England and Ireland inched closer to a Six Nations title decider by extending their 100 per cent records at the weekend.
Here, we break down the good and bad points from the weekend’s action.
One good: Ireland’s attack was more innovative than against France two weeks ago and it’s clear the dry conditions allowed the team to play on the front foot. Quick ball and good options in terms of stretching the Italians’ line made Ireland look a threat every time.
One bad: Ireland lost two key players to injuries and leaked 19 second half points from a position of dominance. Their inconsistency late in the game means their championship hopes won’t be clearer until later in the tournament.
One good: Scored 19 points in the second half against Ireland – the most they’ve ever scored in Dublin. In try scorer Matteo Minnozzi, they possess one of the most exciting young players in the competition.
One bad: Conor O’Shea’s men were never competitive for long spells against Ireland and they followed up last week’s 56-19 defeat against England by conceding eight tries to Schmidt’s men.
One good: England’s ability to implement a quality game plan quicker was the decisive difference in this contest, capped off by two superb Jonny May tries in the early going.
One bad: Although they are unbeaten after two games, the Red Rose have yet to light up the championship like some expected. Injuries to key men may be a reason, but a vast improvement is needed if they are to lift a third Six Nations title.
One good: Warren Gatland’s side looked sharp when using quick ball from the breakdown – but were simply not as accurate as they were against the Scots in round one. The two week break presents a chance to build on mistakes before they face Ireland in a crunch tie in Dublin.
One bad: A game that got away from Wales. Being slow out of the blocks for the first 20 minutes – in which they shipped 12 points – essentially cost them the match. A clear disallowed try will add to their frustration when the squad sits down to review the match this week.
One good: It’s a shame that teams don’t get points for flair and tries – only results. France were impressive at the breakdown and showed style with two well-constructed tries.
One bad: Despite leading at the break, Les Bleus couldn’t maintain the intensity, and tired out during the second half. Their defeat poses another question as to how the Top 14 doesn’t prepare French teams to play consistent rugby for a full 80 minutes – only 40 minutes at a decent level.
One good: The Scots showed character to close out the victory after being behind for so long in the contest. Greig Laidlaw will deservedly take the headlines by kicking 22 points on his return to Test rugby after fracturing his leg in October.
One bad: Gregor Townsend’s men showed a way to win in the second half, but haven’t produced a consistent performance for 80 minutes since beating Australia in November. Defensive mistakes need to be tightened up if they are to win another game in this championship.
Robbie Henshaw will miss the rest of the NatWest 6 Nations with the shoulder injury he suffered in Ireland’s 56-19 win over Italy on Saturday.
The British and Irish Lions centre’s loss is a significant blow to Ireland, who are bidding for a third title in five years.
The 24-year-old underwent a “procedure” on his right shoulder on Monday, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) confirmed.
Ireland remain hopeful, however, that prop Tadhg Furlong can shake off a hamstring issue and number eight Jack Conan a shoulder complaint in time for the Dublin clash with Wales on February 24.
“Robbie Henshaw, who suffered a shoulder injury, has undergone a procedure this morning on the injured shoulder and has been ruled out of the remainder of the Championship,” read the IRFU statement.
“Tadhg Furlong, underwent a scan that revealed a minor hamstring injury but is expected to be fit for the Wales game.
“Jack Conan took a bang on his shoulder but is expected to be available for selection for Round 3.
“A reduced Ireland squad will assemble for a mini-camp in Athlone on Tuesday as a number of players return to the provinces.
“The 48-hour camp culminates with a sold out open training session at Buccaneers RFC.”
Henshaw suffered his suspected dislocated shoulder in the act of scoring his second try as Ireland overwhelmed Italy at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
The midfielder received oxygen on the field and departed with his right arm in a sling.
Now head coach Joe Schmidt will hope that Leinster centre Garry Ringrose will be back from ankle trouble in time to slot into midfield to replace Henshaw for the visit of Warren Gatland’s Wales.
Munster’s Chris Farrell would prove another option to partner Bundee Aki in the centres, with the Connacht battering ram admitting after the Italy clash that being without Henshaw for the rest of the campaign would prove a “big loss”.
Ireland remain on track for a final-weekend title showdown with England at Twickenham on March 17, with both sides having won their opening two fixtures in the 2018 tournament.
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.