As the second phase of the RBS Six Nations got underway, Ireland continued their dominance with an emphatic 26-3 win over Wales on Saturday.
One conversion and four penalties from Jonathan Sexton helped his side to their convincing win, after leading 13-0 at half-time. Leigh Halfpenny's penalty couldn't halt a resurgent Ireland, though, as Joe Schmidt's side rose to the top of the table, leapfrogging Wales, who later fell to fourth place.
It was also a fruitful round for Stuart Lancaster's England, who traveled to Scotland on Saturday to pick up a tidy 2-0 victory—after also leading 13-0 at the interval.
The visitors were thankful for five different scorers in their 20-0 win north of the border. Mike Brown and Luther Burrell scored a try apiece, Danny Care hit a drop goal and Owen Farrell added two conversions and a penalty to his afternoon.
France also continued their unbeaten start to this year's tournament with a convincing 30-10 victory over Italy at Stade de France on Sunday.
Three penalties and three conversions from Jean-Marc Doussain helped lift France to their 20-point victory, with tries from Louis Picamoles, Wesley Fofana and Hugo Bonneval lifting their side back into second place.
Late reply from Italy through Tommaso Iannone and Luciano Orquera restored some pride, but it could do nothing to overturn France's dominance in the game and left the side in fifth place.
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England face Ireland at Twickenham in their next match on Feb. 22 and will be looking to make it two wins out of three at the halfway stage of this year's contest.
However, it was following the match at Murrayfield that left Lancaster assessing whether his side could go on to win this year's competition, telling The Telegraph's Steve James:
Definitely. We have always felt that, even though we lost last week.
Ireland played really well and it sets us up for a really important game against them.
They have played two and won two, but we are confident also. I only saw bits of the Ireland game but you saw a blend of the Munster mauling game, which was excellent, and the Leinster, there is a bit of Ulster in there too. Collectively it is a very good side.
Wales coach Warren Gatland pulled no punches after his side's loss against Ireland, embarrassed at the nature of the defeat that saw his side abandon their principles and, most disappointingly, the training that they had received during the week.
Gatland told BBC Sport:
It's probably one of the worst performances that we've had since I've been involved. ...
We were well beaten up front, weren't we? We'd spoken all week about discipline and we gave away 17 penalties. We worked hard all week on maul-defence and I think they scored 20 points from mauling us. So from me, from the coaches, we need to take - not just the players - we need to take responsibility as well in terms of, did we coach effectively and well enough during the week?
However, honorable in defeat, Gatland paid tribute to the nature of Ireland's win in Dublin, but stated that a lack of focus ultimately cost his side and pointed that changes may be forced in the wake of his side's poor outing:
Ireland played an effective game. They didn't move the ball - I think the kicking stats were something like 37 to 21 - but they kicked the ball and played a simple game, and competed really hard at the breakdown and put us under some pressure.
So they thoroughly deserved the victory. I thought they played really well. We spoke about discipline all week and 10 is the magic number for us, trying to give away 10 or less penalties. So when you give 17 away, that's disappointing because it had been a focus for us.
We probably need to look at some individuals and give it a shake up. And we'll look to see if we need to do that or give those players we selected today an opportunity to redeem themselves.
In the late game between France and Italy, both sides failed to score two penalties in the opening 23 minutes. France's Doussain missed two inside six minutes and Gonzalo Garcia missed both opportunities for the visitors.
The hosts took the lead through Doussain's penalty on 23 minutes, dispatched with aplomb, before Tommaso Allan leveled things up just five minutes later.
France extended their lead to 9-3 just after the half-hour mark, with Doussain picking up points from another two penalties to give his side the lead at the interval.
In the second half Doussain converted from Picamoles' try (that was reviewed) to give his side a 13-point lead and a chance to move back to the top of the table.
Fofana breached the Italy pack to score a well-worked try down the right flank, with Doussain once again on hand to convert. This put France 20 points ahead and seemingly had them cruising to victory.
Fofana burst from halfway to assist Bonneval for France's third try of the afternoon and allowed Doussain to further cement the host's lead on 53 minutes.
Tempers flared throughout the second half, with Sebastien Vahaamahina sin-binned on 69 minutes, before a punch from Italy's Michele Rizzo and a retaliation from France's Rabah Slimani saw the pair dismissed by referee Jaco Peyper—the first double dismissal in Six Nations since 2006.
The visitors finally saw something to shout about with three minutes to go, after Iannone scored a well-worked try under pressure and Orquera converting on 77 minutes to make the score a margin more respectable for Italian onlookers.
Round 3 sees Wales host France, who will be looking to return to winning ways at the Millennium Stadium on Feb. 21, while knowing that defeat would seriously damage their title hopes.
Scotland travel to Stadio Olimpico to take on Italy on Feb. 22, with both sides yet to record a win in this year's contest, and neither will want to end the campaign without a solitary point, but with the realistic view that any chance of breaching top spot is very unlikely.
Meanwhile, the tie of Round 3 goes to England and Ireland on Feb. 22, with the visitors knowing that they could continue their unbeaten run, meanwhile causing serious damage to England's title ambitions.
However, there is no doubt English and Irish eyes will also be casting a close glance at scenes as they unfold in Cardiff.
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