Lions win 35-0 against Melbourne rebels – Weekly report

With first test done and dusted the Lions, took on the Melbourne Rebels on Tuesday and put on a display of fun, running rugby that delighted the fans.

Smarting from last week’s mid-week loss the Lions started with some good interplay between the backs and forwards, moving the ball side to side. A spilled ball in the Rebels 22 gave the home side the opportunity to clear. The Rebels stole the lineout ball and won the next lineout on the Lions throw giving them an attacking opportunity, but they failed to release the ball at the tackle allowing the Lions to clear.

The Lions won their first lineout but ill discipline at the breakdown offence saw the Rebels kick to within 15metres of Lions line only to lose the ball forward

The Lions had definitely come to play, keeping the ball in hand. They nearly scored in the corner but the Rebels forced the ball. The Lions scrum had the Rebels scrum in disarray giving scrumhalf Conor Murray chance to squeeze over. Farrell added the extras.

With the Rebels putting the ball out on the full from the restart the Lions went straight back on the attack.  Passing up two penalty chances to kick at goal, they create a gap but Zebo left ball behind. The Rebels won a scrum penalty to clear to the Lions 10 metre line. With some possession at last, the Rebels still found no way through till they won a penalty at the breakdown but Woodward pushed it wide from in front of the posts. After a long dropout, the Lions won the ball back and, following great interplay with a strong bust from Tuilagi, Faletau looked set to score but slipped. Maitland backing up from earlier involvement in the move scored in the right corner. Farrell converted to make it 14-0.

The Rebels tried to attack but conceded a penalty that Farrell tapped quickly and Zebo nearly got through but the move was halted because of a forward pass. The Lions were playing a passing game and handling let them down at crucial times, but they were able to go to the break 14-0 in front.

From the restart the Rebels attacked keeping the ball in hand but the Lions good defensive line held. Earning a penalty after the Rebels failed to release the ball, Farrell took another quick tap leading to another penalty on the half way that he put into the corner.

The Rebels defended the ensuing lineout drive well, winning a scrum but a massive Lions shove had them under great pressure and they could only clear to the 5-metre line on their right. The Lions won the throw and put on great pressure again but a loose pass from Maitland went straight into touch. The lineout win allowed the Rebels to clear to just outside the 22.

Seemingly with no way through after good lineout ball, Farrell cleverly kicked back to the right wing. The move almost came off but resulted in a Lions lineout from which they tapped the ball to the front for Sean O’Brien to score. Farrell converted again.

With Hogg coming on for Farrell and wholesale changes up front, the game lost some of its structure. Both sides tried hard to run the ball and the Lions eventually ended up with a lineout in the right corner. A great maul resulted in a penalty try (and a yellow card for Jordy Reid). Hogg converted to make it 28-0

More scrappy play led to a Lions lineout on the Rebels 22. Quick ball from Croft to Ben Youngs saw the replacement scrum half scamper in leaving Hogg with an easy conversion.

Fighting to the last, as the buzzer sounded the Rebels took a tap penalty just 5 metres out in front of the Lions posts, only to see the ball forced into touch giving the Lions a deserved 35-0 win.

The Lions ran out 23-21 winners over the Wallabies at the Suncorp stadium in Brisbane on Saturday in a match that will be remembered for four great tries, a missed kick and, later, an incomprehensible decision from the judiciary.

Within a minute from the start, the Wallabies found themselves in trouble as Lealiifano went down after a head clash with Jonathon Davies, and their number one place kicker was off for the rest of the night with Pat McCabe coming on as his replacement.

The Wallabies tested the Lions defence and won two kickable penalties that O’Connor failed to convert. A scrum penalty and the Lions were down in the opposition 22, but phase after phase they struggled to make headway against resolute defence. Playing under a penalty advantage they continued to but failed to score and then disaster. Just metres out from the Australian line they gave away a penalty and stood around waiting for the touch kick while Genia, ever alert and creative, took a quick tap and scooted away.  A 70-metre run and a little grubber kick to Folau, and the winger was in for a try on debut. O’Connor added the extras.

Both sides were putting in plenty of endeavour but errors were costly with the ball being turned over at crucial times. From a Lions lineout, the Australians infringed at the ensuing maul allowing Halfpenny the chance to pull three points back.

