck was far more contentious than that of Peter O’ Mahony’s last weekend. Trailing by just a few points and with a one-man advantage for the remaining half-hour Wales soon made their numerical advantage count as prop forward Wyn Jones burrowed his way over from close range for a score that saw Wales take the lead going into the final quarter, only for Scotland to hit back with captain Stuart Hogg using a strong fend to go over for his second try of the match. Approaching the final ten minutes trailing by four points, Wales went searching for another try and duly found it when Hallaholo put Rees-Zammit into space out wide where the youngster showed impressive acceleration and great control to charge down the wing before out-running Scotland full-back Hogg to gather his own kick and dot down for a stunning try that proved to be the winner in a thrilling encounter. The Scots were left rueing some poor discipline that allowed Wales back into the contest, whilst the visitors showed great attacking intent particularly with the changes at half-back to stage a memorable comeback with Rees-Zammit proving yet again that he may have a long future at test level with a brilliant individual performance that belied his tender years. Despite not being at their best Wales are two from two in the championship and will be going for the Triple Crown when England visit Cardiff in round three. Scotland will have to pick themselves up and dust themselves down quickly with a trip to Paris to come if they are to reignite their bid for the title.
France overcome Ireland in scrappy Dublin affair
Far from a classic, France continued their perfect start at the Aviva Stadium with a 15-13 win over an Ireland side who were somewhat flattered by the final score-line. A game with plenty of errors from both sides, France’s extra quality came to the fore when it mattered most as they out-scored their hosts two tries to one. Without the experience and game management skills of key half-back duo Connor Murray and captain Johnny Sexton Ireland struggled at times to build a foothold in the game, although they did make a bright start with fly-half Billy Burns knocking over an early penalty to give Ireland an early lead. That was nearly extended when some quick incisive passing from an Irish scrum in France’s half saw Ireland wing James Lowe dive in at the corner only for the TMO to conclude that his foot was just in touch as he grounded the ball. France responded to that near-miss with a score of their own as some exquisite offloading from the French saw them open up the Irish defence before French skipper Charles Ollivon finished off a fine attacking move by going in for the first try. Leading 10-3 at half-time France made a fast start to the second-half and when hooker Julien Marchand charged through a gap in the Irish defence only to be brought down a few metres short of the try-line, it looked for all money that the visitors would increase their lead but a case of try-line fever saw lock forward Paul Willemse inadvertently get in the way of scrum-half Antoine Dupont’s pass as the ball was knocked on with the try-line beckoning. Dominating possession and territory early in the second-half France eventually made their superiority count as following another spell of pressure in Ireland’s 22 Damien Penaud dived in at the corner for his side’s second try. Struggling to contain France, Ireland needed some luck and soon found it when despite losing their own line-out in France’s half the loose ball bounced kindly back into the arms of replacement Irish hooker Ronan Kelleher who evaded a last-ditch French tackle to run in an opportunistic score that when converted reduced France’s lead to five points going into the final quarter of the match. Another succesful penalty this time scored by Ross Byrne further cut into the French lead, but like much of the game Ireland huffed and puffed in attack with few inroads made and a resolute French defence held firm to seal the win.
England bounce back with comfortable win over Azzurri
After coming up short in the Calcutta Cup in round one, Eddie Jones’ England looked to bounce back with a much-improved performance against Italy at Twickenham. Although the reigning champions did respond with a comfortable 41-18 victory over the hapless Italians, it was another unconvincing performance from England with just a few flashes of quality evident as they got back to winning ways. At the very least there was a welcome return to form for wingers Anthony Watson and Jonny May, with the former grabbing a brace of tries whilst May finished acrobatically in the corner for his score. After an early scare saw Italy open the scoring with a Monty Ioane try, normal service was resumed as first Jonny Hill and then Watson scored tries before May finished off the scoring at the end of the first-half to give England 20-8 lead at half-time. That was further pushed out when Watson intercepted an Italian pass in his own half before running in for his second. Replacement forward Jack Willis then got in on the action with a try from close range, only for his afternoon to be cut short by a nasty-looking knee injury. Italy did respond with a try of their own from Tommaso Allan but England had the final word with Elliot Daly scoring their fifth try to seal a much-needed win for Jones and his side. Whilst the result and the performances of his two wingers will have satisfied Jones he will know more is needed from many of his stars if they are to keep their title hopes alive in round three where they visit the Principality Stadium to take on a rejuvenated Wales.
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