What a weekend. Arguably the best trio of games since the finale of the 2015 Championship has left Ireland firmly in the driving seat at the top of the tree, as England suffered only their second defeat in 25 games at the hands of sensational Scotland.
France and Italy’s Friday clash was the least spectacular of the round, but saw some very nice tries and showed us that perhaps not all hope is lost for Les Bleus.
Ireland and Wales played out a thrilling clash, in a game expected to be tight, tense, and low scoring, with the men in green recording the first try bonus point scored against a team other than Italy or Scotland.
And then, to the shock of many, a three-try blitz in 21 first-half minutes stunned England, as Scotland claimed a seventh straight home Six Nations win to move up to third in the table with two rounds left to play.
Here are just some of the lessons we learnt from an absorbing weekend.
England have been in neutral for some time
While England’s superb first 20 minutes had set them up for an important win against Wales, their attack had looked pretty flat, their ball had been slow and they had not been the clinical side we’ve come to see under Eddie Jones.
Indeed, there have been many disappointing attacking performances in the last twelve months, and when their defence failed to show up in a thrilling first-half from Scotland, the task didn’t just look daunting, it looked impossible.
It showed that, after that incredible 2016, England have not been moving forward at the same rate. There was plenty of evidence of this in other games, but it starkly showed how Scotland have improved in the last year or so – and how England haven’t.
England’s faults exposed
Nevertheless, this defeat will do a lot more good than harm. In the short term, a Six Nations win looks unlikely, but it has exposed faults in a way that the Ireland defeat in 2017 simply didn’t.
It showed that England have got to have a recognised seven, that their selection needs to be re-thought in several areas, and that they cannot turn up against any of the Home Nations and expect to win.
I think it will kick-start England again. Fortunately for Jones, there is more than enough time to repair the damage before the next World Cup.
Scotland’s hype is justified
Weeks one and two, Scotland were unimpressive. They did much better to wrestle back control off France but had the French discipline not self-destructed, they’d have found it hard to find a way back into the game.
No doubt, their intensity in the Calcutta Cup seemed to be that much higher, but they tore England apart with quick ball generated by a dominant back-row, and when it did go out to the backs, they looked so dangerous.
All three of their tries showed the ‘organised chaos’, that Townsend has tried to achieve with his side, can be incredibly effective when it goes right. Of course, Scotland have to be more consistent, but if they can be they really can be a serious force.
Huw Jones is genuinely world class
Huw Jones is becoming one of the great finishers in world rugby. He now has ten international tries (four against England, three against Australia and one against each of NZ, Samoa and France) from just 14 matches.
He picks some unbelievable lines, has great feet and a brutal fend and to go with it, an eye for the try line and searing pace, the likes that we haven’t seen in the tournament for a long time.
With intelligent attacking players like Finn Russell, and even more gas out wide, it’s fair to see that Scotland have found an absolute gem in this 24-year-old.
Ireland have an attack to be reckoned with
There was no doubt in my mind of the quality of this Irish team, but their ability to score tries against world class defences was still in the dock, particularly after their game against France in week one.
None of their tries against Wales came from any beautiful long-range attacking play, but they were absolutely clinical, pouncing on and taking every opportunity and ultimately scoring 37 points – only the second time Wales have conceded this many points against a team other than New Zealand in the Gatland era.
Compared to England’s attacking display against Wales, they generated quicker ball in the 22, and were much more comfortable to play for more phases, and their bonus point might just win them the title.
France and Italy are well behind their rivals
It’s a shame to say this, given how much optimism the first week seemed to give for these teams, but the quality of their Friday night clash was mediocre to say the least.
Compared to the quality, and even intensity of the other two internationals that weekend, it was way off.
There were some nice tries scored, and both teams showed they do have some strengths, but the attacking play simply wasn’t as quick or smart as the other two matches.
I think these two have plenty of potential but they’re way off the Home Nations at the moment.
Nick Powell, Pundit Arena