Rugby union comment: Who would have thought at the start of the Six Nations that Ireland and France would be going into the fourth round of matches in fourth and bottom place respectively?
The Irish should certainly never be in this position, having lost to an average Scotland side at the weekend and in a match they dominated.
The Scots came back well with scrum-half Greg Laidlaw kicking late penalties to set up a 12-8 victory, but the result was a surprise nonetheless.
Ireland, who were admittedly without Jonathan Sexton and Gordon D’Arcy, made line-breaks but failed to finish off their opportunities, and often failed to take kickable penalties.
In one instance Luke Marshall made a superb break in midfield, but showed a distinct lack of experience in running away from his support before passing poorly to his right, a hand-off that his right winger was unable to collect.
If Marshall had just slowed, straightened a little and looked for his support player, a try was impossible to stop.
Overall Ireland had plenty of the ball — 71 per cent of possession and 77 per cent of territory — but went back to the “give it to Brian O’Driscoll” strategy which can’t work when the speed of possession is so slow and the opposition defence so organised.
The Scottish rearguard was up to the mark and, in the end, their win was well deserved.
Wales had much more clinical efficiency in a rain-affected Rome and took both chances that came their way.
Second-half tries by Scarlets centre Jonathan Davies and Cardiff Blues wing Alex Cuthbert made their win one of simplicity.
The Azzurri, without their talismanic no 8 Sergio Parisse, and with fly-half Kris Burton unable to vary his game sufficiently to commit the Welsh midfield, never put the visiting defence under serious threat in a game that was dominated by the pouring rain.
The Welsh half-backs were much more controlled than their Italian counterparts and their defence has held true with no tries against them in the last two matches.
Italy were predictable and unable to find the kind of home form that saw them defeat France earlier in the competition.
In the next round Wales travel to Murrayfield to face a Scotland side unbeaten at home thus far.
They have now beaten Italy and Ireland at Murrayfield and will hope to have a say in the whereabouts of this Championship.
They will hope to play a wider game against Wales. Against the Irish last Sunday, Scotland showed very little of their back line potential in a game where they failed to win and retain enough possession.
England cannot be criticised for looking ahead, but they will focus first on the Italian job at Twickenham a week on Sunday before playing Wales in Cardiff on March 16.
Italy do not look capable, at this time, of turning over an England side that is developing confidence as a unit and starting to play well.
This is still very early in this England team’s development, but, with such a good defensive record — they have conceded just 37 points in three matches — they will be extremely difficult to contain.
Nevertheless a home tie against Italy will give England the opportunity to play more expansively and involve Chris Ashton, Mike Brown and Alex Goode, a back three that has promised much but failed, as yet, to develop cohesively.
Manu Tuilagi offers a lot in bulk but little in distribution or clinical efficiency.
How brave in selection will coach Stuart Lancaster be next week? This seems another superb opportunity to involve Billy Twelvetrees. Then we may see Ashton and his back three flourish.
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