There was one less game this week, but excitement levels still remained high following an enthralling two games in the third weekend of Six Nations action.
As we approach the business end of the campaign, each of the six nations will now begin to realistically assess their title hopes.
Wales and France recorded two wins from two, while England and Scotland were both split 1-1. Ireland and Italy occupied the fifth and sixth places respectively coming into the weekend, with both sides in dire need of a victory to keep their slim championship dreams alive.
The Italians hosted the Irish at the Stadio Olimpico in the opening game of week three. The pressure was on for both sides as the loser of this match would ultimately see their marginal title hopes completely diminished as a result of losing three out of five.
Wales then welcomed a resurgent England side who were looking to build off an impressive performance against Italy. This was a must-win for England if they were to have any hope of retaining their Six Nations crown. A victory for Wales would see them move to the top of the table and firmly assert themselves as genuine title contenders.
France were due to play Scotland on Sunday and like Wales, aimed to record their third win in a row. But following a COVID-19 outbreak in the French camp, the game was postponed. A new date for the tie has yet to be announced.
French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu has threatened to withdraw the French team from the tournament if there is no investigation regarding the origin of the outbreak.
Despite the coronavirus controversy, all eyes were still very much on the rugby.
Italy 10-48 Ireland
Ireland got the job done in spectacular fashion, as the visitors recorded a thumping victory over the Italians. The hosts have now lost 30 consecutive Six Nations matches and have conceded 139 points in their three games of the tournament. Quite obviously, Italy have lost any hope of challenging for a first-ever Six Nations title.
As they did against England two weeks ago, Italy got on the scoresheet first thanks to a Paolo Garbisi penalty.
The Irish then levelled with a penalty of their own, which set the tone for a rampant half from the visitors. Garry Ringrose got the party started, before Hugo Keenan and Will Connors also crossed mid-way through the half to put the game further beyond Italy’s reach.
Johan Meyer then got one back for the hosts just before the break to inject some urgency into the lacklustre Italians.
If there were any hopes of an Italian fightback, they were quickly put to bed by CJ Stander, whose try earned Ireland a valuable bonus point in the overall rankings.
Italy’s defensive issues persisted as they continued to give the Irish too much attacking freedom. Connors capitalised on the host’s poor cover at the back and crossed for his second and Ireland’s fifth try of the day.
Keith Earls then crossed in the dying seconds of the game to cap off a perfect day for the Irish. While their opponent may not have been a formidable one, Ireland dominated in all aspects of the game, proving far too robust for Italy to break down.
Tadhg Beirne picked up the Man of the Match award following another impressive display in the back row.
Today’s win gives Ireland a small glimmer of hope in terms of their championship odds. Having already played Wales and France, the Irish will need to beat Scotland and England and hope other results go their way in order to stay in the title race.
Following yet another Italian disappointment, fans continue to question whether The Azzurri should leave the Six Nations and be replaced by a more competitive side. Georgia are higher than Italy in the world rugby rankings, could they be a viable option?
Wales 40-24 England
The Grand Slam is well and truly on for the Welsh following their third straight victory of the campaign and Triple Crown triumph. England, on the other hand, have quite the task ahead of them if they are to retain their title.
After a penalty each, it was Wales who went in front via a controversial try from Josh Adams, who caught a well crafted cross-field kick from Dan Biggar that stunned the England defence. Owen Farrell and co. were not happy with the refereeing leading up to the try, but the decision stood.
England began to work their way back into the game and narrowed the deficit to four after a Farrell penalty. Moments later, though, Wales crossed for the second time thanks to Liam Williams, who pounced on a loose ball to extend Wales’ lead once again.
The reigning champions were not going down that easy, though, as they clawed their way back into it once more, this time through Anthony Watson, who scored England’s first try of the game on the stroke of half-time.
Another Farrell penalty seconds later had England within three of the hosts as the half-time whistle blew.
With England on the cusp of a fightback, Wales came out swinging in the second half, with their third try of the game. The England defence couldn’t keep up with Kieran Hardy as he established a 10-point lead for the Welsh.
Wales looked to run away with the game, but England bounced back once more and ultimately levelled the score through another Farrell penalty, the 1,000th point of his England career, and a Ben Youngs try.
England’s resilience soon wore off, as the Welsh finished the game in emphatic fashion, scoring three penalties and another try to wrap up a memorable win.
Taulupe Faletau was given the Man of the Match award after yet another impressive defensive display for the Welsh.
After wins over Ireland, Scotland and England, Wales seal the Triple Crown and are well on their way to repeating their 2019 Grand Slam triumph. The Welsh will look to make it four wins from four in two weeks' time against the winless Italians, with their sixth Six Nations title very much on the cards now.
England face another tough test in two weeks against the French, with the Three Lions in need of something special if they are to have any hopes of lifting the title for the second consecutive year.
While we wait on a new date for France and Scotland’s clash, Wales move clear at the top of the table with three wins from three.
Ireland’s bonus point against Italy moves them into third and England down to fourth. Italy remain bottom and pointless.
As it stands, it seems Wales and France will go head-to-head for the 2021 title, but with two weekends left to play, you never know what might happen.
Here are the fixtures for week four:
Saturday, March 13: Italy vs Wales - 14:15 & England vs France - 16:45
Sunday, March 14: Scotland vs Ireland - 15:00
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