A week is a long time in rugby, and early form in the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Championship counted for nothing in the second round as the tournament table was turned on its head.

Stu-perb | Scotland's Stuart Hogg scores a superb solo try against Italy at Murrayfield. (Image | Metro)

Stu-perb | Scotland’s Stuart Hogg scores a superb solo try against Italy at Murrayfield. (Image | Metro)

It is fair to say that any one of the teams could still win it from here.

Scotland 34 Italy 10

Italy headed to Scotland riding on a wave of confidence after their win in Rome, hoping to become the first Azzurri side to record three victories in a row at the 6 Nations.

With only one change to last round’s winning team, the Italians certainly stood a chance against an unchanged Scottish XV.

However, it was clear from the beginning that it would be uphill work.

Visitors Italy looked like a pale imitation of the manner in which they played on the opening weekend, committing far too many fouls at the breakdown and handling errors in midfield. Grieg Laidlaw took advantage of this indiscipline to open the scoring with a pair of penalties.

Scotland attacked the Italian defence with relish, Tim Visser and Matt Scott almost going over but being foiled by both the bounce of the ball and a try-saving tackle from Tobias Botes respectively.

Momentum was with the Scots, and it was inevitable that they would score the first try of the match, with Visser evading defenders to add to his try against England last week. Laidlaw slotted the conversion and Scotland led 13-3 at half time.

Scott then helped his side pull away just after the break, collecting an offload from Sean Maitland to score, while full-back Stuart Hogg ran 80 metres off an intercepted pass to kill the game off just as Italy were looking to get back into contention.

It was Sean Lamont who sealed the win with Scotland’s fourth try, picking up a loose ball from a ruck and touching down under the posts unchallenged.

Italy did manage a consolation try in the 74th minute through Alessandro Zanni, but by then the match was already lost.

For Scotland, the principal feeling must have been one of relief, with the victory ending a five-game losing streak.

Laidlaw’s performance was surely the best of his career, landing six kicks from six at goal and controlling the entire match from scrum-half. He was the weekend’s standout player.

Given a few more matches together, the back line could become a serious attacking threat, especially the trio of Hogg, Maitland and Visser.

Italy were distinctly out of sorts, going from lacklustre in the first half to outright poor in the second. This was largely down to Luciano Orquera who, after having the game of his life against France last week, simply tried too hard to conjure the same magic north of the border.

His erratic kicking and passing meant that the talent around him had no platform to work on and Italy found themselves without any attacking pace.

Their forwards made the best of it, especially Simone Favaro and Quintin Geldenhuys, but overall the match was an unwelcome reminder of past Italian teams: uninspiring, under-performing and plagued by basic errors.

France 6 Wales 16

Both of the teams that met in Paris on Saturday evening had suffered humiliating defeats on the opening weekend, meaning that a win was essential if they wanted to keep their respective championship hopes alive.

The result was a nervous encounter in which neither side wanted to take any risks, and because of this, the match was bogged down in the middle of the park for much of the 80 minutes.

Neither team enjoyed many chances in a dire first half, and penalties for Frédéric Michalak and Leigh Halfpenny meant that the score was just 3-3 at the interval.

This pattern continued in the second period, Halfpenny slotting a penalty from in front of the posts, François Trinh-Duc seeing a drop goal drift wide, and Michalak levelling with another penalty after the Welsh infringed one time too many at a scrum.

Last-gasp | Winger George North evades the chasing French pack to score the winning try with seven minutes remaining. (Image | Daily Mirror)

Last-gasp | Winger George North evades the chasing French pack to score the winning try with eight minutes remaining. (Image | Daily Mirror)

It remained 6-6 deep into the second half, with both sides still reluctant to take the chances offered to them in attacking positions.

Not until 72 minutes in did Wales finally make the breakthrough that would change the game.

Having got into a decent position around the French 22-metre line, replacement scrum-half Lloyd Williams spun the ball out to Dan Biggar, who placed a chip kick into the corner. The bounce was kind to young winger George North, who gathered to go over and effectively win it for his side.

Halfpenny landed the conversion from out wide, and added another penalty three minutes later from just inside the halfway line to stretch the Welsh lead to ten.

Les Bleus attacked for the remainder of the game, looking to get back into contention, but Wales held on to end their run of defeats and win in France for the first time since 2005.

The hosts made the same errors that had cost them the game in Rome, lacking ambition in attack and failing to take chances that could have decided the match.

Michalak once again had a poor showing, while the introduction of Mathieu Bastareaud at centre added power to the back line but had little effect in practice.

