Following last weekend's 2023 6 Nations rugby tournament opening with wins for France, Ireland and Scotland, the second weekend also had two matches on Saturday 11 February and one on Sunday 12 February 2023.
Ireland - France
The weekend's first game saw the top two ranked sides come up against one another, in Dublin, for what was to become an incredible game of rugby. Both teams had won last weekend but both recognised there was plenty of room for improvement. The line-ups saw just one change from the opening games, with Herring starting at #2 for Ireland due to an injury to Sheehan.
In a frantic start to the game, with neither side giving an inch, there was little to separate them. After fifteen minutes, it was 7-6 to Ireland, with full-back Hugo Keenan dancing through the French defence to score the game's first try for the home side. Just five minutes later, it was 12-13 following tries by Penaud for France, and Lowe for Ireland. France were down to fourteen men for ten minutes when referee Wayne Barnes yielded a yellow card for a dangerous tackle. With this advantage, Ireland scored their third try of the game when Porter went over to score in his second game in succession. But France were still in the game thanks to Ramos' boot, having scored three penalties and one conversion. HT Ireland 22, France 16. The match was certainly living up to expectation and the tension inside the ground was palpable.
The second half started as intense as the first, but with a lot of kicking, yet both sides increased their intensity in defence. On 48 minutes, Ireland's playmaker Sexton went off injured and was replaced by Ross Byrne. He slotted into the role seamlessly and drove the Irish forward. The first points of the half were not achieved until the 59th minute when Ross Byrne, on for Johnny Sexton on 48 minutes, slotted the ball over the bar for a three-point penalty. A minute later, France had recovered the three points with a drop-goal by Ramos. Ireland persevered and were rewarded on the 72nd minute when Garry Ringrose went over for their fourth try (and therefore a bonus point). With Byrne slotting home the conversion, Ireland has stretched their lead to 13 points. France tried, but they did not have the intensity that Ireland were bringing to the contest. They fought to the last, but could not get within 7 points of Ireland which would have given them a losing point. In the process, Ireland had recorded their 13th consecutive home win, and France had lost their undefeated record.
FT: Ireland 32, France 19
Scotland - Wales
With Scotland winning the Calcutta Cup in Twickenham last weekend, and Wales losing at home to Ireland, this was a match that Scotland were tipped to win, particularly with Wales' coach Warren Gatland ringing the changes and giving an opportunity to new blood in the forwards' pack. But this is the 6 Nations, so anything could happen.
The match started with the Welsh forwards building slowly, phase by phase, while Scotland were relying on their backs to break through the centre. Scotland got the first points on the board courtesy of two penalties by Finn Russell within the first fifteen minutes. Wales were grinding out territory but they could not get points on the board, even when Dan Biggar had an opportunity on the 24th minute but his missed the penalty kick. Scotland almost scored the game's opening try on the half hour with Steyn on the wing, but he was bundled into touch. Seconds later, they had the ball over the Welsh line with hooker Turner credited with the touch down. Russell converted to extend the lead to 13-0. Two minutes later, the try-scorer committed a high tackle and received a yellow card, meaning he was off the field for ten minutes. With a man advantage, Wales pressed forward with their maul crossing Scotland's line for a try by Ken Owens, converted by Biggar. Wales pressed for a second try but their last ploy before half-time ended with a poor pass into touch. HT Scotland 13, Wales 7.
Just five minutes into the second half, Scotland missed an opportunity to extend their lead by dropping the ball just short of the Welsh try line. Moments later the match sprang into life when Scotland's van der Merwe scorched up the left touchline to put the home side in sight of the Welsh line; a couple of phases of play later, Scotland's other winger, Steyn, touched down with Russell getting the conversion. 20-7 to Scotland with 27 minutes left on the clock. Liam Williams was yellow carded, so Scotland were a man up for the next ten minutes. Steyn scored his second try a minute later and Wales were in disarray, with Scotland in the ascendancy. With eight minutes to go, Scotland earned their bonus try point when Kinghorn cross the line for their fourth try. With Wales demoralised, Scotland picked up their fifth try of the match when Fagerson crossed in the corner. Scotland remain unbeaten and did their points difference no harm at all, while Wales need to improve by going back to the drawing board.
FT: Scotland 35, Wales 7
England - Italy
With England rebuilding (Marcus Smith dropped to the bench, Farrell back at out-half and a new-look back line in the forwards) and still smarting from last week's home defeat to Scotland, Italy were confident going into the game, despite last week's home defeat to France which was only lost in the last few minutes of the game.
The first half started with England on the ascendancy with their backline creating space and running sharp lines; Italy's defence held solid until the 13th minute when Jack Willis crossed over following a line-out and maul. Farrell got the extra points with the conversion. Italy were gaining ground into England's half, but their indiscipline let them down, eventually resulting in the referee sending one of the visitors to the sin bin for ten minutes. In the 28th minute, England got their second try of the match when Chessum dived over the line. England had another try ruled out for obstruction, but they did get their third try - their second while being a man up - when Jamie George touched down from another maul. HT 19-0. The home side were playing with the confidence of the England of old; the Italians had plenty to consider in the dressing room at half-time.
Just three minutes after the restart, Italy were back in the game when Riccioni went over from close range, with Allan converting. 19-7. England responded by raising the intensity and were awarded a penalty try on 50 minutes; Italy were again down to 14 men for ten minutes. However, their heads did not drop and Fusco, their replacement scrum half got their second try to reduce the deficit to 12 points. With ten minutes left on the clock, England got their fourth try (and bonus point) when Arundell went over in the corner. That was the end of the day for the scoreboard; Italy did not bring the energy and spark that they showed last week at home to France, and England are on the road to recovery.
FT England 31, Italy 14
Steve Borthwick, the England coach, and all the English supporters, must be delighted with the increase of physicality their team showed following their poor show in the first round: by moving Farrell (back) to out-half and a more physical inside-centre (Lawrence) has improved the shape of their side considerably. It may not have solved all the issues, but England are certainly further ahead in their rebuild than Wales. Next week's game between the two sides will put that theory to the test.
Ireland have the bit between their teeth now, having dethroned last season's Grand Slam champions. With Italy away and England at home, their main challenge will arguably be in the fourth round of matches when they travel to Edinburgh to play Scotland. But first the Scots have to play in Paris...
With next weekend being a rest weekend from the 6 Nations, it will give all the teams time to regroup, to recover from the exertions of the first two rounds of matches and injuries sustained therein, as well as working on technique and special plays. For the two new coaches, Wales's Warren Gatland and England's Steve Borthwick, they will be using the time also to try to work out their best combinations and best teams. Italy host Ireland in the first match on Saturday, followed by Wales playing England in Cardiff. The third round of games concludes on Sunday when France host Scotland which is arguably the tie of the round: France need to win to get back on track for the tournament; if Scotland were to win, their three wins out of three would put real pressure on Ireland. However, neither France nor England can be written off and are waiting for Ireland and Scotland to slip up.