Section: Six Nations

Six Nations: Ireland win title from England & Wales

Champions Ireland retained their Six Nations title on points difference after an extraordinary final day.

The last round of games concluded with England falling agonisingly short of the 26-point winning margin they needed as they beat France 55-35 in an epic.

The day had started with Wales annihilating Italy 61-20 in Rome.

Ireland needed a huge win and their 40-10 demolition of Scotland was enough to both pass Wales and set a target just beyond England.

With three teams on three wins apiece going into the final round of games the stage was set, and what followed was one of the most incredible days in the tournament since it was first played in 1883, with 221 points scored in the three matches.

England started Saturday as leaders – just – from Ireland on points difference with Wales some way further back, and they would play in reverse order to decide who would become champions.

In the opener, Wales only led Italy by a point at half-time in Rome but cut loose in the second half, with George North’s hat-trick ensuring Ireland needed to beat Scotland by 21 points to take the lead on points difference.

The champions duly hammered Scotland by 30 points in Edinburgh, meaning Wales were out of contention and that England needed to beat France by 26 points to take the title.

In a see-saw encounter at Twickenham, England pulled steadily clear but never managed to get into a lead that would have denied Ireland the title.

However, Jack Nowell’s try with five minutes remaining put them 20 points ahead and meant a converted try would have given them the Championship.

They spent the closing moments hammering away at the French line in search of the winning points, and came within a foot of scoring, but in their desperation they infringed and the final whistle meant that although they had won handsomely, it was Ireland who are 2015 Six Nations champions.

Read more at BBC Sport

Six Nations: Italy 0-29 France

France ease past Italy in dire affair

France kept their slim Six Nations dreams alive with a 29-0 win at Italy on Sunday.

In an error-strewn, turgid, scrappy match Yoann Maestri’s try gave France the necessary breathing space to go through the motions for the rest of the second-half. And in the last play of the match substitute Mathieu Bastareaud ploughed over from close range to stretch the lead to 29 points.

Both teams were erratic from the tee, with Italy missing three shots at the posts, and Camille Lopez notched six points before being substituted at half-time with his replacement Jules Plisson knocking over 10 and Scott Spedding three.

France went into the game amid rumours coach Philippe Saint-Andre would lose his job should Les Bleus fail in Rome but despite making 19 errors – one more than Italy – they were in control throughout. It was the first time Italy had failed to score a point at home since they joined the Six Nations in 2000.

Italy suffered the late withdrawal of fly-half Kelly Haimona with a groin injury and Tommaso Allan, who started at No.10, looked to suffer an injury in a similar area pre-match. He lasted just 13 minutes and looked to aggravate the injury when attempting a kick at the posts and was hauled off for Luciano Orquera who fared little better from the tee. Italy also lost Matias Aguero and Luca Morisi to injury in the first-half.

France made eight changes for the match and debutant Noa Nakaitaci was the first to stretch his legs with a 60-metre dash only to be hauled down by Sergio Parisse who was making a record 112th appearance for the Azzuri.

The case of Nakaitaci rampaging down the wing was a rare sight in a first-half blighted by knock-ons and penalties. Italy had a pair of shots at the post but missed both while Lopez and Spedding got the scoreboard ticking over for the visitors as they went into the break nine points to the good.

Any hopes of the hosts finding some momentum in the second-half were quashed in the opening moments when the normally precise Parisse conceded a silly penalty. Plisson stroked it over and four minutes later they had the first try of the game thanks to a wonderful sweeping move which was started by the impressive Spedding.

He collected a loose kick in his own 22 and ran through the Italian defence to give France key field position. Debutant No.8 Loan Goujon took the ball on and it was eventually recycled to Maestri who crossed unopposed in the corner.

Italy had chances to get some points on the board but spurned opportunities for kicks at the posts for a shot at a driving lineout, a weapon they used so effectively against Scotland in the last round. But they were misfiring in the setpiece with Thierry Dusautoir keeping a stranglehold on the battle in the forwards. Italy’s frustration was compounded in the 74th minute when skipper Parisse limped off.

As the clock ticked past the 80th minute, France won a five-metre scrum and eventually the ball found substitute Bastareaud who crashed over under the posts to give Plisson the simplest of conversions.

