It’s safe to say that this was one of the most interesting weekends of Six Nations rugby in recent times.
Not only did Italy surprise England with some very imaginative tactics in Twickenham, but Scotland put Wales to the sword in Murrayfield in style, proving their triumph over Ireland was no fluke.
Scotland’s tactical flexibility in the face of Wales’ domination at the breakdown further underlined Vern Cotter’s standing as a coach. Such has been the kiwi’s impact, some Scottish fans must be wondering whether or not it was a good idea to replace him with Gregor Townsend at the end of the season.
In any event, Cotter’s side march on and they could claim an unlikely Triple Crown in Twickenham in two weeks time, and who knows, possibly even a Championship one week later.
For their part, Ireland saw off France in hard fought encounter in Dublin. Neither side gave an inch in what was an attritional affair but in the end, Ireland’s superior fitness told.
Considering Ireland were up against a side that had dominated both England and Scotland at scrum time, to come out on top against a big French front row was particularly impressive.
Leading the charge was Jack McGrath, who saw off both Rabah Slimani and Uini Atonio.
Another quality performance from Rory Best who must now have taken the lead over Alun Wyn Jones in the race to become the next Lions captain.
Unlike his Welsh rival, the Irish hooker didn’t show any indecisiveness when it came to making the big calls.
Completing our front row is Tadhg Furlong who, like his colleagues, wasn’t found wanting at scrum time. As per usual, the Leinster tighthead did his fair share of carrying too and looked to offload on occasion.
One of the few England players to come out of their win over Italy with any credit, Joe Launchbury stuck to his task while others panicked.
Due to the fact that Scotland utilise a high temp strategy, it’s imperative that their front five forwards are mobile enough to follow the likes of Stuart Hogg into contact.
There a few better at doing so than Jonny Gray at the moment.
Scotland’s back row found themselves under pressure when Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric started to get on top as the first half drew to a close.
But as soon as the second half kicked off, Barclay and his colleagues refused to surrender possession.
Another brilliant performance from the Welsh openside. Alongside Warburton, he caused all sorts of problems for Scotland in the first half.
His try-saving turnover on Huw Jones was simply world class.
Ryan Wilson offered an outlet and some much-needed physicality to meet Wales on the gain line in Murrayfield.
Conor Murray is the form of his life at the moment, everything he touches seems to turn to gold.
Kept Ireland on the front foot against France with a series of brilliant touch finders, scored a quintessential Conor Muray try to boot.
Despite playing very little rugby this season, Johnny Sexton showed no signs of rustiness against France.Marshalled Ireland’s backline throughout and opened up their defence in the first half.
Another England player to stand out from the malaise in Twickenham, Elliot Daly must now have one foot planted in Warren Gatland’s Lions squad.
Proved to be a constant danger for France when they moved the ball at pace into the midfield. Was unlucky to knock on prior to Rémi Lamerat touching down.
Guy Noves has his side moving in the right direction, and it looks as though players like Gael Fickou will be central to their game plan in future.
Gary Ringrose has proved beyond doubt that he is up to the physical challenge of playing international rugby at this stage. He’s also gaining more confidence in attack and could yet force his way into Lions contention.
Another quality performance from Tommy Seymour who played with chalk on his boots for most of the game. Took his try well early in the second half to steer Scotland on the road to victory.
What can you say about Stuart Hogg that hasn’t already said. A top class operator who beat defenders for fun. His pass to put away Tim Visser was thing of beauty.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
On this week’s Oval Office Podcast, Rob Henderson tells us about Ireland’s 12 potential Lions, Paddy Butler identifies weaknesses in the French game plan, Mako Vunipola discusses the challenge of facing Tadhg Furlong and historian David Toms relives Ireland’s 2007 clash with England in Croke Park.