Moments later Barnes tried a long clearing kick that George North was able to field on his own 10-metre line. Charging forward he left three would-be tacklers for dust and then beat Barnes for a brilliant individual try in the left corner. Halfpenny converted from the sideline and suddenly the Lions were 10-7 up.

North was almost in again couple of minutes later as Genia and Folau combined to get him into touch just before he got the ball down. But the referee was playing a penalty advantage, so it was three more points for the tourists. It looked like they were gaining some ascendency until, with the wallabies pressing again, the ball was passed to Folau who pushed off Corbisiero to go in for his second try of the match. A failed conversion attempt left the score at 13-12.

Then it was Barnes turn to leave the field after a head knock as Folau collected a loose ball and a shove from North into his teammate; enter Kurtley Beale.

With half time looming, the Lions were on attack again and looked to be threatening when Genia cynically killed the ball at the ruck. Three points looked a certainty but for once Halfpenny was off target and the teams went to the break with just one point between them.

Australia began the second half with a fire that the Lions seemed at a loss to match. But disaster struck the backline again as Pat McCabe went down and was carried from the field. With no outside backs left on the bench, they brought on flanker Liam Gill and moved Michael Hooper from flanker to the backs.

The change was significant as straight away the Lions backs ran a brilliant move that left Hooper confused and Cuthbert in space to run in for the try. With the conversion, the Lions lead was out to 20-12. But Australia worked hard to get back into the game and Genia and Beale threw confusion into the lions defence more than once.

It looked like the Lions were struggling as the Wallabies pulled back two penalties. But a good chip and chase from Sexton brought an infringement at the tackle area and a guaranteed three points for Halfpenny. Australia were straight back in it as Beale danced through the Lions defence and won a penalty courtesy of some cynical play. Beale converted to make it 23-21 to the Lions.

The Lions went on the attack again and looked settled in the Australian 22 with the clock running down but Heaslip slipped up at the back of the scrum, letting Genia steal the ball. Six minutes to go and Beale had another kickable penalty chance. The Lions breathed again as he missed but with Australia desperate to score they gave away another penalty. In a heart-stopping last minute, Kurtley Beale lined up a 45-metre penalty shot from in front of the posts that would have given Australia the win. His plant foot slipped on the greasy surface and the kick went wide handing the Lions a one-nil lead in the test series.

Post-match Australian captain Horwill was cited for stamping on Alun Wyn Jones. Inexplicably he was cleared despite video evidence suggesting that the act was deliberate.

Both sides have been left counting the cost of a great, but bruising match as the Lions have lost Paul O’Connell (arm fracture) and Cobisiero (calf), while Australia have lost McCabe, Barnes, Ioane and, possibly, Ashley-Cooper. Lealiifano is, however, likely to be fit despite being knocked out in the first moments of the test.



Lions stumble in Australia – week 3

The Lions expected stiffer opposition from the NSW Waratahs than the Country XV put up and certainly found that to be the case in a tough first half on Saturday.

In the opening minutes Simon Zebo nearly rushed over in the left corner in the second minute only to be denied by a fine tackle by Drew Mitchell. But moments later Rob Horne tackled Tom Youngs dangerously giving Leigh Halfpenny an easy three points to open the scoring.

Minutes later, a fine counter-attack by Zebo put Jonathon Davies away down the left; an infield pass and Jonathon Sexton was free to stroll in. Halfpenny’s conversion gave the Lions a quick 10-0 lead. The Lions were on the attack again shortly after the restart and could have scored again but for another great Mitchell tackle, this time on Jamie Roberts.

The Waratahs managed to break out of their 22 after winning a lineout, which they took quickly while Sexton was down in back play. A well-weighted cross kick by Foley bounced beautifully for Betham, who brushed away Sean Maitland before passing inside to Tom Carter for a brilliant breakaway try. The conversion was good, bringing the scores back to 10-7.

The Lions took the points from a penalty at the breakdown to make it 13-7 – showing just how much they wanted to win – but the next ten minutes were all about the Waratahs who were unlucky not to score. The home side chose to put the ball into touch rather than take the points after being awarded a penalty and a quick lineout saw Skelton in, only to be held up over the line.