The win for France gives them the slim chance of finishing this Six Nations as champions. They need a win against favourites England at Twickenham, alongside a Scotland win over Ireland and for Italy to beat Wales. They also need to make up the points difference with them lying currently 15 off England.

Read more at ESPN

Six Nations: England 25-13 Scotland

England set up a climatic final day to the 2015 Six Nations but only after toiling to a 25-13 victory over Scotland.

Two weeks after succumbing to champions Ireland, Stuart Lancaster’s men were forced to draw on their reserves of character to see off opponents searching for a maiden win of the Championship and a first triumph at Twickenham for 32 years.

Only George Ford’s 44th-minute try separated the rivals for most of a second half controlled by England but also containing moments of high anxiety as Scotland, sensing a special result was theirs for the taking, ran with intent and ingenuity.

They deservedly led 13-10 at half-time after Mark Bennett crossed to help overhaul Jonathan Joseph’s early try, the outside centres exchanging scores, but they lacked the firepower to finish the job.

The 12-point win against the Six Nations’ bottom team, combined with Wales’ 23-16 victory over previously unbeaten Ireland earlier in the day, has created a three-way shoot-out for the title.

England, Wales and Ireland can each be crowned champions next Saturday, but the 2015 World Cup hosts know they squandered a glorious chance to place themselves in the driving seat.

As many as five try-scoring opportunities were left on the Twickenham turf, most of them in a dominant opening quarter, and it took Jack Nowell’s try with five minutes left to place them at the summit of the table with one round remaining.

France visit London in the final match of Saturday’s triple-header and with the outcome of the title likely to be decided by points difference, England’s four-point advantage over Ireland is a poor return from an afternoon that began with such promise.

The dismal starts that had blighted their Six Nations appeared to be a distant memory as Ben Youngs and Ford combined to set Luther Burrell free, and although the inside centre butchered the chance, the Scots’ line soon cracked.

Hard yards from Billy Vunipola and James Haskell softened up the visitors and Joseph needed no second invitation to jink over from 10 yards out after being given a sniff of the whitewash by Youngs’ distribution.

Scotland were being over-run, with a one-booted Mike Brown unable to outstrip Stuart Hogg in a race to the line, obviously impeded by having to run with only a sock on his left foot.

Finn Russell was flattened by Courtney Lawes behind his own line and Nowell dashed into space as the pressure continued, but chances were being wasted at a worrying rate.

Any thoughts of a cricket score quickly evaporated as Scotland ran in a try launched from a line-out but born out of the vision of Greig Laidlaw, whose rapid miss pass enabled Mark Bennett to step inside and dive over.

Ford and Laidlaw exchanged penalties, the Scots’ three points coming after they were held up just short of the line, before Anthony Watson correctly had a try disallowed following a forward pass from Ford to Burrell.

England invited pressure on themselves when Joe Marler was penalised at the scrum for a second time and the visitors were now the dominant force, running the ball with intent.

Wide open space greeted revitalised Scotland, who were denied a try when wing Tommy Seymour was brought down by Brown before failing to create a clear overlap, but they at least finished the passage of play with a Laidlaw penalty.

England started the second half with purpose and were rewarded when Ford dummied his way over from close range, but it had been the hard running of wing Nowell that made the real yards.

Holes continued to appear in the blue wall as England wrestled back control, Ford underlining their growing authority with a penalty. England’s ability to self-destruct remained intact, however, as substitute hooker Tom Youngs flung out a wild pass having charged through a gap.

It became Brown’s turn to see a try chalked off for a forward pass – Haskell’s ball was at least a metre in the wrong direction – but the reward for their late superiority came in the 75th minute when Nowell darted over in the left corner.

The try had a hint of good fortune about it as a penalty by Ford struck the left upright and fell for England to launch an attack that has placed them at the summit of the table.

Read more at ESPN

Six Nations: Wales 23-16 Ireland

Joe Schmidt has is braced for sleepless nights as he searches for “marginal gains” in the wake of their 23-16 loss to Wales.

The Ireland boss has never shied away from his status as a rugby scholar, but being driven to insomnia by missing out on an Six Nations Grand Slam could be a first. Wales coach Warren Gatland revealed victory would mean he would not struggle to drag himself out of bed – before Schmidt explained how defeat will just drive him deeper into his already supremely-detailed analysis.

