Owen Farrell showcased his flawless kicking on a snow covered pitch at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday. The 20-year-old has limited experience at international level – the Saracens fly-half earned only his second cap against Italy – but he was unfazed by the occasion. Farrell chipped in with 14 points as England edged to a 19-15 victory over the Azzurri, and his performance led skipper Chris Robshaw to hail his team-mate’s “nerves of steel”. Farrell trudged off the pitch with his shirt covered in blood, in similar fashion to Paul Ince in 1997, when the former Manchester United midfielder captained England to victory in Rome.
Scotland were due to get a pasting in Cardiff and, in the second half, they did. But for 40 minutes they defended stoutly, stopped the explosive Welsh backs from inflicting any serious damage and were deservedly level at half-time. But it is the individual errors that consistently cause Scotland to fail. They were guilty of it against England, and they were at it again here. Allan Jacobsen knocked-on at a crucial moment, after Scotland had built some serious pressure through over 20 patient phases. That could’ve given them a half-time lead. Then, moments after the restart, Chris Cusiter let a ball slip into touch. Wales scored. First Rory Lamont, then Nick De Luca were sin binned. Wales scored again. Yes, they were denied a valid try, but if Scotland are to win, they need to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
Before kick off, all the talk was of Wales’ brilliant new winger, George North. But Wales are more than just one shining star. The youngster was magnificent against Ireland, sending a mercurial offload to Jonathan Davies for his try, and his charging frame bouncing off tackles will be a frequent sight for years to come. But once North was forced off with an ankle injury, his opposite winger came to the fore. Alex Cuthbert carried ball with typical directness and showed great pace to make some incisive line breaks. At 6ft6, he’s taller than North, and the sight of those two in full flight is enough to cause anyone to panic. Jamie Roberts continued in the role of battering ram, while Davies also put in some magnificent defensive hits. And Leigh Halfpenny reminded everyone of his finishing prowess with two tries. This is a seriously good back line. England beware.
The weather halted Ireland’s quest for their first victory in Paris since 2000. English referee Dave Pearson informed both teams that the game was off after efforts to make the pitch playable failed. A chorus of boos rang out around the packed stadium as it dawned on the 70,000-plus spectators filling the Stade De France that the match had been called off. Both head coaches, Declan Kidney and Phillipe Saint-Andre, spoke of the frustration of the players, who were mentally and physically prepared for a key battle in their Six Nations campaigns. The stadium, without under-soil heating, will host the Irish at some stage, but an earlier decision would have pacified the frustrations of coaches, players and supporters alike.
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