Another round of fixtures into the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Championship and at last some discernible order is appearing in the standings.

Committed | Manu Tuliagi even drew blood for England in their 23-13 victory over France last weekend. (Image | The Guardian)

Committed | Manu Tuilagi even drew blood for England in their 23-13 victory over France at Twickenham. (Image | The Guardian)

England are in the ascendency, Wales and Scotland are still finding their feet, and pre-tournament contenders France are floundering at the bottom of the table.

Not that the last round of fixtures were routine encounters: far from it.

Italy 9 Wales 26

Rob Howley‘s Wales headed to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome for the first time, looking to add a second away win to their tally. The hosts had a huge hole in their line up due to an injury to captain Sergio Parisse, and were coming off the back of a disappointing defeat in Scotland, so ultimately this was destined to be the least competitive match-up of the weekend.

During the first half, rain slowed down play, with neither side willing to be too audacious in attack and a number of knock-ons disrupting any potential attacking flow.

Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny out-kicked Australian-born Kris Burton to ensure his team led 9-6 at the interval. A breakout run from Alex Cuthbert was the only real try-scoring opportunity of the opening period, but he was brought down by a last-gasp Gonzalo Canale tackle.

Burton tried to inject some life into the Italian attack, attempting a couple of drop goals and placing a well-judged kick through for Tomaso Benvenuti, but his efforts were not rewarded with points on the board.

After the break it was a case of Wales’ dominance at set pieces, particularly in terms of scrummaging, that saw them erode the Italy pack.

Scrum-half Mike Phillips sent the ball skywards from a ruck and saw it collected by Jonathan Davies for the first try of the match.

Getting his kicks | Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny kicked four penalties and two conversions against Italy in Rome. (Image | The Sun)

Getting his kicks | Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny kicked four penalties and two conversions against Italy in Rome. (Image | The Sun)

After another penalty apiece, the hosts’ stand-in captain, Martin Castrogiovanni, was sent to the bin for repeated infringements and Wales took full advantage, Cuthbert bursting over in the corner to seal the win with 20 minutes left to play.

Unfortunately for Italy, the match had a feeling of the inevitable from shortly after half time. The nine and 10 pairing of Edoardo Gori and Burton did not have the same spark as Tobias Botes and Luciano Orquera that helped the Azzurri back line orchestrate victory over France.

Meanwhile, replacement number eight Manoa Vosawai did his best to fill in for Parisse, but the side as a whole sorely missed the leadership of their long-term skipper.

Wales, meanwhile, are slowly shaking off the nerves that have plagued them since the 6 Nations Championship last year. The try from Davies in particular came as a result of bold attacking vision from Phillips, while Cuthbert and George North ran hard all afternoon.

Their bench appears to be dependable as well, with prop Paul James making the most of his 35 minutes on the field with a number of carries and tackles.

Halfpenny too seems to be cementing his place among the world’s elite goal kickers, and earned himself a second consecutive man of the match award.

England 23 France 13

France arrived at Twickenham after two disappointing performances to face the best all-round team of the tournament so far.

For the visitors, it was a chance to claw back from the abyss at the bottom of the table, while for the hosts it represented another step towards a potential Grand Slam.

Les Bleus got off to a fantastic start, playing the sort of fast, attacking rugby that can make France unbeatable on their day.

Scrum-half Morgan Parra cancelled out a penalty early on before relentless bludgeoning against the England defence paid off on 29 minutes, when Wesley Fofana scored what was perhaps the try of the tournament so far.

Receiving the ball from Mathieu Bastareaud in the middle of the park, he broke through a tackle from Courtney Lawes and scorched past Chris Ashton and Ben Youngs to touch down. It was a sublime solo effort from the Clermont Auvergne centre.

However, another two penalties from Owen Farrell kept England in touch, and they trailed but just a point at the break.

Tactical decisions proved to be France’s undoing, which meant that when the home side began to gain momentum, Les Bleus failed to find their rhythm and started to concede points without reply.

With the English forwards having disrupted a ruck, Manu Tuilagi scooped up the loose ball and ran away from the defenders to touch down in the corner 55 minutes in.

Frédéric Michalak managed to slot home a penalty to close the gap, but England continued to threaten. Toby Flood, on for the injured Owen Farrell, punished French indiscipline at the breakdown by stretching the lead to 10 points with a pair of late penalties, deflating the French attack and ensuring the victory.

Although the hosts were far from perfect, a win will always be welcomed in this arena, regardless of the manner in which it is gained.

Nonetheless, there were a few worrying trends in the side that Stuart Lancaster will want to eliminate. Farrell fell short of his usual standard, and as a result began to berate himself after every minor mistake and take out his frustration on the opposition.