“I’ll struggle to go to bed to be honest,” said Schmidt about how he copes with defeat. “I’ll look at the game, I’ll think about the what-ifs and the maybes, because I think there were a fair few what-ifs and maybes.

“I’ll look at the last lineout drive, I’ll look at the scrum, I’ll look at the 22 and the pressure and how close we got to getting over the line, and the small margins and marginal gains that if you manage to do that then you potentially change the result.

“I felt at 20-16 that we were back in the game, we were inside a score away from them, and I felt we attacked pretty positively right from the restart, got up to halfway and then unfortunately gave them a penalty that allowed them to go further in front. That was really disappointed and further reflected our endeavour but not our accuracy and our performance.”

Scott Williams’ second-half try floored Ireland, who dominated territory and possession but could find no route through Wales’ resolute defence. Ireland did claim a penalty try, but were made to pay for a rudderless first 20 minutes. Schmidt’s side can still retain their title, but must now rely on a points-difference triumph, just like last season.

England scaled the Six Nations table with 25-13 victory over Scotland at Twickenham, although the top three teams all have six points going into the final round. Ireland must now hope to better England and Wales’ points-difference tally as well as seeing off Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Wales boss Gatland conceded victory would allow him to avoid the depths of depression that follow Test match defeats. “I’ve been through the other side of things on a number of occasions when we’ve lost key games when we’ve been in front through critical moments,” said Gatland. “As coaches it means a lot to us.

“When you suffer a loss the next three or four days are a struggle, even in terms of getting out of bed sometimes. Emotionally it just shows we were definitely with the players in knowing how important it was today to get a result and a victory.

“The crowd were amazing, you couldn’t ask for anything more from a Test match; it had everything.”

Read more at ESPN

Six Nations: Ireland 19-9 England

Ireland march on towards a possible Grand Slam after inflicting a thumping defeat on a misfiring England.

Four penalties from Jonathan Sexton and a second-half try from centre Robbie Henshaw opened up an unbridgeable gap which accurately reflected the one-sided nature of what was expected to be a tight contest.

England were outplayed in all departments, starting slowly, consistently second-best at the breakdown and all too fallible under the high ball until a late rally.

After all the optimism engendered from their unbeaten start to the Six Nations this will go down as one of the most chastening defeats of Stuart Lancaster’s regime.

With trips to Wales and Scotland still to come, Ireland face a testing March if they are to win a second consecutive Six Nations title, let alone a second Grand Slam in six years.

But after this record-equalling 10th successive Test victory, Joe Schmidt’s men will travel with optimism, their status as the northern hemisphere’s most effective team underlined in some style.

Ireland had begun at pace, turning over a sleepy England at the first breakdown and winning two quick penalties to allow Sexton to kick them into an early six-point lead.

George Ford replied with a drop-goal on England’s first foray into the Irish half but his side twice wasted fine territory through lost line-outs and, after Luther Burrell was overrun by green shirts on his own 22, Sexton’s third simple penalty made it 9-3.

Ireland were dominating the breakdown, England twice penalised for offside as they struggled to cope with the ferocity of the Irish attacks.

Sexton was relishing his battle with the young apprentice Ford, smashing him backwards in the tackle and orchestrating a more expansive handling game for the hosts than in their victories over Italy and France.

The sole comfort for England at the break was to be just six points behind, having been starved of possession and conceded a remarkable 10 turnovers in that first period.

England were being pinned back by Sexton’s probing kicking from hand, unable to exert the control they had hoped for at the set-piece and poor under the predictable hailstorm of garryowens.

And when the impressive Conor Murray’s box kick into the corner was claimed by Henshaw above the backpedalling Alex Goode, a steep slope became a mountain.

Sexton’s conversion from out wide made it 19-3 and seemed likely to trigger an avalanche.

Two penalties from Ford halted the advance before England’s replacements made the contest – if not the scoreboard – a more even affair in the final 20 minutes.

But although Ireland tired as the match wore on, the damage had already been done, and the capacity crowd in Dublin celebrated a win that was never in doubt.

Read more at BBC Sport

Six Nations: France 13-20 Wales

Wales kept alive their Six Nations title hopes with a hard-earned 20-13 victory against France in Paris.

