You have to love an Eddie Jones soundbite. His assertion that Italy would get a good hiding by England just begged for headlines, and it was imperative that they delivered in the Stadio Olimpico, and after the hosts snagged an early lead, pared back by Owen Farrell, with a couple of matching exchanges for 6-6.
England started to turn the screw, forcing a turnover in the Italy 22 with George Ford finding impossible space in the corner for the first try. Italy pegged them back to a scant 9-11 at the break.
Some sloppy England lineouts gave the Azzurri some hope, but a drop in concentration from the hosts and a loose pass from Leonardo Sarto gave Jonathan Joseph a clear run for his first try, ably converted by Farrell.
This gave England some room to manoeuvre now, and they capitalised as Joseph jumped on a Danny Care kick for a second try with Farrell grabbing two more points to make it an uphill battle now for the Azzurri.
As if that were not bad enough, Italy’s collapsing scrum allowed Farrell to nab more points, before Joseph put the boot in one more time to get his hat-trick. Farrell finished things off with his own converted try.
Scotland were left searching for an elusive win in Cardiff once more – they last beat the Dragons in 2002 but showed plenty of heart in a close match. The hosts put themselves on the board with a Gareth Davies try but Scotland were quick to respond care of Tommy Seymour while captain Greig Laidlaw and he of the miraculous injury recovery Dan Biggar certainly had their kicking boots on conversion and penalty duty.
Wales just seemed to have more pep in their step in the second half, while some careless play at times from Scotland gave the home team an advantage they were not going to give up on. Jamie Roberts edged a try before a staggering run by George North from a set-piece gave him maybe the sweetest try of all – his first in six internationals.
Scotland pushed back to try their best to finish with a flourish, as Duncan Taylor scored his first try for Scotland but ultimately looked their ninth successive loss in the RBS 6 Nations firmly in the eye.
Yet again Les Blues left it late to top the score-sheet, but this time it felt slightly more deserved than last week’s effort against the attacking Azzurri. From the off it was the defending champions in the driving seat as three penalties from Jonathan Sexton put the visitors in a decent lead 9-3 at the end of the first half.
Ireland, chasing a third straight win had an injury blow as Sean O’Brien hobbled off in the first half, only to be rocked as Sexton left the field after taking a knock. With a couple of changes to the French front row, the home team started to give the crowd something to get excited about as they piled on the pressure, and a late try by Maxime Medard and the Plisson conversion put them ahead by their muddy fingernails. It was enough to cling on for the win, propelling the French to the top of the table overnight.
The RBS 6 Nations resumes on Friday 26 February.
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