The Lions extended their lead to 16-7 after another ruck penalty, this time referee Jaco Peyper warning Waratahs players for taking out Phillips after clearing the ball from the ruck. The Waratahs tackle count was increasing but they still had the Lions under a lot of pressure at times. Betham was very strong and the Waratahs were beginning to find room when they moved the ball away from the fringes of the ruck. They were rewarded with another penalty on the Lions 10 metre line which McKibben converted to make it 16-10.

Another long attacking phase from the Waratahs saw the Lions defence stretched again but they were able to clear the line with a penalty after the home side failed to release the ball at a ruck. Back on attack again, Sexton chipped the defence putting his side on the front foot and after a number of phases they spun the ball wide for Halfpenny to go in on the left. He converted his own try beautifully from the corner to make the score 23-10 at half time.

Minutes after the restart, Halfpenny was in again following a good backs move. With the conversion the lead was stretched to 30-10. But the home side hit straight back after Zebo made a mess of the kick-off and the ball was ripped out of a maul, with Carter in a handy position to go over for his second try. MicKibben converted to make it 30-17.

With almost 50 minutes on the clock Owen Farrell came on for Sexton. Moments later, the Waratahs gave Halfpenny another simple penalty chance, which he slotted to become the Lions highest points scorer in Australia.

The Lions gave up another lineout after Mako Vunipola lost the ball in contact but Davies was quick off the line to intercept Waratahs ball. He moved it left where Tom Croft was lurking and after a good hand off and short sprint he was in. Halfpenny added the extras to make it 40-17.

Wholesale changes to the Lions pack after 60 minutes saw four of the tight five replaced. Another Waratahs attack came to nothing and the Lions nearly scored in classic fashion with Zebo beaten by the bounce from a Farrell kick leaving Horne to touch down and save the try.

With the rhythm of the game gone, the Lions kept pressing but it was all too scrappy and then there was the disturbing sight of Jamie Roberts hobbling off. A good lineout steal by the Lions and James Heaslip made a great bust. Davies eventually went over for an easy try that Farrell converted. The scores stayed at 47-17 despite a late flourish from a tired Waratahs side for the Lions to record their fourth win in Australia.

With this latest win under their belt, the Lions took on the Brumbies, the top team in the Australian Super XV conference, on a cold night in Canberra on 18 June fielding a completely new starting XV captained by Rory Best.

In a frenetic start, the Lions went on the attack early and nearly scored through Shane Williams who was put out in the corner. But they were soon under pressure themselves and the Brumbies scored through the powerful Kuridrani. The conversion failed.

Hogg put the restart out on the full but the Lions won the ball back from the scrum putting the ball into the corner. They cleared to the 10-metre mark. The Lions throw was crooked giving the Brumbies a scrum. A kicking duel ended up with a strong Lions maul that was collapsed giving Hogg a simple chance that hit the upright. More kicking and the Lions were put under more pressure.

Brumbies full back Mogg, missed a penalty from 55 metres but the Lions infringed again in an easier position for Prior to slot the kick for an 8-0 lead. But the Lions went on the attack right from the restart, winning a penalty that Hogg converted to make the score 8-3 to the Brumbies at half time.

The Lions went on the attack from the restart but poor lineout throwing allowed the Brumbies to get back into the Lions danger zone. The Lions conceded a penalty that Hogg converted to increase the lead to 11-3.

Trying to get back into the game, the Lions went through 10 phases but lost ground after poor choices and lack of penetrative running. After yet another kicking duel, the Lions were pushing forward with a good maul only for Ryan Grant to be penalised for pulling a player out by the head. Hogg put the kick over to stretch the lead to 14-3.

The Lions pulled points back as Hogg converted an easy penalty chance. That was the signal for wholesale changes. The whole front row was replaced and with that the scrum started to hold the Brumbies more effectively. In only the second scrum after the changes, the Lions monstered the Brumbies scrum winning a reasonably simple penalty that Hogg again put into the upright.

The reinvigorated Lions pack started to exert control and won another penalty that Owen Farrell, on for Hogg, converted to make the score 14-9. The Lions won another penalty wide out after both sides traded kicks, which Farrell again converted to bring the score to 14-12.

The Lions went straight back on attack from the restart but were penalised for not releasing. With Just a few minutes left, the Brumbies kicked down to the Lions 22 and try as they might, the Lions could not break out as the Brumbies kept the ball tight and ran down the clock to finish deserved winners by 14-12.