Leigh Halfpenny kicked two penalties as Wales edged a tight first half 6-3, but the game burst into life after an hour.

Dan Biggar crossed for a slick Welsh score only for France to hit back with Brice Dulin’s try in the corner.

Another Halfpenny penalty eased Welsh nerves as they sealed a fourth straight win over France for the first time since 1957.

Having lost to England on the opening weekend, Wales knew only a win would suffice for them to have a chance of claiming a fifth championship in 11 seasons.

And following their latest Parisian triumph – a fifth win in nine visits to Stade de France – they host Ireland on 14 March with their title dreams intact.

Wales assistant coach Rob Howley said beforehand they would be on “red alert” defensively, wary of a French side they expected to adopt a more expansive approach than in previous matches.

The omission of juggernaut centre Mathieu Bastareaud did not hinder their physicality, however, as Yoann Huget set the tone for a confrontational start with a thumping tackle on opposing wing Liam Williams.

Wales centre Jamie Roberts was prominent as a battering ram in midfield, and the away side’s forays into French territory were rewarded as two Halfpenny penalties either side of one from Camille Lopez put Wales 6-3 up.

Genuine scoring opportunities were at a premium, although France thought they had the opening try after half an hour, only for Huget’s touchdown to be disallowed for a forward pass.

Wales then threatened as George North galloped into the French 22 but, after that period of pressure yielded no points, the visitors could count themselves fortunate to lead at half-time as Lopez missed two penalties.

The fly-half redeemed himself with a penalty early in the second half but Halfpenny’s third soon restored Wales’ lead.

After an hour of attrition, Warren Gatland’s side extended their advantage with a stylish try.

Scrum-half Rhys Webb made the initial sniping break before passing to flanker Dan Lydiate, whose deft sleight of hand allowed Biggar to scamper over in the corner.

It took only seven minutes for France to strike back, their forwards pounding the Welsh line before the ball was spread wide for Dulin to squeeze over for a first French try against Wales since 2011.

Halfpenny soothed fraying Welsh nerves with another penalty, before the visitors had to withstand a late flurry of French pressure to secure a memorable victory.

Read more at BBC Sport

Six Nations: Scotland 19-22 Italy

Scotland slipped to a third successive Six Nations defeat as they fell to a battling Italian side at Murrayfield.

Mark Bennett ran in his first international try for the Scots before Joshua Furno and Giovambattista Venditti replied for Italy.

Greig Laidlaw’s 14 points with the boot kept them in front until the final minute.

But Vern Cotter’s side were undone by a last-gasp penalty try, which was converted by Tommaso Allan.

The result leaves Scotland bottom of the Six Nations table as the only team without a victory to their name while Italy secure their first championship win since 2013.

Scotland’s performances in defeats by France and Wales had offered some signs of encouragement, but there will be no crumbs of comfort in losing to Italy, who celebrate a first win in Edinburgh since 2007.

With matches against title contenders England and Ireland to come, the Scots are staring at the very real prospect of a Six Nations whitewash.

They started the match in positive fashion. Captain Laidlaw kicked Scotland in front with barely a minute on the clock after an Italian infringement, and it was immediately obvious the Scots were aiming to play a more expansive game than in those opening two matches.

The Scots’ ambition was helped by some sloppy Italian play, fly-half Kelly Haimona’s wayward pass an open invitation for Mark Bennett to intercept and coast under the posts unchallenged.

The visitors were not about to crumble though. A driving maul from a line-out on the Scotland 22 carried the Italians over the try line, with lock Furno the man grounding.

Two Laidlaw penalties either side of Haimona’s three-pointer extended Scotland’s lead to 16-8, but they conceded just before half-time through a slice of bad fortune.

Haimona’s penalty attempt came back off the post and the ball bounced favourably to wing Venditti, who managed to force the ball down through a ruck of bodies to make it 16-15 at the break.

Allan, on for Haimona, spurned a good chance to put Italy in front for the first time on 54 minutes, sending a fairly straightforward penalty attempt wide of the posts.

For the second match running the home side had a try ruled out, though in this instance there was no controversy; Sean Lamont’s off-load to Stuart Hogg a blatant forward pass.

Laidlaw nudged Cotter’s men four points ahead with a routine penalty 13 minutes from time, but the Italians would not lie down.