The back three of Yoann Huget, Benjamin Fall and Wesley Fofana had potential to threaten but each was too concerned with his own performance and they all elected to take contact at times rather than giving a pass that could have led to a score.

In short, France are failing to play as a team at present, meaning that all of their individual talents are ineffective.

As for the visitors, they could easily have gone the same way as the French, and were only saved by brilliant kicking in open play from Halfpenny, Biggar and Jonathan Davies.

Ryan Jones started as captain following an injury to Sam Warburton and led by example at the breakdown, working tirelessly alongside fellow flanker Justin Tipuric to ensure France had to work to create an attacking platform.

The battle is far from over, however. Wales will go on to face Italy and Scotland away from home, before hosting England in the final round. A win is a win, but the side as a whole will need to be more impressive if they want to add further victories in the tournament.

Ireland 6 England 12

Dublin was the setting for the lowest-scoring match in tournament history. The two teams that with the most potent attacking threats in the first round of fixtures failed to put on repeat performances in testing conditions, with the visitors ultimately thrashing out a narrow victory, of which the last 20 minutes proved decisive.

England were rewarded for their earlier attacking intent with a penalty from an infringement. Owen Farrell continued his solid kicking career to add the points, and then extended his team’s lead before half-time.

Away side England led 6-0 at the break, with Ireland having suffered two significant injuries in Simon Zebo and Jonathan Sexton.

Owen goals | Owen Farrell is congratulated by his father, Andy, after he kicked England's 12 points against Ireland. (Image | The Telegraph)

Owen goals | Owen Farrell is congratulated by his father, Andy, after he kicked England’s 12 points against Ireland. (Image | The Telegraph)

Momentum shifted after half-time as Ireland began attacking the scrum, and earned a penalty that was converted by veteran fly-half Ronan O’Gara, on as a replacement for Sexton.

After James Haskell was sent to the bin for repeated infringements, O’Gara added a second penalty, and for a few minutes it looked as though Ireland would break the deadlock and push on for the win.

Yet it was not to be. England replaced Billy Twelvetrees and Joe Launchbury with the more defensive-minded and experienced Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes, and this proved to be the right decision as both players succeeded in slowing down the Irish attack.

Late in the second period, Tuilagi almost collected a kick through to score, but saw the ball bounce away from him. However, Ireland had already infringed and Farrell took the points to give his side the lead.

Shortly after he kicked another penalty to widen the gap. O’Gara then missed a penalty attempt before Farrell pushed another effort wide, but in doing so the 21-year-old guaranteed England field position in the home side’s half as the clock ran down.

Ireland were desperately unlucky to lose a match that really could have gone either way. Only time will tell in terms of how significant the injuries to Zebo and Sexton will be, while prop Cian Healy has been handed a two-game ban for stamping on Dan Cole’s ankle at a ruck.

Jamie Heaslip committed a couple of crucial knock-ons, which tarnished his run as captain, and all-time great Brian O’Driscoll was quiet at centre.

On the other hand, England did not play the same brand of stylish rugby that saw them trounce Scotland, but victory in Ireland could prove decisive. Not only does it set them up well for two possible home wins in a row, the manner in which England sealed the win in the face of adversity is significant.

Sometimes in the 6 Nations, resolute defending and slow, rucking rugby can be preferable to running flair. In two matches, Stuart Lancaster’s side have shown that they can play in either fashion.

Following an exciting opening round, the second weekend was a decidedly old-fashioned affair, characterised by blunt, considered play and mostly decided in favour of the sides that made the fewest errors.

A break from fixtures next week allows the teams to catch their breath before the third round, which should go a long way towards determining the outcome of this year’s championship.

6 Nations table

  1. England | Won: 2 For: 50 Against: 24 Points: 4
  2. Scotland | Won: 1 Lost: 1 For: 52 Against: 48 Points: 2
  3. Wales | Won: 1 Lost: 1 For: 38 Against: 36 Points: 2
  4. Ireland | Won: 1 Lost: 1 For: 36 Against: 34 Points: 2
  5. Italy | Won: 1 Lost: 1 For: 33 Against: 52 Points: 2
  6. France | Lost: 2 For: 24 Against: 39 Points: 0

Have your say | Tweet the author | @timgreenwood2

Back to Rugby

Twitter | @armchairpundit2

Facebook | The Armchair Pundits


Interested in writing for The Armchair Pundits?

We are always on the lookout for aspiring journalists, click here for details on how you can start contributing.