NEWS

MALLETT: IRELAND STAR WHILE ENGLAND STALL

All

For pure intensity, Ireland's win over England was right at the highest level, comparable to anything the southern hemisphere powerhouses can serve up.

Ireland stretched their winning run to 10 games and owed a great deal of their victory to a superb set-piece and clever tactical kicking from their half-backs Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton.

If we start with the set-piece, Ireland were outstanding in both the lineout and the scrum, claiming two key psychological lineout steals in their own 22 in the first half.

England's predicted scrum dominance did not come to pass as the men in green were solid on their own ball, even earning a penalty with a double shove as hooker Rory Best enjoyed a magnificent all-round match.

Ireland enjoyed a territorial and possession advantage for virtually the whole game, it was only in the last quarter of an hour that England were able to establish consistent field position.

Great tactical kicking by both Murray and Sexton was the reason for this. Murray was superb, kicking accurately, passing cleanly and even making a few breaks.

The scrum-half's kick for Robbie Henshaw's try on penalty advantage was a sublime piece of skill, matched only by the centre's take and score.

Sexton, given the accuracy of the Irish forwards' carrying, was able to dictate the game well and his goal-kicking was also excellent.

Sexton also led from the front in defence as the waves of Irish pressure caused a few big turnovers and stifled any English attacking ambition.

Their pack only managed to produce good front foot ball in the final 15 minutes of the game and sadly this coincided with the substitution of Jonathan Joseph for Billy Twelvetrees.

Without wishing to pick on individuals, Twelvetrees had a forgettable 20-minute cameo off the bench for Stuart Lancaster's side.

The centre caused an accidental obstruction when the impressive Billy Vunipola looked certain to score and fired two wayward passes to Jack Nowell, the first landing at the winger's feet and causing a turnover and the second deemed forward to cost England a last-gasp try.

Over in Paris, Wales are returning to the sort of form that saw them win back-to-back RBS 6 Nations titles in 2012 and 2013 after their strong showing saw off France.

Discipline was France's main undoing in this clash, the competition at set-piece was fairly even, but when Les Bleus play with desperation they are prone to the odd penalty and the dead-eye kicking of Leigh Halfpenny punished any indiscretions.

Wales, on the other hand, when penalised were not punished on the scoreboard as both Camille Lopez and Morgan Parra missed key kicks at goal.

At vital times, as against Ireland, they could not build scoreboard pressure and on such small margins are games won and lost.

Finally up in Scotland, Italy claimed only their second-ever away win in the history of the RBS 6 Nations.

And if ever a match was decided by set piece domination, this was it! Italy's domination in the scrum, particularly the double shove on their own put-in, earned them easy penalty exits and attacking lineout opportunities from kickable penalties.

Scotland had no answer to this and were totally dominated in this area of the game.

Apart from the endless set piece penalties Scotland conceded, in the 77th minute, after numerous scrum infringements and reset scrums, they were finally awarded a scrum penalty which they then contrived not to kick out! An absolutely inexcusable error that ended up costing Scotland the victory.

Italy also had both the referee - George Clancy was totally unaffected by the home crowd factor and continually rewarded the dominant pack - and lady luck on their side to secure victory.

Italy's try when Giovanbattista Venditti followed up a kick at goal which rebounded off a post was undoubtedly lucky but Scotland were again at fault.

Of the four or five Scotland players around the posts, one should have been responsible for re-gathering this kick and another should have 'stood his ground' to prevent Venditti getting anywhere near the ball.

While Sergio Parisse - who was immense all afternoon - and Italy celebrated like champions at the final whistle there is a lot for Scotland to ponder.

This was a very disappointing game in comparison to their progress in November and competitiveness against France and Wales. I said before the game that for Italy to win, Scotland had to play badly and Italy well and have a bit of luck. That is exactly what happened.

Throughout the RBS 6 Nations, the Accenture analysis team, which includes Nick Mallett, will be providing fans with insight and analysis to see beyond standard match data. Follow @AccentureRugby and download the Official RBS 6 Nations App

More News