NEWS

Nick Mallett runs the rule over the fourth round of games in the 2015 RBS 6 Nations

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Wales V Ireland

Ireland's ten-match winning run had garnered many plaudits but the defeat in Cardiff showed just how far they still have to go if they want to challenge for the World Cup in the autumn.

Joe Schmidt's hopes of a first Grand Slam since 2009 went up in smoke as their game plan was ruthlessly exposed, the men in green had no variation in their play and could not break down an impressive Welsh defence.

The visitors stuck to set phases and the forwards just kept ploughing ahead despite the backs screaming for the ball out wide. This was a criminal choice - it meant that Wales knew exactly what Ireland were going to do every time they threatened the try line and could defend accordingly.

They essentially ignored the Irish backs and focused on the battle in the middle. This was perfectly encapsulated in the passage of play after half-time that saw Ireland spurn 32 consecutive phases deep in the Welsh 22. Schmidt's side were relying on penalties to create opportunities as opposed to scoring from play.

For Wales' part, they deserve a lot of credit for the way they went about their business. They made a dream start to build an early lead, exactly what they would have wanted against an Ireland team that normally like to hit the front and then strangle their opponents. There were a lot of periods of pretty even rugby and momentum shifted back and forth throughout but Wales were just that little bit more clinical when they needed to be.

Take for example the period when Sam Warburton was in the sin bin, Ireland should have made much more of that period to press home their advantage but in fact it was Wales who coped admirably and even created a superb drop goal for Dan Biggar. Those sort of moments can decide Championships, particularly in a year like this one where the margins are so tight.

England V Scotland

At Twickenham a lot of the focus after the game was on how many try-scoring chances England wasted in their victory over Scotland.

While it is true that England may come to regret those missed opportunities come the final reckoning, it is worth noting that England's attacking flair has been very impressive in this Championship. The Red Rose have scored more tries than both Wales and Ireland combined and their victory over Scotland was a highly entertaining game for both sets of fans.

England are looking more like a southern hemisphere team, looking to play more rugby on their feet as opposed to Ireland whose focus on the set pieces and a very direct phase play attack with the 'pick and go' from forwards and forward runners off the scrum-half was far too limited and predictable against Wales.

England's more upright and fast-paced approach will certainly help them when facing the southern hemisphere sides during the Rugby World Cup.

Chris Robshaw still does not look a natural No.7 for my money but he is certainly getting there and come the World Cup, he should be more than ready to take on the world's best.

Italy V France

Over in Rome on Sunday, it is worth mentioning first up that the wet conditions were a huge factor in how the game was played. But even so, both teams turned in poor performances and France won by forcing Italy to a play a style of rugby they are uncomfortable with.

France weighed up the conditions and forced the Azzurri to play too much rugby in their own half and the Italians do not have the back line to play a running game, especially from deep in their own half.

The French scrum was dominant throughout and put the Italians under severe pressure and it took a couple of key moments to turn the game in their favour.

Once the scoreboard was on France's side Italy had to chase the game and they should have taken points when they were on offer rather than continually kicking for the corner as France, unlike every other team so far in this year's Championship, had worked out how to nullify the Italian driving maul.

Where the Italians lacked composure, France appear to have found their man for the future in fly-half Jules Plisson. The Stade Francais man was a half-time replacement for the injured Camille Lopez and marked himself out as a star of the future with a performance that showed real maturity.

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