The Lions will rue the poor performance of the pack in the first half, with ordinary scrummaging, poor lineout work and ineffective work at the breakdown, and too much kicking and lack of direct running from the backs. The players looked weary compared with a fired up Brumbies team and rarely looked like crossing the Brumbies line. On the night they lacked accuracy and penetration, and seemingly the will to win.

The second half replacements completely changed the complexion of the game and had the Brumbies under real pressure. But it was a case of too little too late and the Brumbies players went home with a story to tell their grandchildren.

Warren Gatland will probably be disappointed with the performance of what was effectively his second string side but at least there were no injuries. His current injury concerns are with George North and Alex Cuthbert who are carrying slight injuries, but the main worry will be Roberts (hamstring) who is certainly out of contention for the first test.

There has been a little spice added to the tour with Sir Clive Woodward complaining once more about weak opposition after the Country XV game and former Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer saying that Gatland is coaching the Lions to cheat.

The Lions tour week 2 – injuries and victories

The Lions went into the match against the Queensland Reds on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on the back of an easy win over a depleted Western Force and mixed news on the injury front.

The good news was that Sam Warburton was fit to make his first start on the tour, the bad news that both Gethin Jenkins (calf) and Cian Healy (ankle) are out of the tour through injury – Healy having been cleared of a biting charge by the judiciary. With Mako Vunipola left as the only specialist loose head, Alex Corbisiero and Ryan Grant have been called in as replacements.

As for the game, the Lions were hoping for stiffer opposition and certainly got what they wanted, playing against a side with one of the meanest defences in the Super XV and with Quade Cooper, the most unpredictable but potentially one of the most lethal attacking forces in world rugby.

From the first whistle the intention of the Reds was clear – attack, and more attack. They passed up a couple of early penalty chances in favour of quick taps that put the Lions on the back foot and but for poor lineout work and a dropped pass would have been in for a score. The Lions first chance came almost on the 10-minute mark when Bowe beat several tacklers to put Alex Cuthbert away, only to be denied by a great try saving tackle in the corner by Morahan.

The Lions superiority at scrum time was rewarded with a penalty that Owen Farrell put over to give his side the lead but just four minutes later, Morahan scored a brilliant try, getting past Warburton and collecting his own chip kick past Hogg to score between the sticks. Cooper converted.

Around the 20 minute mark George North replaced Manu Tuilagi (precautionary measure for a suspected shoulder injury). Shortly after, Farrell converted a second penalty to close the gap to one point. The Lions were starting to put some phases together but didn’t look like scoring and were lucky to escape on the half hour when Donoghue broke around the fringes in a move that ended in a penalty in front of the posts. Incredibly, Cooper missed.

The Lions sparked into action with George North charging down the left and then making the inside pass to Farrell who was deemed by the TMO to have knocked on in the tackle on the line (that man Morohan again). But another messy Reds scrum allowed Ben Youngs to pounce on Schatz and rip the ball away. Youngs scooped up the loose ball and went over. No complaints this time from the TMO. Farrell added the extras.

With the Reds on attack again, Cooper tried to get the ball behind North, but the big Welshman scooped it up and scythed through the Reds to give his skipper the chance of a try. Warburton was held up over the line. The Lions were poor at the scrum but managed a penalty just on half time to go into the break with a 16 – 7 lead.

The second half was more of the first but the rain really began to affect handling and players were finding it hard to control the ball. The Reds continued to press but it was the Lions who were first to score through another Farrell penalty. With both sides trying to play rugby despite the conditions, North again broke through dangerously on the counterattack.

With just over 15 minutes to go the Reds struck. Rod Davies broke down the right and put Frisby away for the touchdown. Wholesale changes were made to the Lions scrum makeup as the Reds started to believe they could win. With six minutes to go Cooper tried to run the ball from his own line and, but for a marginally forward pass, would have put his backs away. Farrell put over another penalty to complete another 100% strike rate for the Lions and put the game beyond doubt.

Given the conditions, this was an excellent match and a good workout for the Lions. Geoff Parling was superb at lineout time and North showed what a potent weapon he is. The one downside was that the impressive Tommy Bowe went off with a damaged hand that could end his tour.

