In the second weekend of this year's Guinness Six Nations rugby tournament, all teams went into their matches with opportunities beckoning.
In Saturday's first match, Scotland travelled to Cardiff buoyed from their opening-day win over England. Wales had hoped to improve from their disappointing showing against Ireland. In the end, it turned out to be a fascinating contest between the out-halves, Finn Russell of Scotland and Dan Biggar of Wales. There was nothing between the teams at half-time with the score 14 points (and one try) apiece; in the second-half, Scotland edged ahead 14-17, only to be pegged back, and ultimately overtaken by Scotland courtesy of two penalties by Dan Biggar. Scotland did threaten a last hurrah, but this ultimately proved elusive, with their cause not being helped by Finn Russell being yellow-carded for ten minutes during the last quarter. Full-time: Wales 20, Scotland 17. The home side collected four points and the visitors were awarded one point.
Next up was France in their second home game in succession, with Ireland expected to give them a much sterner test than Italy did last week. Ireland named almost an unchanged starting 15, with Joey Carbery replacing Jonny Sexton in the pivotal out-half position. Also returning from injury were Ian Henderson in the second row and Robbie Henshaw in the centre; their presence on the bench meant that Ireland could rely on no less than five Lions as replacements. In a game built up as a potential title-decider, France edged out the visitors in a frantic, tense power-struggle which ended 30-24, a one-score difference. France were more clinical, with Ireland coughing up a surprising amount of penalties in the first half; they were much more disciplined after the break and managed to run in three tries to France's two.
The Sunday game saw two of the first round losing teams clashing, as England travelled to Rome to face Italy, hoping that Friday evening's Under-20s 6-0 defeat to the Azzurri was not a sign of things to come for the senior side. The visitors to Rome enjoyed a solid start and were 0-21 up at half-time and finished the match 0-33 winners. While Italy were disappointed not to score on home soil, England would have been delighted to earn a bonus point as they managed five tries, with out-half Marcus Smith opening the scoring on nine minutes with the first try of the game, and slotting home four of the five conversions, to chalk up a 13-point personal tally.
So, after the second round of matches, France are the only unbeaten side and top the table with 9 points. England (6 pts), Ireland (6 pts), Scotland (5 pts) and Wales (4 pts) all have one win apiece, with Italy yet to get off the mark.
The tournament now sees a break this coming weekend, with the action recommencing on Saturday week, 26 February, with Scotland hosting France and England hosting Wales; Ireland then host Italy on the Sunday. If Scotland can match their opening day heroics when having home advantage over Les Bleus, then the tournament will be thrown wide open, with no side then having a 100% clean record. Ireland are odd-on to beat Italy in Dublin, but what will happen in Twickenham? It could very well be that last year's champions will suffer their second defeat of this year's tournament, but we will just have to wait and see the action unfolding on the pitch.