Combative | Rising star Owen Farrell squares up to his French opponents at Twickenham on a frustrating afternoon for him. (Image | The Telegraph)

Combative | Rising star Owen Farrell squares up to his French opponents on a frustrating afternoon for the 21-year-old. (Image | The Telegraph)

The young fly-half has to realise that he will become a target for intimidation due to his growing reputation as an unflappable goal kicker, and he must not continue to let this get to him.

Elsewhere, the attacking unit did not work as a whole during the first half, and will need to be more clinical, particularly against Wales in the final round.

France remain at the bottom of the table, having started well but collapsed when it mattered. The substitutions by Philippe Saint-André were poor all day, and if the situation does not improve soon, he could be on his way out.

Signs of improvement were there among the players: Fofana looked far more useful at inside centre than on the wing, François Trinh-Duc controlled the game well, Yoann Huget put in a tenacious stint at fullback and Louis Picamoles is on his way to becoming one of the best all-round players in the world, putting his body on the line in both defence and attack.

Yet despite all this, France are still without a win, and will need to come together as a team if they are to avoid the wooden spoon.

Scotland 12 Ireland 8

Murrayfield played host to one of the most bizarre matches in recent history, evidence that the peculiarities of rugby union can sometimes still emerge in the professional era.

Ireland were utterly dominant for around 50 minutes, gaining 78% of the possession and 80% of the territory for the first half, as debutant centre Luke Marshall twice sliced through the Scottish line and Keith Earls came close to scoring in the corner.

One way or another, all the Irish chances simply disappeared. This was not due to errors or Scottish defensive power in particular, they merely seemed to fade.

Young Ulster fly-half Paddy Jackson, also making his debut, hooked a couple of kicks wide of the mark and the half-time scoreline was only 3-0 in favour of the visitors.

Ireland came out in the second period with clear intent, and their work finally paid off. A break from flanker Sean O’Brien saw them camped on the Scottish goal line, and winger Craig Gilroy eventually barged over from close range to give his side the points they deserved.

Jackson then hit the post with his conversion attempt, summing up his afternoon.

Following this, Scotland achieved the impossible. Having worked extremely hard for very little gain, Ireland became frustrated and began to commit basic errors in key areas.

Debutant | Paddy Jackson has come in for criticism after missing several kicks in his first appearance for Ireland. (Image | Sports Direct News)

Debutant | Paddy Jackson has come in for criticism after missing several kicks in his first appearance for Ireland. (Image | Sports Direct News)

Successive ruck infringements allowed Greig Laidlaw to pull back three penalties for the hosts to hand them the lead, before Jackson missed another kick at goal and was subbed off for Ronan O’Gara, a potential match winner.

Yet it was O’Gara himself who led his side to defeat, slicing a risky cross-field kick that led to Scotland taking the ball to the Irish goal line and Laidlaw ultimately kicking another penalty with seven minutes remaining.

Having completed the most unlikely of comebacks, Scotland then almost let it slip away as Ireland rallied for one final assault on the opposition try line.

Following a knock-on in the last minute of regulation time, Scotland simply needed to secure possession at the scrum to end the game but instead conceded a penalty and had to drive away yet another attack.

A further knock-on from the usually impeccable Rob Kearney meant that it was not to be for Ireland and Scotland recorded their first back-to-back victories in the 6 Nations Championship since 2001.

While the hosts were not as impressive as they had been against Italy, the ability to pull off victories in the face of such adversity can be exactly what is required to unite a struggling squad.

Laidlaw was imperious once again at scrum-half, while the relentless breakdown work of lock Jim Hamilton saw him take home the man of the match award. Tim Visser put in another solid showing on the wing, leading the way for his side as they began to up the pressure in the second half.

For Ireland, the best move would be to write off the loss as a freak incident and concentrate on the clashes against France and Italy in order to salvage the campaign.

Jackson may have missed opportunities to help his team pull away, but ultimately cannot be held responsible for the defeat.

He and Marshall should have many years ahead of them as an international number 10 and 12 combination, although the pack may need to be reorganised somewhat after a dismal lineout display.

All in all, it was another weekend of highs and lows for the elite of European rugby, and we are now closer to being able to predict how the final standings may look, with two successive weekends coming up that will determine the outcome.

6 Nations table

  1. England | Won: 3 For: 73 Against: 37 Points: 6
  2. Wales | Won: 2 Lost: 1 For: 64 Against: 45 Points: 4
  3. Scotland | Won: 2 Lost: 1 For: 64 Against: 56 Points: 4
  4. Ireland | Won: 1 Lost: 2 For: 44 Against: 46 Points: 2
  5. Italy | Won: 1 Lost: 2 For: 42 Against: 78 Points: 2
  6. France | Lost: 3 For: 37 Against: 62 Points: 0

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