With Brian O’Driscoll skipper for the second time, the Lions took on a combined NSW-Queensland Country side in Newcastle. As expected they put the combined side under pressure from the start and scored first through Cuthbert in the right hand corner after a good break by Justin Tipuric. Hogg converted.

Minutes after the restart, Conor Murray was in under the posts following some good straight running and accurate passing. Hogg was on target again. Quick ball from a lineout just after the restart again and Hogg was in for the third Lions try. This time he hit the post with the conversion attempt.

Back in Country territory, Richard Hibbard overthrew at the lineout allowing Country to break out. Sean Maitland’s casual clearance kick was charged down and the Lions found themselves under sustained pressure on their own line. When the attack broke down, North charged through and linked with Maitland down the left flank. A nice pass back inside and North was in to complete a length of the field try. Hogg’s conversion saw the Lions 26-0 up after 20 minutes.

Hibbard was the next to score as he broke off a rolling lineout maul near the Country line. Hogg converted again. Six minutes later and North was in again on the left as the three-quarters moved good scrum ball along the line in a well-worked move. Hogg missed the conversion to leave the half time score at 38-0.

After the break, the Lions handling became error-ridden as the greasy ball and slippery underfoot conditions took a toll. They did eventually score on the right through O’Driscoll in a straight forward passing movement while under a penalty advantage. Leigh Halfpenny (on for North who seemed to take a knock at the end of the first half) missed the conversion attempt.

Following more scrappy play, the Lions won ruck ball and Halfpenny made amends for the kick by running a good angle with a sidestep to go in for the try. This time he made no mistake with the conversion. After the restart it was more of the same with the Country side still struggling to get out of their own territory. The Lions had another chance to score but Toby Faletau (on for Richard Heaslip) through a shocking pass with the line virtually begging. On the attack again, straight running and accurate passing saw Murray over but he was held up. Sean O’Brien went over following the resulting scrum. Halfpenny added the extras.

The home fans had a rare moment of hope when replacement winger Ah-Wan went close but replays showed that he had earlier knocked the ball on and his grounding was also questionable. With more dropped passes by both sides, O’Driscoll nearly went over in the left hand corner but clearly had a foot and knee in touch before grounding the ball. The Lions, however, were not to be denied as O’Driscoll put in a beautifully weighted grubber kick for Jonathon Davies to touch down on the right just after the siren. Halfpenny added the extras to give the Lions a 64-0 win with 10 tries.

As for the players, O’Driscoll was at his brilliant best and North again showed his power and class. Jamie Roberts was very disappointing as he lacked penetration and his handling let him down. But he wasn’t the only one, as most of the side seemed to have trouble handling the ball on occasions. O’Brien worked hard all night but Heaslip was very quiet.

The forwards dominated as expected while the backs were just too big, fast and powerful for their Country opponents. They showed some imagination and put together some slick moves, but the main feature was their good straight running.

Conditions made play difficult but the Lions’ handling should have been better. Lineout throwing was also erratic and almost cost them points. They will need to tighten up against a good NSW Waratahs outfit on Saturday if they want to run out good winners.

The British and Irish Lions Tour 2013 – the first week

The British and Irish Lions finally got their tour under way on 1 June in Hong Kong with a sound win over a slightly sub-par Barbarians side.

The touring party had left Britain with the controversy of Dylan Hartley’s suspension and subsequent axing from the squad after being found guilty of verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes during the Aviva Premiership final on 25 May still hot news. But Hartley’s replacement, Ulster hooker Rory Best, is a fine player who was unlucky to miss out on initial selection for the tour.

That, however, was put aside as the Lions got down to the business of playing rugby at last. But even before kick-off they had problems – the team bus got held up in Hong Kong’s early evening traffic and arrived late at the ground causing the start of the match to be delayed. Not that it had a great effect, as team management had already decided to reduce warm-up time because of the heat and humidity.

Captained by Irishman Paul O’Connell, standing in for the injured Sam Warburton, the Lions got off to a great start after going three points up courtesy of an Owen Farrell penalty three minutes into the game. However, despite having lots of ball and a territorial advantage, they took almost half an hour to score their first try, despite the fact that the Barbarians had Schalk Brits in the sin-bin for some of that time – the result of an altercation with Farrell.

