Six Nations: The key moments that changed the round two games

Dan Owen 12/02/2018
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French ill-discipline allowed Scotland to take control at Murrayfield

England and Ireland have put a little bit of distance between themselves and the rest at the top of the Six Nations table – but what were they key moments from the second round of fixtures in this year’s competition?

Ireland v Italy


There will be some who say the key moment in this one happened when the two side’s jogged out, such was the Irish dominance.

However, we are going to be a little kinder and highlight Conor Murray’s try just inside the quarter hour mark.

It was significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Ireland already had a seven-point lead courtesy of Robbie Henshaw’s try and Jonny Sexton’s boot, so this put Joe Schmidt’s men firmly in control early on.

Second, it showed the Irish intent to play with some delightful interchange between Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls to set Murray away for a really nice score.

Apart from a flaky final twenty minutes, Ireland will be happy with the tune-up this game provided for sterner challenges to come.

England v Wales

Take your pick. Farrell’s vision to release May early on, Launchbury’s offload for May’s brace, the Gareth Anscombe try that never was, and a whole host more – while not the sparkling spectacle we would have wanted the game certainly wasn’t without talking points.

As Wales looked for a late foothold in the game however, England found a try-saving hero who has deep Welsh roots.

Sam Underhill had been a star for the Ospreys before his move to Bath, and the 21-year-old produced a breath-taking last ditch tackle to stop Scott Williams scoring in the corner with the game on a knife edge.

The ground Underhill, a second half replacement, made up to bundle the Scarlets man into touch was incredible as Wales had opened England up with an electric break and some neat hands down the left channel.

After George North had drawn Mike Brown and released Williams, a try looked a formality. Williams may have slid for the line a touch soon but the speed and strength shown by Underhill to get across and roll him into touch a match-winner.

Scotland v France

With both sides coming off opening day defeats, it was likely the loser here would end up in a battle for the Wooden Spoon with Italy. France opened well and bossed long periods of the first half and Teddy Thomas’ brace had them in prime position.

Their defensive shape had not been great at times, but they had shown a spirit that could well have seen them home.

Then half time happened. They came out in the second period and appeared to leave their discipline in the dressing room. Scotland did nothing special to warrant the win but a string of penalties allowed Greig
Laidlaw to keep the scoreboard ticking over, and eventually tip in the home side’s favour.

In all, France shipped 18 second-half points through half a dozen very avoidable penalties.

That leaves their campaign in tatters, with immense pressure now on their next game at home to Italy.

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Six Nations: The ten top performers from round two

Dan Owen 12/02/2018
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Owen Farrell was once again one of England's stand-out men

Round two in the Six Nations saw Ireland head to the top of the table with a very comfortable win over Italy.

England further enhanced their title-winning credentials with a hard-fought victory over Wales, while Scotland got over their Cardiff humiliation with a win over struggling France.

But who were the standout players of the weekend?

Mike Brown

Love him or loathe him, you just can’t ignore him. Brown was almost faultless in the air, fielding pretty much everything Wales put up to him. Admittedly, the Welsh kicking lacked direction at times but Brown fielded well and always got the home side on the front foot with some characteristically strong running.

Gareth Anscombe

Forget try-gate. Anscombe had a reasonable time at full-back, but when switched to fly-half really shone. Constantly looking to attack the English defensive line, he added an injection of pace that Rhys Patchell had struggled to introduce. Was at the heart of everything good about Wales late on.

Owen Farrell

Once again the man pulling the strings for England. Great vision to release Jonny May for that all-important first score, while his partnership with George Ford continues to flourish. Was his usual combative self in defence, and other than an early wobble was more consistent than last week with the boot.

Keith Earls

Didn’t miss a beat all game. Always a threat out wide when going forward, Earls got himself on the scoresheet in the Dublin rout, but it was in defence that he really stood out. A small man, he punches way above his weight in the tackle, and his last-minute chase-down of Mattia Bellini was nothing short of sensational.

Joe Launchbury

Some will remind you that Warren Gatland left Launchbury out of the Lions squad. Those words generally come on the back of performances like this one. An all-round powerhouse of a game with close to 20 tackles, great carrying ability and an offload for Jonny May’s second try that was simply sumptuous.

Greig Laidlaw

A misjudged bounce aside, Laidlaw was exactly what Scotland needed after last week’s defeat against Wales. Calm and consistent, his delivery from scrum-half was always precise, and a metronomic boot that always kept the scoreboard ticking over. Even filled in at 10 late on for a struggling Finn Russell.

