Round 4 of the 2014 Six Nations is underway, with the conclusion to the tournament drawing ever closer.
Two fixtures were played on Saturday, with leaders Ireland beating the still winless Italian team before Scotland lost a heart-breaker at home against France.
Read on for a full breakdown of Round 4, with results, an updated table, key players and a look ahead at what Round 5 will bring.
Ireland 46-7 Italy
Ireland remain on pace to win the 2014 Six Nations after a dominant win over Italy in Dublin. A valiant defensive effort from the Italians gave the impression the game was much closer than it actually was going into the break, but a barrage of tries in the second half led to the massive final score.
Italy notched a record 208 tackles, spending the bulk of the afternoon in difficult defensive positions as Ireland dominated possession. An early try from Jonathan Sexton put the Irish on the board, but Italy struck back through Leonardo Sarto. Sexton's second of the afternoon gave the lead back to Ireland before the floodgates opened, with Cian Healy, Andrew Trimble, Sean Cronin, Fergus McFadden and Jack McGrath all scoring tries.
Jonathan Sexton was the driving force behind Ireland's win but all of the attention went to Brian O'Driscoll. Playing his final match in the Irish shirt on home soil, O'Driscoll had an excellent game and was given a standing ovation when he left the pitch after the hour mark, as reported by the Telegraph:
O'Driscoll coming off to a raptuous reception. That's the last time he will play international rugby on Irish soil http://t.co/bvWAT7r4Ns— Telegraph Sport (@TelegraphSport) March 8, 2014
With the win, Ireland are now well-positioned to claim the Six Nations crown when they travel to Paris for Round 5.
Scotland 17-19 France
Scotland fell to a late penalty conversion by Jean-Marc Doussain and will wonder how they ever lost a game to a very underwhelming French team.
Les Bleus came into the tie having put together a disappointing tournament and were unable to muster much offense for the majority of the match, but an errant pass from Duncan Weir gifted Yoann Huget their only try of the match and a late penalty sealed the win.
Scotland had opened the scoring on two tries by Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour and were in full control up until the interception-turned-try, but a conversion from Weir put the team back in front before the late penalty sealed the team's fate.
The Mirror's Brian McNally echoed what many fans were thinking:
Suicidal Scotland chucked away win against France by gifting that schoolboy intercept. My cash was on Ireland for the title & I'm confident— Brian McNally (@McNallyMirror) March 8, 2014
France played a very mediocre game but came away with the win, and it was a moment of brilliance from Yoann Huget that turned the tie on its head. With his back against his own zone, Huget gambled on a bad pass from Weir, turning a likely scoring opportunity for Scotland into a try for his own squad.
France will host Ireland for the final round of fixtures, and with both teams level on points, the winner could very well be decided in the Stade de France.
But as pointed out by this fan, Les Bleus will have little chance against the current leaders if they show up with the same form they displayed against Scotland:
Ireland lead the table thanks to a superior point differential, and it's unlikely any of the other teams will be able to catch the Irish team in that category. For the Irish, it's simple: beat France and the trophy is theirs.
England and Wales will do battle on Sunday, and the winner of that tie will still have a chance at winning the tournament, should Ireland lose to France. Both have manageable matchups in Round 5, as England will travel to Rome to take on winless Italy and Wales host rivals Scotland.