With positive Covid cases leading to the cancellation of France’s match with Scotland, just two games went ahead in Round Three although there was still plenty of action and talking points with one nation grabbing this year’s first piece of silverware…
Controversial calls and English indiscipline see Wales secure Triple Crown
Always a keenly anticipated match-up this year’s Wales-England clash left us with plenty to talk about as Wales continued their perfect start to the campaign with a convincing 40-24 victory over a lacklustre England in Cardiff. The score-line however only told half the story of a contest that got off to a controversial start courtesy of French referee Pascal Gauzere. Looking to build on their wins over Ireland and Scotland, the hosts made a positive start to the match that saw them pin England back in their own half early on with the visitors pressured into conceding a couple of penalties. It was from one of those penalties that the controversy stemmed as Gauzere instructed England captain Owen Farrell to gather his team-mates together to remind them to watch their discipline. As Farrell went back to relay the message to his team, quick-thinking from Wales fly-half Dan Biggar saw the No.10 take a quick-tap penalty before placing a perfectly executed cross-field kick across to winger Josh Adams who collected the ball to score out wide for the opening try. With more than a few England players still not back in position following Farrell’s talk, the England captain was incensed claiming that referee Gauzere had not given his side time to get back in position before resuming play. Despite the protestations the try stood and worse was to come for the English when another contentious moment led to Wales scoring a second try. Again the move began with Wales putting their opponents under pressure in their own 22 and when Josh Adams’ grubber-kick through bounced up for team-mate Louis Rees-Zammit it looked for all money that the young Welshman had knocked the ball on in trying to gather the bouncing ball. With the ball pin-balling around England’s 22, Liam Williams -running in support of Rees-Zammit – duly retrieved the loose ball and dotted the ball down over England’s try-line. With most anticipating a knock-on there were few celebrations but the referee wanted to check to confirm the knock-on, and with the resulting replays failing to determine for certain that there was a knock-on the try was awarded, much to England’s growing frustration. With two highly debatable calls going their way Wales had suddenly built a commanding 17-6 lead going into the final few minutes of the half but England to their credit bounced back with a concerted spell of pressure that eventually resulted in space being created out wide for wing Anthony Watson to check back in and score to reduce the Welsh lead to just four points at half-time. With the game firmly back in the balance as the second half got under way, the hosts went about preserving their lead and soon increased it when more quick-thinking this time from Kieran Hardy resulted in the Welsh scrum-half taking a quick-tap from a penalty inside England’s 22 and darting over for his side’s third score of the afternoon. However just as quickly as Wales scored England soon hit back with a penalty from Farrell and a try from scrum-half Ben Youngs levelling the scores up at 24-24 going into the final quarter. Back with their tails up the match suddenly looked like England’s to lose but the indiscipline which had undermined England’s efforts all afternoon returned with three quick-fire penalties conceded in England’s half allowing Wales replacement Callum Sheedy to knock over three kicks at goal to push Wales out to a 33-24 lead. With Wales dominating the final quarter there was no answer from England, and there was even time for Wales to put some extra gloss on the score-line as replacement Cory Hill went over from close range late on to secure the bonus-point try and seal the Triple Crown for the Welsh. A strange game dominated by some strange refereeing decisions, despite England’s protestations the best side won with Wales getting off to a fast and dominant start before showing great nerve and composure to go out and win the match again when England rallied to level things up in the second half. No player embodied that nerve and composure more than Callum Sheedy with the Welshman showing nerves of steel to kick three penalties in a second half that also saw him constantly keep the English defence on their toes with some probing runs and kicks in attack in a wonderful display of daring attacking rugby. Although they showed impressive character from those early set-backs to get back into the match, England could only have themselves to blame as poor discipline throughout undermined their performance whilst they were naive and slow to react for two of Wales’ four tries. The most unlikely of Triple Crowns for Wales and redemption for coach Wayne Pivac whose methods finally seem to be taking shape with this Welsh squad as a possible Grand Slam looms on the horizon. For England, a second defeat in three matches ends their hopes of retaining their title and with games against France and Ireland to come improvements will be needed if they are to end a disappointing campaign on a winning note.
Ireland finally arrive at the Championship with convincing win in Rome
Opening-round defeats to Wales and France left Ireland rooted to the bottom of the championship alongside their round three opponents Italy as they travelled to Rome looking to record their first win of 2021. Given Italy’s recent fortunes in this competition the result was never really in doubt for the Irish but still the convincing manner of the triumph will have pleased coach Andy Farrell. With captain Johnny Sexton back calling the shots at 10, it didn’t take long for Ireland to get their attacking game off and running with centre Garry Ringrose opening the try-scoring after ten minutes by going over following good work from the Irish pack. With Ireland’s backs continuing to slice open the Italian defence another try was looming and it arrived after thirty minutes as full-back Hugo Keenan came into the line on a great angle to receive a pass and run in for the second Irish try. Keenan’s Leinster team-mate Will Connors soon got in on the action with the flanker showing good awareness to place himself out in the wide channel to take Jordan Larmour’s offload and dot down for the score. Italy did responmd with a try of their own in the final play of the first half but normal service was resumed at the start of the second half as CJ Stander crashed over the try-line from close range for Ireland’s bonus-point try. Italian indiscipline quickly saw them down to thirteen men following two yellow cards and Ireland took full advantage with Connors going over for a try from the back of a rolling maul. With the result in no doubt the game fizzled out but there was still time for Irish replacement Keith Earls to round off the scoring with Ireland’s sixth try late on clinching a comprehensive 47-10 win. A much-needed result and performance for Farrell’s men after a frustrating start to their campaign there was some impressive attacking play with Larmour and Keenan in particular causing the Italian defence plenty of problems, whilst flanker Will Connors was outstanding again just as he had been on debut against the same opponents in Dublin last autumn. With youngsters Craig Casey and Ryan Baird also making their test debuts off the bench, it proved to be a great day at the office for Andy Farrell as he continues to take shape of an Ireland squad still in something of a transitional phase with a handful of experienced players coming to the end of their careers alongside youngsters just starting out. Although there have been some teething problems for Farrell’s Ireland, there have been signs of progress in performances even when results haven’t gone their way. With tough-looking fixtures against Scotland and England to come this performance and result will give the whole squad a welcome boost and ignite some confidence from within.
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