In my predictions I said that all three games would be close and could go either way. I was wrong on that count – but only on Friday night at the Millennium, where Wales turned up and France didn’t.
Wales were never in trouble against a French side who arrived on the back of two wins in Paris.
Let’s be brutally honest, they were poor – by contrast Wales responded to the Gatland threats and were powerful throughout. It helped that they were on the score board in no time with George North grabbing a try. It has been a feature in several games in this year’s 6 Nations that an early error has let sides pick up easy points – this was again the case and Wales never looked back.
Captain Sam Warburton didn’t cross the line but his huge hand was holding the ball as he stretched out to touch down in the last quarter – for his performance throughout he deserved to score.
Leigh Halfpenny continued his excellence with the boot picking up 17 points with 5 penalties and a conversion. All France could muster was a couple of penalties as their Grand Slam dream faded to a tuneful choir singing ‘Bread of Heaven’.
At Stadio Olimpico the two winless sides faced up to each other and at the death a drop goal from Duncan Weir sent the kilted crowd into ecstasy as they trumped Italy by 21 -20.
Scotland were better than they have been so far in the campaign, but then again it would have been hard not to be. Alex Dunbar grabbed two tries to match the ones from Allan and Furno and it was difficult to separate the two sides (as the final scoreboard indicated).
Some Scottish pundits (and players) heralded this as a turning point for the team on Sunday morning, but with games against France and Wales to come, this may be a trifle premature – we shall see.
At Twickenham, Ireland were also searching for another step towards a Grand Slam – and a fitting end to BOD’s stellar career. It was not to be in the end, but it was a full blooded encounter and it could easily have gone the other way.
Both teams gave it everything and there will have been many tired bodies recovering in ice baths after the final whistle. Players on both sides had big games and, as in Italy, it was small margins that settled the match.
Joe Schmidt’s side are playing good rugby and they have an experienced side. By contrast Stuart Lancaster has introduced some youngsters into the squad and they are beginning to learn – fast.
Mike Brown was justifiably man of the match but Danny Care, Cian Healy, Rob Kearney and Joe Launchbury weren’t far behind.
A special word for David Wilson – who somehow managed 70 minutes – more than he’s played in total this year.
So – England blew the championship wide open and four teams now have 4 points – all are potential winners, although I still favour Ireland to win it. That would be a fine farewell for BOD.
England now face Wales at Twickenham with last year’s humiliation still a painful memory.
The big worry will be the ankle injury to Billy Vunilpola and the hope that he recovers in time.
This 6 Nations still has some way to go – roll on round 4!