As the game went on, the Lions never looked like losing control and eventually racked up eight tries to run out convincing 59-8 winners. Given the conditions, it was a satisfactory performance and a great start to the tour. Owen Farrell, however, might have to work on his discipline, as he could easily have found himself alongside Brits in the sin-bin.

The real business end of the tour began in Perth on 5 June when the Lions took on the Super XV franchise the Western Force in Perth. The Lions featured 15 changes from the side that hammered the Barbarians and were captained by the evergreen Brian O’Driscoll, with Warburton still recovering from his knee injury. The Force are the weakest of the Australian Super Rugby sides and are currently at the bottom of the Australian Conference with only three wins from 14 matches. Weakened by the loss of their internationals and the resting of other key players ahead of their next Super Rugby game (much to the disgust of Sir Clive Woodward, who described the situation as an insult to the Lions) they were not expected to pose a serious threat, although they did fight hard.

The Lions got off to a great start with a penalty in front of the post just three minutes into the game. Leigh Halfpenny converted easily and was lining up another shot from right in front after Sexton virtually strolled for a try after a scrum on the 22. From then on, though, the Lions were too predictable and paid the price on the half hour when they conceded a kickable penalty that allowed the Force to get three points back.

The Lions then struck back almost immediately as O’Driscoll completed a nice passing movement to go over in the left corner. Halfpenny converted well. From the restart, Jamie Heaslip gathered and broke through some poor defence eventually leading to a penalty that Halfpenny converted. Meantime Cian Healy had been stretchered off with a knee injury. The Lions scored again as Tom Croft strolled in from short range as the referee was playing a penalty advantage. Halfpenny was on target again from wide out to give the lions a 27-3 halftime lead.

Just a couple of minutes into the second half saw busting runs from Mako Vunipola and Heaslip result in a penalty advantage almost on the line. The ball was sun wide to give Heaslip an easy try in the corner that Halfpenny converted again. Minutes later the Lions were pressed on defence and gave away a penalty that was taken quickly allowing Richard Brown to scramble over. Sheehan converted from close in. almost straight from the restart George North had a good run and quick ruck ball saw Vunipola crash over for a try that the ever-accurate Halfpenny converted again.

The Force were in further trouble when Stubbs was yellow-carded in front of the posts. Opting for the scrum, the Lions quickly got the ball wide to Tommy Bowe who went over in the corner. Once more Halfpenny added the extras.

In virtual repeat of their earlier try, the Force won a penalty close to the line and took another quick tap that saw McCaffrey go over and Sheehan convert. Again the Lions hit back straight away and after a nice little interplay Manu Tuilagi passed inside to O’Driscoll for the Irishman to scamper in for his second try. Needless to say, Halfpenny was on target again.

From the restart, the Lions charged back down into the Force’s 22 and Owen Farrell, who had just come on for Sexton threw a nice dummy to go in near the posts. Halfpenny converted.

Not giving up, the Force worked their way back into Lions territory and put the Lions under pressure that resulted in Stubbs being sin-binned for failing to release the tackled player. Going for the try, the Force came up against stout Lions defence and were eventually pushed back Geoff Parling completed the Lions’ recovery by Going over for a well-worked try that Halfpenny converted again.

At the final whistle, the Lions ran out comfortable winners by 69 -17 having scored nine tries to two. Heaslip and Vunipola had some crashing runs and Bowe and North were threatening on both flanks. There will be concerns about Healy’s injury but otherwise Warren Gatland will be reasonably satisfied with his team’s performance. But, it should be remembered that this was an under strength Force side – the Queensland Reds should prove to be much tougher opposition on Saturday.

While Warburton should be fit to play his first match against the Queensland Reds on 8 June, Ireland fullback Rob Kearney has emerged as a major injury concern. He has a grade one hamstring tear that will need careful handling to get him back to fitness. Gethin Jenkins and Sean O’Brien, however, have returned to training while Paul O’Connell and Tom Youngs are both deemed fit after requiring stitches to minor injuries sustained against the Barbarians. Healy’s injury will be another serious concern.

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England still in line for the Grand Slam

Going into the penultimate round of the 2013 Six Nations championship, England looked to have the championship almost won as they took an Italian side that has been unable to reproduce the form that gave them that great win over France in the first round.  Scotland and Wales faced off as the only sides left with a serious chance of denying England the championship and France went to Ireland desperate for a first win.