They forced a succession of line-outs and scrums deep in Scottish territory, and with the home defence desperately trying to halt a rolling maul, referee George Clancy deemed they were doing so illegally and awarded a match-winning penalty try, which was converted by Allan to seal a desperately disappointing day for the Scots.

Read more at BBC Sport

Six Nations: Scotland 23-26 Wales

Tries from Rhys Webb and Jonathan Davies guided Wales to a 26-23 win over Scotland in the Six Nations at Murrayfield.

Nine days after being silenced on home soil by England, the dragon rediscovered its roar to an extent as tries by scrum-half Webb and Jonathan Davies consigned Scotland to a second Six Nations defeat in a row. Full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who delivered an immaculate performance in attack and defence, kicked 16 points, while Scotland replied through a breakaway Stuart Hogg score and substitute lock Jim Hamilton’s late touchdown, plus three Greig Laidlaw penalties and a conversion, and a Finn Russell conversion.

The Scots again showed obvious signs of their improvement under coach Vern Cotter, yet Wales looked a more dangerous team with ball in hand and possessed outstanding runners in Webb, Davies and Halfpenny. Wales, though, still have to do it the hard way if they have any realistic aspirations of Six Nations silverware.

Sam Warburton’s men know they cannot afford another defeat, and their next two games are against France in Paris and at home to reigning Six Nations champions Ireland. For Scotland, it is far from a case of going back to the drawing board, as they again displayed some high-class rugby to confirm a feelgood factor that has surrounded them since Cotter took charge last year.

Both sides showed two changes from contrasting opening round Six Nations defeats as they faced a make-or-break game. Sean Lamont replaced injured Scotland wing Tommy Seymour and prop Geoff Cross took over from Euan Murray, who does not play on Sundays for religious reasons. Wales, meanwhile, opted to rest powerful wing George North, who took took two heavy blows to his head during the 21-16 defeat against England last week, so Liam Williams deputised, with Ospreys forward Aaron Jarvis replacing concussed tighthead prop Samson Lee.

And the visitors made a bright start, moving deep into Scottish territory through some precise phase-play. Halfpenny opened their account with a short-range penalty after six minutes. Wales, though, pressed the self-destruct button just three minutes later when Scotland lock Richie Gray stole turnover possession 10 metres inside his own half, and Hogg outsprinted a shell-shocked Welsh blindside defence to claim an opportunist try that Laidlaw converted.

Scotland should have punished Wales again shortly afterwards when Russell broke with menace, but centre Alex Dunbar’s pass failed to find his midfield partner Mark Bennett and a glorious chance went astray. A Laidlaw penalty then put Scotland 10-3 ahead, but that strike was quickly cancelled out by Halfpenny’s second successful kick as Wales cut their arrears at the end of a breathless opening quarter.

Wales continued to look dangerous with ball in hand, and it looked as though Halfpenny would complete his penalty hat-trick from inside Scotland’s 22, but skipper Warburton opted for a kick to the corner and an attacking lineout instead, only for his team to then be penalised. There was no obvious pattern to the match, but Wales gained a numerical advantage nine minutes before half-time when Russell received a yellow card after a mid-air challenge on his opposite number Dan Biggar.

And Scotland were punished almost immediately as Wales launched a flowing attack highlighted by Davies’ surging run, before Webb collected Williams’ inside pass and posted his second try in successive Six Nations games this season. Halfpenny landed the touchline conversion attempt, taking Wales into a 16-10 lead, but the numbers were then evened out when Davies saw yellow for a poor tackle on Scotland number eight Johnnie Beattie.

And that was a cue for Scotland to put Wales on the back foot as half-time approached, with the visitors requiring some frantic last-ditch defending to preserve their advantage and troop off six points clear at the break. Scotland immediately cut the gap after Russell returned through another Laidlaw penalty when Wales centre Jamie Roberts was punished for not releasing, but a more ominous-looking sign for Wales was a scrum that creaked with worrying regularity.

Halfpenny’s fourth successful penalty then made it 19-13 to Wales, before a Laidlaw strike cut the gap, but Wales should have moved clear when they broke Scotland’s defence midway through the second period. Williams dived gleefully to score in the corner, yet referee Glenn Jackson consulted the television match official and then rightly ruled out the try following obstruction by two Wales forwards during the immediate build-up.

