As an England supporter, writing these reviews are becoming an act of penance. What a weekend; Italy hold Wales to a draw - in Cardiff, Ireland play to something like their true potential, and Scotland demonstrate an inability to travel and England capitulate to France. This last match was a match to be endured!
Wales 18 - 18 Italy
This match, probably more than any other match, demonstrated that Italy have a right to play on the world stage of rugby. They came to the millennium stadium and refused to be cowed by the venue, crowd or team. This was a scrappy game which suited the visitors far more than Wales. Wales got off to a bright start, but Italy refused to lie down, and piled on the pressure themselves. Wales scored first with a Mark Jones try, but Italy fought back causing Welsh mistakes and eventually Galon 'scored' for the Italians. This was a controversial try, as it looked as if he grounded over the dead-ball line. I suspect that Galon lost his bearings and thought it was the try line instead. Anyway, the TV playback was inconclusive, so the try was given. Wales managed a further try through Steven Jones, but an intercepted pass by Canavosio restored the balance. The second half, both sides played themselves to a standstill, with a penalty each to bring the score to 18 all. Wales should have won this match, and Italy, if fitter, could have won this match. This was the most entertaining match of the weekend.
Ireland 15 - 9 Scotland
Ireland have now played themselves into a potential Triple Crown and Six Nations championship position. This was a game where defense dominated, and the only scores came from penalties. Scotland's defense was particularly good holding back the onslaught of the Irish backs. Along with Italy, Scotland have proved to be a revelation this season, playing with passion and commitment. The match was played in quite difficult conditions with the stadium being hit by a cold drenching rain. However, a last win for Ireland at their spiritual home before it is demolished for a new 21st century stadium. Ireland must be feeling confident for their match next weekend with England, however, it is to be played at Twickenham, which could make quite a difference.
France 31 - 6 England
It has been a long time since I've seen a worse performance from England. They never really got going, and in part, looked as if they really didn't want to be there. France were 7 points up in the first 2 minutes with a try coming from an untypical mistake in the backs in not securing a 'Gary Owen' kick. Further penalties for France followed allowing the scoreboard to trickle away from England. The main concern were the number of elementary errors being made by England, from not finding touch to kicking direct to touch. They had a tendency to over-complicate when, they weren't even doing the basics right. By half-time, France were ahead 16 - 3, and the second half failed to bring relief. France didn't play particularly well or fluidly, but they didn't need to, - England gifted the match to them.
Next weekend is the final weekend of the championship. Mathematically, if France lose in Wales, England can still win the Six Nations title by thrashing Ireland next Saturday, but that is unlikely on this evidence. The Championship is still wide open, with really only Wales and Italy ruled out of the running. Part of me can't wait for next weekend, but part of me is feeling very nervous.