Huw Jones

Was given the freedom of Murrayfield for his try in the first half, but was still coming off the type of line that encapsulated his day. Strong, powerful running that constantly caused the French problems and took Scotland over the gain line. Can be a real menace with ball in hand and needs better supply.

Rob Evans

Followed up a strong opening week with another good performance at Twickenham. Was everywhere in the loose in both defence and attack, and as the game went on slowly wore down England tight-head Dan Cole to get some joy at scrum-time. Evans is growing well on the international scene.

Jacob Stockdale

The 21-year-old have taken to international rugby like a duck to water. Six tries in six games has helped him replicate the scoring form he shows for Ulster. Tall and powerful, he was too hot to handle for the Italians on Saturday. Will face tougher tests but continues to impress with his work-rate and finishing.

Teddy Thomas

He was the high point for France against Ireland, and followed up with a brace this weekend. Assisted somewhat by some poor Scottish defence, his first try showcased his physical yet evasive running style. The second had more than a hint of Gallic flair with a deft chip over the top and finish. Les Bleus’ danger man.

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Six Nations: Laidlaw boots Scots to glory as France fade

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A relieved Greig Laidlaw has demanded improvements from Scotland despite seeing them come from behind to see off France in the Six Nations.

It took a faultless display of kicking from the recalled Laidlaw to get Scotland’s campaign back on track with a 32-26 win over Les Bleus in Edinburgh following another slow start.

Scotland went into the game on the back of a humiliating defeat in Cardiff last week, and it looked as though they might be in for another tough afternoon after going 10-0 behind in the opening minutes before the scrum-half led the fightback with 22 points from the boot along with tries from Huw Jones and Sean Maitland.

France faded badly in the second period after flying out of the blocks with a brace from winger Teddy Thomas, and Laidlaw admitted the hosts need to improve against tournament favourites England in two weeks time if they are to pick anything up from the game.

“We can beat anyone but I think we will have to play better than we did today to beat England,” the former skipper said. “England are a good team and have showed what a great defence they have.

“We might need to look at kicking options and play smartly when that game rolls around but for the minute, we will analyse ourselves in depth and come back better in a couple of weeks.”

He added: “The second-half performance was good, (but) we’ll have to look at the first half.

“It’s going to have to go up a notch to beat England.

“England are playing really well again at the minute.

“Clearly they’re on a big run so it’ll be a tough game, but is it a game if we turn up and play the right rugby we’re going to be in? I believe so.”

Laidlaw’s inclusion marked an intention to deviate slightly from the free-flowing rugby that Scotland impressed with so much during the autumn, and it eventually paid off as they got their first win of the campaign to the relief of the players and coaching staff, who found themselves 26-20 down with 20 minutes to go before their superior fitness told.

The Clermont man, who later shifted to fly-half as the disappointing Finn Russell was substituted, admitted lessons had been learned from last week, saying: “We are relieved.
Sometimes Test-match Rugby is not ideal.

“In the first half France were slowing our ball up so sometimes you just have to take your medicine, get downfield and play a bit of a kicking game and I thought we did that today.

“Do we want to kick the ball away? Not really, but are we willing to do it to put pressure on them? Absolutely.

“I think we found that balance today to stay in the game and force France to do something special.

“That was a real learning curve from last week to this week so we are delighted to get that shift.” Not surprisingly Scotland coach Gregor Townsend was pleased his team were able to bounce back after the disappointing loss to Wales last weekend.

“I’m happier than last week, that’s for sure!” he said.

“The effort it takes to win a Test match is huge, and when you have to do it being behind for most of the game, that shows the character of the squad and the togetherness.

“We were a bit more direct, and we got our rewards.” He also said the decision to switch Laidlaw to No10 during the game was pre-planned.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 11: Teddy Thomas of France gets past Finn Russell of Scotland and goes on to score his sides first try during the NatWest Six Nations match between Scotland and France at Murrayfield on February 11, 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Finn Russell, seen here trying to stop Teddy Thomas, had a disappointing afternoon and was replaced on 65 minutes by Ali Price.

“It was mentioned during the week (moving Laidlaw to fly-half ), and we ran a couple of plays this morning,” Townsend continued.

“It was seeing how Greig was, and it looked like he could last the 80, but Ali Price brings so much from the bench (at scrum-half ).

“He really upped the pace and Greig’s kicking was pretty good, so bringing Ali onto the ball was pretty positive to the team.”

Surprisingly Townsend did not empty his bench, which is so often the norm in modern Test rugby, opting to keep faith with his side in the ascendancy and only using four of his possible eight replacements.

Instead he limited his tweaks to Jamie Bhatti and Ben Toolis (both on 58 minutes) and David Denton and Price (both on 65 minutes), all who had strong impacts.

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