Six Nations 2015: Power Ranking Teams After Matchday 2

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2015

Six Nations 2015: Power Ranking Teams After Matchday 2

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    The landscape of the 2015 Six Nations transformed tremendously in Week 2 of the competition, as England took their place atop the standings despite Ireland managing to uphold their winning run against France.

    Wales got their account up and running with a close-fought 26-23 win over Scotland, just holding off their assailants at Murrayfield to claim a first win of the tournament.

    The Scots now sit as one of the two teams yet to claim a victory this year, but did Vern Cotter's men show enough steel to avoid bottom spot in our power rankings?

    Results, standard of opposition faced thus far and level of performance are all taken into account as we power rank the Six Nations combatants following the results of Matchday 2.

6. Italy

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    Managing to score three tries at Twickenham is no small achievement for a side of Italy's stature. However, conceding six gave a more familiar account of the Azzurri we've seen struggle in recent years. 

    A barnstorming performance from England centre Jonathan Joseph was at the heart of Stuart Lancaster's triumph, but Italy were soundly beaten 47-17 in what proved to be a crushing defeat in just about every area.

    A strong start saw captain Sergio Parisse actually give Jacques Brunel's side some slim hope of an upset, and their finish wasn't half-bad, either. However, it was the 60-minute period in-between that saw them slump.

    Parisse, Luca Morisi and Andrea Masi each provided the odd bright patch, but a mixed group of underripe starlets and over-seasoned veterans failed to meet the standards in London.

    One could argue the Azzurri showed more encouraging signs than those on display during their 26-3 defeat at Irish hands, but there also sat a host of painfully obvious negatives.

5. Scotland

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    As aforementioned, Scotland remain one of the two teams yet to claim a win at this year's Six Nations, but it speaks volumes of their resilience that some might argue they could have beaten Wales on Sunday.

    Cotter's side were resolute in defence and went about offering their own threat on Welsh borders, but they were extremely frustrating when it came to making those vital, final yards over the try line.

    Per ESPN Scrum, the Edinburgh hosts actually finished Sunday's clash with 410 metres compared to Wales' 406, and from fewer runs no less. What that tells us is that Warren Gatland's team were evidently more clinical in the red zone.

    In the end, a three-point defeat seems just. Finn Russell was somewhat unfortunate to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time for his sin-binning after taking out Dan Biggar in the air, and Wales punished him for it.

    If the Scots can manage to tidy up those finishing concerns and turn more opportunities into points on the board, they will be a genuine threat at this year's World Cup. Until then, they remain a lowly fifth in our rankings.

4. Wales

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    It may not have been the blowout Gatland might have hoped for following the morale-crushing loss at home to England in Round 1, but a win is most certainly a win as far as the Wales coach is concerned.

    Sunday's trip to Murrayfield always made for a tough encounter, but the Welsh bounced back with some quick-counter rugby through their backs, albeit being bested in the pack encounters for periods.

    Leigh Halfpenny did his part with the boot to show why he should be the man to hold down the full-back spot, while Rhys Webb and Jonathan Davies did well to not only help engineer but finish Wales' most clear-cut chances.

    A one-man advantage helped set up Webb's score, but Wales' defence was arguably their most impressive point once again an aspect of their squad which was at a premium during the autumn internationals.

    Another team may have punished the Welsh for the territory they allowed their opponents, especially entering the game's closing phases, but Gatland's men stood their ground terrifically in patches, but they will still seek improvement.

3. France

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    France sent their best after Ireland in the pursuit of back-to-back Six Nations wins, but they just came up short at the Aviva Stadium en route to an 18-11 defeat.

    Les Bleus didn't leave Dublin without leaving an imprint, though, and did splendidly to stop their hosts from crossing the whitewash, leaving Johnny Sexton to dish out the huge bulk of Ireland's damage.

    However, the seven-point loss was self-inflicted to an extent. Per ESPN Scrum, the French had a majority in possession, territory and carried for more than 100 metres more than their hosts, but chance conversion was lacking.

    Philippe Saint-Andre was also hit by a shock setback from former captain Pascal Pape, rightfully shown a yellow card for what certainly looked a deliberate knee in Jamie Heaslip's back.

    However, the France coach was eager to stand up for his lock in stating the blow wasn't dealt on purpose, per RTE

    When you watch the images of the incident I don't think you can say it was deliberate. However, I said to Pascal you received a yellow card just at the moment we were gaining the upper hand both physically and territorially as we were in their 22.

    Although we didn't concede many points it was still a pivotal moment. You expect something like that from an inexperienced player, not one with over 50 Tests under his belt. It was the worst possible moment for that to happen.

    It seems like the kind of straw-clutching many a coach would promote when feeling their side deserved more from a fixture, but it doesn't come across all too well from Saint-Andre.

    France also conceded 18 turnovers in Dublin, more than twice the amount Ireland did, telling some tale of how a large chunk of the battle was won and lost in the ground game.

2. Ireland

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    Having stalled at times in Rome, this was more the kind of Ireland that Joe Schmidt will be hoping to see, although the New Zealander will once more expect to see things progress before Week 3.

    The win is the important thing in this instance, though, and it's one hallmark of every championship-winning side to be able to win dirty when needed—and Ireland certainly got grubby on Saturday.

    The Dublin hosts made 147 tackles at the Aviva while France only recorded 94, showing just what an attacking onslaught Les Bleus provided at times.

    That being said, being able to defend well is no bad thing, and although Schmidt will have felt his heart skip a beat or two on several occasions, his squad impressed with some dogged defensive work.

    Not only that, but the assets who came off his bench were impressive under pressure, tiding the team over during the vital, dying minutes of the game, where France looked to be their most dangerous.

    The win over Italy was effective, but not dazzling. This was a very similar display, except with more emphasis on the Irish being able to repel an elite threat in great frequency.

    Hopes of a second successive title are well and truly alive.

1. England

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    If some might have debated England deserved top spot in our Week 1 power rankings, it's all that more difficult to argue against Lancaster's men coming out on top following Round 2.

    Head of the class in real life, England lead the way in competition momentum, too, and are the only team to score more than 30 points in a single game at this year's contest, thanks to Saturday's 47-17 triumph over the Azzurri.

    After suffering an early setback, this was England at their most fluid, with man-of-the-match Joseph taking his try tally to three in two Six Nations outings, Ben Youngs, Billy Vunipola, Nick Easter and Danny Cipriani following the centre over.

    As entertaining as the rugby was, this was also an encouraging response in resolve for Lancaster to enjoy. Italy are known for being a tough group to break down at their most stubborn, but a selection of rising international stars gave a classy reply to their foes.

    A big try haul improves Lancaster's mood dramatically and not only was the score a big one, but it came in style as England's back line finally came to life.

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