England continued their pursuit of their first Grand Slam since 2003 with a hard-fought 23-13 victory over France at Twickenham. In a cagey first half, Owen Farrell and Morgan Parra exchanged early penalties, with a second three-pointer from Farrell giving England a 6-3 lead on 27 minutes. Two minutes later, centre Wesley Fofana broke away brilliantly down the left wing to grab the game’s first try, converted by Parra. Farrell then kicked penalties either side of the break to edge the hosts ahead at 12-10.
The game’s turning point came in controversial fashion on 54 minutes as a ball kicked in a ruck ricocheted off the offside Mako Vunipola into the arms of Manu Tuilagi, who raced home from 30 metres to extend England’s lead to seven points. Frédéric Michalak swiftly slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit, but six points from the boot of Toby Flood late on was enough for England to inflict a third straight defeat on the French in this year’s tournament.
Tries from Alex Cuthbert and Jonathan Davies ensured that Wales kept their title defence alive as they inflicted a comprehensive 26-9 defeat on Italy in Rome. The opening period was a battle of the kickers, Kris Burton striking two penalties to Leigh Halfpenny’s three as Wales assumed a 9-6 lead at the break. Shortly after the restart, Davies was the beneficiary of a kind bounce of the ball from Mike Phillips’ dinked kick over a ruck, showing good footballing skills to knock the ball forward before gathering and diving over for a try improved by Halfpenny.
Halfpenny grabbed another three points as Wales began to pull away, and matters worsened further for the home side when skipper Martin Castrogiovanni was sin binned for standing up in a scrum. And the reigning champions made their superior numbers count immediately as Cuthbert burst onto Dan Biggar’s pass and sliced through for a try in the left-hand corner, Halfpenny on-target with the extras again.
Scotland recorded back-to-back Six Nations victories for the first time in over a decade as four Greig Laidlaw penalties helped them defeat Ireland 12-8 at Murrayfield. Ireland were wasteful in a first half in which they enjoyed a remarkable 80% territory and possession, failing to take advantage of Ryan Grant’s early yellow card for the Scots and carrying only a Paddy Jackson penalty into the interval.
The visitors finally breached the Scottish rearguard four minutes after the restart when winger Craig Gilroy spun his way over on the right following Rob Kearney’s initial half-break. Jackson was having an off-day with the boot, and he was made to pay by the unerring accuracy of scrum half Laidlaw, whose four penalties in the final half-an-hour clinched a first Scotland home win over the Irish since 2001.
Image Courtesy: National Assembly For Wales / Cynulliad Cymru (http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalassemblyforwales/6862385530)