A biting wind at Murrayfield saw both sides adopt a kicking game as the conditions made handling difficult. The error-ridden match saw plenty of scrums and with Scotland struggling to come to terms with referee Craig Joubert’s interpretation of scrimmaging rules, Wales were awarded a good number of penalties.

The only try of the game came in the first half following a rare break by George North down the right flank that eventually saw Richard Hibbard cross for the try in the solitary bright moment of a scrappy match.

With the whistle dominating, the score ended 28-18 in favour of Wales, all but five points coming from penalties.

In Dublin, it was the weather again that spoiled what could potentially have been a great game. Persistent rain made good handling impossible and scoring opportunities were few and far between but, for excitement and tension, this was the match of the round.

Ireland’s forwards had the French under pressure early on and after only 10 minutes skipper Jamie Heaslip went over for the first try which Paddy Jackson converted. Minutes later Frederic Michalak missed a penalty opportunity for France while Jackson also missed. The players traded penalties before half time to Leave Ireland 13-3 up at the break.

The second half began with Ireland pressing again and should have scored had Heaslip spotted an overlap. France were beginning to haul themselves back into the match. Parra slotted a penalty and shortly after France were held up close to the Irish line. Ireland were awarded the scrum but it wheeled and referee Steve Walsh gave the put-in to France. Walsh then gave France a penalty, which Louis Picamoles took quickly catching the Irish napping. Picamoles went over and Michalak converted to bring the scores level, which is how it remained despite both sides having opportunities in the remaining minutes.

On a cold Sunday afternoon at Twickenham, England were nearly upset by an Italian side that showed spirit and enterprise. Despite starting well and recording early penalties, England were unable to break down Italy’s defence.

England squandered several good try-scoring opportunities with poor choices and careless ball handling but still managed to go to the break with a 12-3 lead. After the restart, the sides exchanged penalties but then Italy scored the only try of the match. Italy secured the ball from Danny Care’s atrocious clearance attempt and Luciano Orquera chipped beautifully to put McClean in.

England put over another penalty kick but had to fight hard to keep out a rampant Italian side in the final 20 minutes. It was a relieved England that left the field with an 18-11 victory over a frustrated Italy.

The weekend’s results left England top of the table but Wales will be able to spoil the party if they beat England by seven or more in Cardiff. At the other end of the table, France will be desperate to beat Scotland in Paris to put at least one win on the board and avoid the wooden spoon. Italy could still find themselves at the bottom of the table if they fail to take a point off Ireland in Rome.

England scrape past Italy

England hosted Italy at a freezing Twickenham on Sunday knowing that a victory would leave them one match away from their first Grand Slam since 2013. On paper, they should have won comfortably but when the final whistle blew they will have been a very relieved side.

England started well and dominated the early encounters scoring a penalty in the first two minutes through the boot of Toby Flood, replacing the injured Owen Farrell, as their scrum demolished the Italians. They nearly scored a try minutes later as Mike Brown charged down Giovanbattista Venditti’s attempted clearance only to see the ball to go dead as he dived to make the touch down.

England continued to play at pace and went three more points ahead as Italy infringed at the ruck. Italy responded with a penalty of their own but were lucky to escape again as England’s midfield powered through only for Flood to be held up with players to spare outside him.

On the half hour, Italy were reduced to 14 as Edoardo Gori was binned for holding back Flood. England attacked again and won another penalty as the Italian scrum buckled. They blew another try-scoring chance just before half time as Bradley Barritt failed to move the ball although they did get rewarded with a further penalty as the Italians were caught offside. The sides went to the break with England ahead 12-3.

Four minutes into the second half, England added another three points following a lineout infringement but minutes later Italy came right back into it. A massive scrum resulted in a penalty that Luciano Orquera converted and then Danny Care fluffed a clearance kick that Italy secured. A clever chip from Orquera left Luke Mclean free to go over for the only try of the match.

A further penalty to England saw them stretch their lead to seven points setting up a frantic last ten minutes. Italy pressed hard and came close but solid English defence kept them out and it was a very relieved England side that greeted the final whistle with the score line 18-11 in their favour.