Six Nations Matchday Seven: Not A Classic Day

Yesterday’s Six Nations action will not be remembered for too long, by too many. The opening game between Wales and Scotland was littered with penalties and the latter, a 13-13 draw between Ireland and France, was littered with injuries late on.

It was very much a game of two halves. France took 25 minutes to wake up and realise they were still in the game, and Ireland, 13-3 ahead at the break, failed to register a point in the second half.

The early game saw no fewer than 18 penalty shots at goal. 18 – that’s almost one every four minutes. Yet just one yellow card, when Paul James was sin-binned with three minutes remaining as Wales stoically resisted a late Scottish charge, winning 28-18. Leigh Halfpenny missed three first-half kicks yet Wales were still ahead at the break.

They had scored the game’s only try by then and afterwards, the match dissolved into a scrappy, fragmented mess. No other international has seen as many penalty attempts and while Greig Laidlaw was again excellent, booting six from eight, Wales were given more opportunities, and took seven from 10 through Halfpenny’s right boot.

It was nothing new, but the scrums were a complete mess. At one point after Scotland had been repeatedly penalised for engaging early, at the next scrum Wales engaged early, got a shove on and Scotland were penalised. There was also one scrum which had wheeled around almost 90 degrees before the scrum-half had had the chance to feed the ball.

All credit to Wales, who always looked like the better side, but this was something of a game they won by being the least sloppy, and keeping on the right side of the referee.

By contrast, Steve Walsh handled the Ireland-France game well considering the dreadful weather. Driving rain, swirling wind and slippery conditions underfoot were never going to make for a good running game of rugby, although there were times when both teams gave it every chance.

Frederic Michalak exerted little control on proceedings, missed two kicks at goal and after his opposite number Paddy Jackson missed his first kick, he grew in confidence to slot over three more kicks as the evening wore on.

Ireland were truly dominant upfront in the first half, and the ease with which they were able to bully the French pack en route to their first try might have even surprised themselves, mauling their way straight down the pitch, then driving over from a lineout in the corner through captain Jamie Heaslip.

France began to stir at the end of the first half and Yoan Huget had an outstanding match, his kicking from hand exceptional and strength in the air in defence about the only highlights of another underwhelming performance. Morgan Parra and Louis Picamoles also caused Ireland problems throughout – few others did.

Improvement came in the second half as Ireland faltered, unable to make the gains they had in the first period and before long, it was La Marseillaise ringing out around Croke Park followed by French boos as they kicked possession away time and again.

Brian O’Driscoll, playing in what was almost certainly his last Six Nations fixture at home, left the field with an injury, before coming back on, but Luke Marshall and Eoin Reddan were not so lucky, the latter suffering a fractured ankle.

Would a full-strength defence have been able to do anything about Picamoles’ lung-bursting drive that saw him burst over in the 73rd minute? Maybe. Maybe not. This time Michalak held it together and nailed a testing kick to level the scores.

Both sides then had spells of possession, but neither could make a clean break, or get their fly-halves into a position to take a shot at goal and for the second successive year, they couldn’t be separated. Neither team would have been in any mood to celebrate, but at least France won’t end up with nul points.

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