But Wales were not to be denied, and they effectively made the game safe 16 minutes from time when Davies crashed through a couple of weak tackles, touching down between the posts for a try that Halfpenny converted. Hamilton touched down with the game’s final attacking phase, with Russell converting, but Wales prevailed and collected two vital points.

Read more at ESPN

Six Nations: Ireland 18-11 France

Ireland remain unbeaten in this year’s Six Nations after a gritty victory over a disappointing France in Dublin.

Man-of-the-match Jonathan Sexton, who had been out for three months with concussion, kicked four first-half penalties as Ireland led 12-6 at the break.

With both sides engaged in a torrid battle at the breakdown there was little flair on display and fans had to wait until well into the second half for the first clear-cut try-scoring opportunity, which Ireland butchered.

French lock Romain Taofifenua scored the only try of the match after 70 minutes but two more penalties had already made Ireland safe.

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, the defending champions, have now won nine games in a row and host England, who are also unbeaten in this year’s tournament, in two weeks’ time.

And Schmidt will be buoyed that Sexton, flanker Sean O’Brien and prop Cian Healy, who were all returning after long injury lay-offs, came through a tough battle unscathed.

It was expected that giant French centre Mathieu Bastareaud would target Ireland fly-half Sexton, but it was Sexton who went looking for Bastareaud early on, bringing the Toulon man to a juddering halt and earning his side the put-in at the resulting scrum.

Tommy Bowe nearly latched on to diagonal kick from Sexton, but a penalty had already been awarded and the Racing Metro number 10 duly kicked the hosts into the lead.

France levelled the score through the boot of Clermont’s Camille Lopez, but two more Sexton penalties, after France twice infringed at the breakdown, gave Ireland a six-point lead.

Teddy Thomas, who had looked one of the liveliest of the French three-quarters, limped off shortly before half-time, before Lopez reduced Ireland’s lead to three points after Rory Best was penalised for being caught on the wrong side at a ruck.

But France’s indiscipline cost them again, allowing Sexton to pop over a simple penalty and make the score 12-6 to Ireland at the break.

It had been an attritional first half, more notable for the number of infringements and turnovers at the breakdown than any commitment to creativity or attacking verve.

Shortly after the restart, Ireland full-back Rob Kearney fielded a high kick in the French 22 and Sexton was clobbered by Bastareaud from the resulting attack. Having clashed heads, both players were led from the field, with Sexton replaced by Leinster’s Ian Madigan.

Madigan increased his side’s lead with his first attempt at goal and with France’s scrum also starting to creak, Ireland appeared heavy favourites with 30 minutes to go.

Both sides lost a man to the sin bin, while Sexton, who returned to the fray after 55 minutes, should have set up his side’s first try, but centre Jared Payne was unable to gather the fly-half’s fiery short pass.

Sexton slotted his fifth penalty before replacement lock Taofifenua touched down unopposed after the visitors, despite making handling error after handling error, eventually found a way through Ireland’s defence.

With replacement prop Vincent Debaty making his presence felt up front, France gradually improved as the second half wore on and at least attempted to put width on the ball in the final stages, but despite a late assault they were unable to deny Ireland victory.

Read more at BBC Sport

Six Nations: England 47-17 Italy

Flying England turn on the jets against Italy

Jonathan Joseph scored twice to cement his reputation as England’s X-factor as Stuart Lancaster’s side routed Italy with a six-try performance.

It was Italy who struck first, Sergio Parisse barrelling over for a try in the fourth minute which silenced Twickenham. It was not until the 23rd minute that England took the lead, Billy Vunipola controversially being awarded a try after video review, despite no conclusive proof of a clear grounding being evident.

It seemed as though England had weathered the storm entirely when Jonathan Joseph burst clear for a scintillating try from halfway. However, Luca Morisi’s score at the start of the second half applied the pressure again, only for Ben Youngs to convert a quick-thinking tap penalty from close range.

Then England began to run riot. Joseph scored a second superb try from deep, while a Jonny May break was finished off by Danny Cipriani, who scored with his second touch after coming on as a substitute.

Nick Easter burrowed over from a rolling maul as the Italian defence crumbled completely. Italy did manage to score late on, with Morisi somehow scrambling down the line past May.

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