This past weekend saw the start of the 2017 RBS Six Nations Championship kicking off and it did so in unbelievable style, as the opener to the tournament saw Ireland and Scotland playing out a thriller at Murrayfield, while England and France played out a tight contest at Twickenham and then Wales travelled to the Eternal City of Rome to face Italy in the final game of the weekend.
Scotland 27 – 22 Ireland
This year’s opening match of the Six Nations saw one of many people’s tips for the title in Ireland, as they made the trip over the Irish Sea to Murrayfield to face a quietly confident Scottish side that was ready to shock people, especially those wearing Green shirts.
Scotland came out on fire initially and had the Irish on the back foot from the get go, so it was no surprise when Stuart Hogg went over near the corner for a opening try of the match to put Scotland 7-0 ahead after eight minutes of play, with Greig Laidlaw adding the conversion for the Scots.
The home side then moved even further ahead after twenty minutes of play, when Scotland attacked down the Irish right and saw Hogg dummy a pass out to the wing and that gave him room to continue his run to the try-line, and put Scotland 14-0 ahead with the extras added.
Ireland then went over for a try five minutes later, when the Irish moved the ball out to the left wing and after Tommy Seymour tried to intercept the pass out wide, the ball came nicely to Keith Earls who scored the visitors first try of the tournament to get them back in the game at 14-5 down.
Alex Dunbar then caught out Ireland’s line-out by complete surprise soon after, when Fraser Brown threw a low ball to Dunbar who caught the pass and sneaked in for a score that saw the Irish napping at the back, but saw a stunning story starting to develop for the home side. Ireland’s head coach Joe Schmidt, knew that he had a heck of a job on his hands to get his out of sorts Ireland side back in this game at 21-8 at half time. But after a poor forty-minutes of play, he hope they would back and bounce back they did.
The Second half was mostly dominated by the Irish side and saw them starting to make inroads early on against their hosts, when Ian Henderson dived over the line from yard or two out to see Ireland trailing 21-15 with Paddy Jackson then converting the extra points after his penalty in the first half.
Keith Earls thought he was in for his second try of the match close to the hour-mark, but replays shown that Rob Kearney had stepped out of bound hitting the whitewash prior to passing to Earls after a great tackle by Sean Maitland by the touchline. Ireland though didn’t have to wait too long for a score after Ulster’s Paddy Jackson went over for a try and a conversion, as he gave the visitors an unlikely 22-21 points lead with less than twenty minutes to go.
Scotland then moved back in front thanks to the boot of Greig Laidlaw, as the Gloucester man kicked over a penalty with less than eight minutes of the contest remaining to see the Scots 24-22 up. In the dying stages of the game it saw Ireland conceding another penalty and this gave Laidlaw the chance to finish the job off and he duly obliged, as he kicked over the penalty through the posts and started an almighty roar from the Murrayfield masses, as Scotland shocked Ireland with a 27-22 points win.
England 19 – 16 France
England opened up the defence of their Six Nations crown against France, in what is traditionally known as ‘Le Crunch’ when the two sides come up against one another. Eddie Jones men were going in search of a 15th straight win on the bounce as they welcomed ‘Les Bleus’ to Twickenham for the Saturday tea time kick off, but they were off to a shaky start after France led through a Camille Lopez penalty six minutes in, until Owen Farrell then levelled things with a penalty later on.
Johnny May was shown a yellow card for a tackle on Gael Fickou, and that saw England down to 14 men for the next ten minutes of play. Lopez slotted over the resulting penalty for France, before adding another with the kick until Farrell again responded soon after. Elliott Daly’s Thor-like hammer with the boot, saw him making the match all-square three minutes before half time and saw the teams head for the locker room at 9-9.
It would be fair to say that it wasn’t the most exciting rugby that Eddie Jones’s men have played during their 14 game winning streak, but they surely couldn’t have played any worse in the second half and would have been happy to go level at the break.
Daly then thought he had put his side in front with a try in the opening six minutes of the second, but his boot has just gone of play before he grounded the ball for the try and so it was waved off. France with an advantage being played in their favour saw them retaking the lead after a Farrell penalty, after a good quick French move saw Loann Gourdon fed the incoming Rabah Slimani who was up in support, and he went over for a try to see ‘Les Bleus’ ahead once more.
England then retook the lead again through their debutante in the ‘Red Rose’ jersey in Worcester Warriors Ben T’eo, as he finished off a nice move that put the hosts 19-16 up and saw Farrell adding the extra two with ten minutes of play left to go. France tried their best to come back at the home side one last time, but England’s defensive unit was solid to snuff out their last chance and have the referee blow his whistle to signify England victorious again and make it 15 wins on the spin for the Six Nations holders.
Italy 7 – 33 Wales
In the Sunday afternoon game, it saw Wales facing Italy in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and for best part of the first half it saw the Welsh having the better of the play and looked the likeliest side to score first. However Italy on the half-hour broke the deadlock through Edoardo Gori, as the Italians maul moved forward at a speed and carried them over the line and scoring the opening try of the contest.
Two penalties by Leigh Halfpenny either side of the half put Wales one point behind, before a tackle on Ross Moriarty by Abraham Steyn saw match official JP-Doyle referring it to the video ref to check and the result was a penalty to the visitors and Halfpenny kicked over and handed Wales a 12-7 lead with thirty-minutes of play left.
Wales came close to a try near the hour mark when the forwards broke free of the Italian defence and saw Justin Tipuric finding Captain Alun-Wynn Jones up in support as the Welsh ploughed forwards up to the Italian line. Rhys Webb then darted into a small gap with some Italian defenders hoping to stop the try from happening and after the video ref was brought in for help, it saw the decision being no try with the ball being held up.
Andrea Lovotti was then yellow carded for the home side and gave the numerical advantage in Wales favour and that saw Jonathan Davies sliding over for a try to give his side a score and one that been a long time in coming for in the men in Red. With the penalty on Lovotti still in progress, it saw Wales making the most of their extra man advantage counting and this time Liam Williams collected a pass by the touchline and saw easily scoring to put Wales 24-7 up, before Halfpenny added two further points to the Welsh total.
George North than completed the scoring in the game with three minute to play, after a long kick was gathered by Sam Davies just outside the Welsh 22-metres line, and after he evaded a couple of tackles he passed it out wide to North who ran over half the length of the pitch to score Wales third try of the match and give the scoreline a more decisive look to it now. Wales claimed victory but claim a try bonus point from the game, as they missed out by not scoring four in the match and that could prove crucial with the new bonus points added to this year’s competition.
Their next game is at home to England on Saturday in the evening kickoff at the Principality Stadium (formerly Millennium Stadium), as it promises to be a huge game between the two arch rivals and could arguably decide where the title go this year already.