Describing a rugby match as ‘intriguing’ can often be analogous to a teacher describing a child as ‘having a lot of heart’. It is the go-to adjective for a match with little in the way of fluent attacking play, and few or no tries. Despite the word being used widely last weekend, however, I doubt many rugby purists could have taken their eyes off the action (or lack of it).
That introduction was, of course, entirely unjustified from a Scottish point of view, having brushed Italy aside with a convincing 34-10 victory at Murrayfield. The days when a Scotland try was a rare and special treat seem firmly behind them – their 2013 try tally passed last year’s total of four in the 47th minute of just their second match, in no small part due to their dynamic new back-three combination. While Lions fullback talk is focused primarily on the Halfpenny-Kearney battle, Stuart Hogg is also doing his bit to give Warren Gatland food for thought. There was also an appearance for former Loughborough Students RFC scrum half, Henry Pyrgos, on as a substitute in the second half.
The evening match was an entirely different spectacle. Both France and Wales were aware of how devastating a loss would be; and the fear of failure was mirrored in the cagey nature of both sides’ performances. George North’s twelfth international try (he turns 21 in April) and another long-range Leigh Halfpenny penalty were enough for Wales to win for the first time in nine tests. It seems an odd thing to say about a 6-16 victory in Paris, but France’s performance was so uncharacteristically hopeless, the margin could well have been greater.
North’s try proved to be the last of the weekend, as England battled to a 6-12 victory over Ireland. The men in green appeared to dominate much of the first half, but an array of handling errors meant they couldn’t manufacture a chance to convert pressure into points. ‘Iceman’ Owen Farrell impressed yet again with the boot, and it was his four penalty goals that proved the difference. There have been some consequences from the encounter, with Cian Healey being cited for a seemingly cynical stamp on England’s Dan Cole.
It may yet prove to be an omen that England’s victory was their first in Dublin since their last Grand Slam in 2003; and Chris Robshaw’s men will now certainly be considered firm favourites for the Championship, as they stand alone as the only prospect for a Grand Slam in the 2013 Championship. However, with Wales and Ireland enjoying arguably easier run-ins, England are likely to come to Cardiff on the last day with a lot still to be decided…