Round Four kicked off under the Friday night lights in Cardiff where Wales pushed France all the way but Les Bleus kept their Grand Slam hopes alive with a 13-9 win.
Scotland avoided a slip up in Rome as they beat Italy 33-22 and Ireland saw off a valiant effort from England to win 32-15 at Twickenham with the hosts playing almost the entire game with 14 men.
Here are six talking points from Round Four of the 2022 Six Nations Championship:
Alarm bells grow louder for Scotland as Italians score 22
Scotland’s total of 33 points scored against the Italians in Rome equalled England’s total in Round Two. There were no issues with their attack which was spearheaded by an inspired performance from scrum half Ali Price.
However, their arch rivals whitewashed the Azzurri while Gregor Townsend’s side shipped a concerning 22 points - Italy had only scored 16 in the competition so far before Saturday.
Without taking all the credit away from the hosts, the points were offered up by some uncharacteristically poor defending from Scotland.
It was night and day compared to the brilliantly stingy shift they put in against England in Round One and just imagine the holes that Ireland will be able to find next weekend if lowly Italy could score so many.
The final round will ultimately prove whether this tournament could be deemed passable or not for the Scots. After all, there’s no shame in losing in Cardiff and to France if they could secure a first win over Ireland since 2017.
However, defeat in Dublin will mean that questions need to be asked. The improvement in Scotland over the past years is a double edged sword for Gregor Townsend as this group of players should be performing considerably better than they are.
A home Calcutta Cup victory and win in Rome is no longer enough to call a Championship ‘successful’ for Scotland.
Positives at last for Italy but still a long way to go
It would be unfair to say that Scotland were ever really ‘in trouble’ in Rome, the scoreline was made tighter by the Scots offering up scores late one which Italy took full advantage of.
However, there were more positives in this one match than the rest of the 2022 tournament so far for Italy.
Just because Scotland weren’t at their best, doesn’t make it easy to run in three tries against a tier one nation who put out their strongest available starting XV.
Given the fact Italy haven’t won a Six Nations match in so long it might not bring much solace to talk about ‘long term’ development but it is worth noting how young this crop of Italian players are.
This side will hopefully improve with each test they play and that can be combined with two other factors. First of all, the union’s stellar showing in the Under 20s Six Nations this year.
Secondly, the fact that many of their Six Nations rivals are going to see massive upheavals at the end of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Some of the biggest names in Northern Hemisphere rugby have already confirmed or are expected to hang their boots up and it will be rebuilding time for their countries.
By that point, this Italy side will have had a good length of time bond under Kieran Crowley (assuming he remains on past the 2023 RWC) and could aim for a more competitive Championship in 2024.
England show real character and deserve praise
The fastest red card in test match history, that’s a pretty substantial handicap to deal with against a side as good as Ireland.
Much like Italy, this was England’s best showing of the 2022 competition so far and they did all while their opponents had a man advantage.
Charlie Ewels red card was the correct decision so they very much shot themselves in the foot early on but Eddie Jones’ side were comfortably the better team for about three quarters of the 80 minutes.
In the end it caught up with them and the scoreline very much flattered Ireland who were poor by their own standards.
The title may be beyond them now but they can take real heart from this performance and have the chance to make a real statement in Paris in the final game of the tournament.
Winning there and denying France the Grand Slam would be a brilliant way to end a largely disappointing Championship.
Much like Scotland, the result on the final weekend could be the difference between this competition being classed as somewhat successful with plenty to build on or an unmitigated failure.
Success for England is winning trophies, that will not happen but a performance like the one they produced on Saturday could be enough for a famous Le Crunch victory which would be a huge shot in the arm.
Title win still a real possibility for Ireland
Just because they weren’t able to dismantle a team with a man advantage, doesn’t mean there is any need to hit the panic button for Ireland.
They were below par but they were up against an inspired England side, 14 men or not, and an incredibly raucous Twickenham crowd and still managed a bonus point win.
The greatest sides win big games when they’re not at their best and Ireland did that.
They will be heavy favourites against Scotland on Super Saturday and will go top of the table with a win.
In a roundabout way, the performance of England should give Ireland real hope as their opponents looked like a side capable of going to Paris and causing an upset which could end up sending the trophy to Dublin.
Beating Scotland isn’t a given, even if it feels like it based on the the recent history between the two nations, so Ireland just need to get their heads down and get that win out of the way. Then it’s a nervous watch to follow.
More optimism for Wales despite another loss
The upward trajectory of Wales in the 2022 Six Nations may not have reflected in results but it certainly has in their own performances.
Quite simply, they have looked a better side every time they have taken to the field.
Losing to France by just four points one week after England beat them by the same slim margin will hurt because it means there have only been one or two key moments separating them from where they are in the table now and still being alive in the title mix going into Round Five.
However, the same sentiment could be applied to the Scotland game where they only narrowly won themselves so it is all just ifs and buts.
The important thing is how unlikely these performances looked after Week One when they were so convincingly drubbed in Dublin.
The rise in performance levels, which has coincided with the returns from injury of key players each round, is enough for the Welsh fans to recognise that this Championship will probably be a blip rather than the beginning of their downfall.
They will be expected to convincingly see of Italy and that could be enough for a third place finish which can be looked on as more than respectable given how hampered they were by injuries when the initial squad was announced.
First chink in France’s armour exposed
The French players were hugely frustrated in Cardiff as Wales may have exposed the big weakness in this incredible side that we’ve all overlooked, their kicking game.
Liam Williams and Dan Biggar ran the show at the Principality and piled pressure on Melvyn Jaminet and Romain Ntamack in the back field.
Both terrific players for sure but the kicking game did not play to France’s strengths and that reflected in the final score.
France still won the match of course but they looked far from comfortable and it’s easy to see where Fabien Galthié will be devoting the main focus of their next few training sessions.
Next weekend will be their biggest test yet. It looked as if the Round Two match with Ireland would be the key fixture in deciding the title and that may still prove the case but Super Saturday is going to be huge.
Should Ireland do the business against Scotland then the amount of pressure on France cannot be understated. Win and they not only claim the title but a famous Grand Slam as well. Lose and a tournament which promised so much ends with them winning neither.
The implications of Ireland beating Scotland are that France v England in Paris will be the very definition of the sporting term “all or nothing”.
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