February marked the beginning of the Six Nations Rugby tournament, the premier international rugby competition in the northern hemisphere. The Six Nations seems to be under consistent fire, especially from New Zealanders, South Africans, and Australians, who feel (with reason) that their Tri Nations tournament contains superior talent and skill.
Still, the tournament provides its share of excitement and compelling storylines; the last two years have seen Wales and Ireland respectively win the Grand Slams, coming out on top by beating all five other teams. In this section, we hope to keep you up to date on the Six Nations throughout the next five weeks.
Week One, 2/13/10
Defending champions Ireland started their campaign in front of a packed crowd in Croke Park, Dublin, against perennial basement dwellers Italy. Ireland didn’t look as sharp as they had in seasons past, but they didn’t have to be against an inexperienced and less talented Azzuri side.
No. 8 James Heaslip and scrum half Tomas O’Leary both scored tries in the first half by capitalizing on Irish mistakes, but the true hero of the game was fly half Ronan O’Gara, who converted both tries and successfully kicked four penalties for a total of 16 points. Paddy Wallace also kicked a penalty for Ireland. Mirco Bergamasco and Craig Gower both kicked penalties for Italy and Kaine Robertson crossed the try line for them as well, but they never really got close to the home side.
Final: Ireland 29 – 11 Italy
Last year’s second placed team, Wales, had to open on the road at Twickenham Stadium against England, in front of another frenzied and big home crowd. The opening twenty minutes were scrappy and, frankly, boring, with the score only 3–3. England finally found a way to break through, however, with James Haskell breaking through a defensive gap and Dan Care scoring of a Welsh turnover to give England a 20-3 lead early in the second half.
Wales, however, didn’t give up and threatened to make an epic comeback, with prop Stephen Jones closing the gap to 20–10. With eight minutes to go, a brilliantly executed pass from winger Tom James to Tim Payne saw the Welsh add another seven points to their total and close the deficit to three points. Wales pressed hard for the rest of the match but, with four minutes to go, but had a pass intercepted by England, which eventually ended up in the hands of James Haskell, who scored a try. Johnny Wilkinson was also perfect with the boot for the English.
Final: England 30 – 17 Wales
The final game of the opening weekend saw the competition go up to Murrayfield in Edinburgh, Scotland, with yet another big crowd cheering on their team against the French. Chris Paterson gave Scotland an early lead with a successful penalty kick, but the French controlled the match from there on out. Mathieu Bastareaud scored two first half tries while Morgan Parra and Paterson both kicked penalties as well. Parra and Paterson both kicked truly early in the second half, but most of the rest of the half was played in Scotland’s half, with only sloppy French play preventing the score from being even more lopsided.
Final: Scotland 9 – 18 France
Week Two, 2/20/10
Wales’ first home game was against Scotland, in a packed and passionate Millennium Stadium. Both teams had lost their first games, and needed victories to gain some momentum and not fall too far off the lead. John Barclay of Scotland scored first, breaking through soft Welsh tackles to give Scotland a lead after eight minutes. Fly half Dan Parks responded to a Welsh kick, and then extended Scotland’s lead on 20 minutes with a beautifully bouncing kick that ended in the hands of Max Evans at the back of the goal-area.
Stephen Jones made two penalties to Dan Parks’ one to keep the half time score at 18–9. Parks made two further penalties in the second half, on either side of a Welsh try by Lee Byrne, one that was orchestrated by a brilliant pass by star Shane Williams. Scotland dominated for the ensuing period, with Parks kicking another penalty, taking the Scottish lead out to 10 points, with less than 10 minutes left in the game. However, several needless yellow cards saw Scotland undermanned as Leigh Halfpenny scored a scrappy try and Jones kicked a penalty to tie the score with just seconds left in the game. The crowd was in frenzy, and Wales completed the magical comeback as Williams scored a try and gave Wales one of the greatest victories in their history. Wales will host France next week, while Scotland will travel to Rome still winless.
Final: Wales 31 – 24 Scotland
The Stade de France was filled with nearly 80,000 people, as France played their first home game of the 2010 Six Nations. The visiting side, Ireland, had not lost a Six Nations game in 15 months, and the match was being hyped as one that could determine the championship. Ireland looked more impressive in the opening minutes, but it was France who did the bulk of the scoring, with a Morgan Parra penalty and a tough try by forward William Servat giving France a 10–0 lead by the 30 minute mark.
Just two minutes later, slick passing between the French backs saw the ball end up in the hands of Yannik Jauzion, who extended the lead to 17–3, the score at half time. France continued to look the superior team, with Mathieu Bastareaud laying off a clever pass to Clement Poitrenaud to add seven more points to the French total. A good Brian O’Driscoll pass saw David Wallace respond for the Irish, but they never got in to the game, with true kicks from Parra and Frederic Michalak seeing France come out heavy winners. Next up for the French is another marquee game, this time at Millennium Stadium in Wales, while Ireland will try to rebound during a trip to England.
Final: France 33 – 10 Ireland
The final game of the second week of the 2010 Six Nations saw the tournament go to the Stadio Flaminio in Rome, where England were trying to stay perfect while Italy were attempting to get their first win. Johnny Wilkinson scored the first points of the game with a penalty, but Mirco Bergamasco responded with two more in the course of the first half. It took a difficult kick from Wilkinson towards then end of the half just to tie the score at 6 each at the break.
The first try of the game came in the 46th minute, when some good play on the wing from England’s backs saw the speedy Mathew Tait notch five points. Penalties were traded between both sides, before, with eight minutes left, Bergamasco kicked another penalty to bring Italy within two points of the English. Italy sniffed an upset, but Wilkinson kicked a drop goal to hand England a highly unimpressive win. Their standard of play will need to lift as they host Ireland next week, while Italy should be inspired at home against a demoralized Scotland.