This weekend has seen England emerge as the only team not to have been beaten in the Championship. The matches ended up the way I predicted, but not in the manner I expected, - a weekend of the almost and possible, - but in the end, the natural order was restored.
France 43 - 31 Ireland
On the face of it, a score that was to have been expected, but if it hadn't been for the looseness of Ireland's play, the story could have been a lot different. France was 12 points up in the first 10 minutes, the scores coming off the back of Ireland's loose play and missed tackles. In truth, Ireland had a lot of the play, and put France under intense pressure, but their defense held and scored on the breakout. With a half-time score of 29 - 3 to France, you would have been forgiven if you were expecting a cricket score to France by the end of the match. In truth, at the start of the second half, France continued, but for some reason I can't fathom, France took their foot off the peddle, and Ireland took advantage. In that last quarter, Ireland ran in 4 trys and dramatically closed the deficit. However, the target was always going to be just too far for the boys in green to haul back.
Italy 16 - 31 England
This match was the tough match I expected. A half-time score of 6 - 7 to England is a testament to the way Italy played, and it was only really halfway through the second half, as Italy began to tire, that England were able to cut loose and pull away. Although Tindall opened the scoring for England with a try, I still have concerns about the half back pairing of Tindall and Noon. With the slow ball coming from England's second phase, meant that Italy had time to re-group and organise their defense. They were up on England very quickly, not giving them no time to play. The change to England's fortunes came when Matt Dawson, one of the old lags, came on as replacement for Harry Ellis at scrum half. Suddenly options became available to England. Charlie Hodgson had freedom to run in a try within seconds of Dawson being on the pitch, and overall, England looked a different team. Italy can take great heart from this performance - actually leading England early in the second half, and only a last minute poacher's try from Simpson-Daniel made the score seem respectable for England. However, on this performance, I don't think it will be long before Italy take their first major scalp, and won't that be something for World rugby!
Wales 28 -18 Scotland
On a Cardiff pitch that seems, as always, to cut up whenever any pressure is put on it, Wales came back from last week's defeat and played rugby somewhere near their best. In particular, they put real pressure on the Scottish scrum, which eventually led to the award of a penalty try, as the pack collapsed for the umpteenth time. However, Scotland came back into the match, and started to exert some real pressure on Wales, when an incident between Scotland's Scot Murray and Wales' Ian Gough. Murray was sent off, while Gough was sin-binned, the result being that Scotland had to play an hour with 14 men to Wales' 15. This incident changed the match, and although Scotland defended bravely, the extra man, the home venue and a Wales team playing with some of their old imagination meant that the final outcome was never in doubt.
Another feast of rugby, with England's first-half performance raising my blood-pressure to unacceptable levels. Although France and England are looking as if they are getting back to something like normality, none of the six nations are looking world beaters at this stage. Lots of errors, indiscipline and lack of imagination are the hallmarks of the competition so far, with only Italy, so far, playing better than expected. No internationals next week, but battle commences again in a fortnight with France playing host to Italy, England travel to Scotland for the Calcutta Cup match and Ireland take on Wales at home.