With the second round finished, Matthew Childs takes a look at the performances of the international teams.
Game 1 – London – England vs Ireland
Score: 18 – 7
The biggest match of the weekend took place at Twickenham between the 2020 Six Nations champions and a strong Ireland squad. In a game that was always going to be a challenge for each team, England showed that defence is the best offence.
England made a total of 208 tackles compared to a mere 76 from Ireland. The hosts knew that they didn’t need the ball for most of the match but when they did get it they made sure to come out with some points on the board.
Ireland simply couldn’t break down England’s high pressure defence. Even though Ireland had more possession and more metres carried it was clear to see that England dominated the game defensively and that Ireland lacked the strategy to trouble the perfect England squad.
Johnny May scored two tries for England with one being an immense solo try. Maro Itoje also performed remarkably earning him Man of the Match for his defensive work and ability to upset the Ireland attack.
Ireland will be annoyed by this loss and they definitely suffered by not having Johnny Sexton or Rob Henshaw on the field due to injuries. However, it is hard to believe that they would have made a significant difference to this scoreline if they had been on the pitch.
England now sit comfortably at the top of Group A with nine points. Although they lost, Ireland have kept their second place position in the table above Wales and Georgia.
England face an improved Welsh squad this Saturday, away. In their current form it is hard to believe that any team can beat them, while Ireland will be happy to have an easier game against Georgia on Sunday.
Game 2 – Llanelli – Wales vs Georgia
Score: 18 – 0
This was a must win match for Wales to bring back some hope to the future of the Welsh squad. Knowing this, Wayne Pivac decided to field a team that was younger and less experienced, to show some variety and new possibilities for the Welsh squad. Wales gave four debuts against Georgia, showing that Pivac wanted to test a new squad.
Although it was a win, this match was a chance for Wales to make up for a loss in the first round by getting a bonus point victory. Unfortunately, they didn’t achieve that and Georgia deserve some of the credit for consistent defence that caused problems for the Welsh attack.
A stand-out performance from 19-year-old Louis Rees Zammit earned him his first ever international try. His natural talent has been shown in his prolific try scoring success with Premiership team Gloucester. Now with an international try to his name as well, it is clear to see that he will be in the Welsh squad for years to come.
The performances from the Welsh players this week were an improvement from what we have seen so far, but there were still a lot of mistakes being made. That could not be said, however, for back row Aaron Wainwright. His performance earned him Man of the Match due to a very consistent performance at ensuring every breakdown was secured and ready for the scrum half and earning some turnovers along the way.
Wales will be gutted to lose Justin Tipuric to a nasty head injury. Luckily they have a lot of back row options that are just as capable and can fill his spot this weekend when they play against the in-form England. For Georgia, it’s a journey to Dublin to face Ireland.
Game 3 – Edinburgh – Scotland vs France
Score: 15 – 22
Scotland on a winning streak of five games got their hopes shattered by France in a close match from start to finish at Murrayfield. Scotland set out to beat the in-form and talented French squad in what turned out to be the closest match of the weekend, not only through the scoreline but physically as well. It was a match-up where, until the latter parts of the second half, it could have gone either way.
Wayne Barnes may have been a strict referee in this match but he was a fair one. Both teams conceded a lot of penalties that were capitalised on by the opposing kickers. Scotland and France both showed strengths in attack but discipline mistakes cost them vital territory and point-earning penalties. With Scotland scoring no tries, all of their points came from penalty kicks.
Both teams showed their kicking ability from penalties, for territorial gain or in the case of France, the dying art of the drop goal. Scotland’s fly half Duncan Weir showed his threat as a kicking force and a viable replacement for Finn Russell by scoring all 15 points for Scotland from penalties. France also proved their kicking strength with full back Thomas Ramos scoring 14 points ( four penalty kicks and one conversion) alongside a spectacular drop goal from Matthieu Jalibert in the first half.
Scotland were still rewarded for their efforts with a bonus point due to finishing within seven points of France.
Scotland were set to face Fiji at Murrayfield on Saturday, however several positive coronavirus tests in the visiting squad has forced the game to be cancelled. France on the other hand host Italy.
Game 4 – Florence – Italy vs Fiji
Score: 28 – 0
Again, just like the previous week, Fiji have suffered another automatic bonus point defeat to Italy due to having too many positive cases of coronavirus in their team.
Italy will be happy as it is the first game they have technically won since beating Canada in the World Cup in 2019. Italy face France away on Saturday and will be hoping the form they showed against Scotland two weeks ago hasn’t gone away so they can challenge a strong France team.
As it stands, England are at the top of group A with nine points. Wales and Ireland are in joint second place with four points each but Ireland are ahead based on points difference. Georgia sit at the bottom, yet to score any tournament points.
Group B sees France at the top of the table with nine points as well. Scotland sit in second with six points after getting a bonus point this week which put them just ahead of Italy on five points after been given the win against bottom of the table Fiji. It’s a shame that Fiji have not taken precautions seriously enough as they might have caused upsets to some of the northern hemisphere teams but for now they sit at the bottom on zero points.