England, France and Ireland win in 6 Nations openers

Toby Flood, England's Man of the Match

Toby Flood, England’s Man of the Match

England, France and Ireland all triumphed in the opening weekend of the 6 Nations Championship to share the lead at the top of the table.

England got the weekend off to a start with a 26-19 victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Friday night through two tries from Chris Ashton and a man of the match performance from Leicester fly-half Toby Flood. Wales responded as Stephen Jones kept the home side in the match after he took a hit early on.

The deficit was reduced further when Morgan Stoddart went over in the corner following a run from centre Jonathan Davies which carved open England’s back line. Although the pass was less than prefect Stoddart checked his run to collect the ball and bundle over.

Johnny Wilkinson replaced Flood late on, who had sliced through the Wales defence early on to set up Ashton for first try, and kicked a penalty just short of full time to put the pressure back on the home side.

At the breakdown England’s forwards won the ball and replacement scrum-half Danny Care kicked the ball into touch as England won their first 6 Nations clash at the Millennium since 2003.

Italy and Ireland faced each other the next day in the first fixture of Saturday’s double header. In previous years Ireland would have steamrolled the Italians, however this clash was much closer.

Italy were intent of showing that they can be taken seriously at this level and even though Ireland had the better of the first half’s action it was the home side that went into the break leading 6-3 at the Stadio Flaminio after Mirco Bergamasco kicked two penalties compared to Jonathan Sexton’s one.

The second half was as broken as the first as the shadows fell across the stadium in the Italian capital and the wind gusted throughout. The Irish eventually found way to the line through their captain Brian O’Driscoll who rounded off a move through the backs from close range.

It was though that the away side would now turn the screw and see out the match, however Italy had other plans. With ten minutes to go Australian born fullback Luke McLean scored his side’s first try of the tournament to give his side an 11-10 lead.

Bergamasco missed what turned out to be a crucial conversion as Ireland went up the other end and replacement fly-half Ronan O’Gara calmly slotted a drop-goal attempt with three minutes to go. His side regained possession following the restart and saw out the match to come out 13-11 victors from  match that the Irish will have expected to win a lot more comfortably than they did.

The weekends final match saw Scotland travel to the Stade de France, a venue they had not won at since 1999 when they last claimed, what was then, the 5 Nations crown. That wait will go on longer after a French side brimming with confidence ran in four tries as they won 34-21 against Andy Robinson’s Scotland side.

Although the score line gives the impression that Scotland were well in the match, they were in fact second best throughout, even though the managed three tries in Paris, which matches their total try count for the whole of last year’s tournament.

The onslaught began early on as Aurelian Rougerie kicked though for Maxime Medard to collect and score in the corner. The forwards were not be outdone and soon gave referee Wayne Barnes little option but to award a penalty try as the Scottish forwards were scrambling from another hard hitting scrum.

The Scots responded before half time through captain Alastair Kellock to take the score to 17-7 at half time after Morgan Parra had converted twice to Dan Parks’ one and Francois Trinh-Duc dropped a goal.

France continued in fine form during the second period as number eight Imanol Harinordoquy scored under the posts having collected the ball in his own half, while fullback Damian Traille also scored for the home side.

Kelly Brown and Sean Lamont were able to add to their side’s score sheet however in actual fact the Scots had ben second best to France for much of the match with the home side playing an attractive form of running rugby with flayers in support of the runner allowing for the successful offload time after time.

Next week sees England take on Italy at Twickenham, before Scotland play Wales at Murrayfield. On the Sunday Ireland host France at Lansdowne Road, after which both point at least one side will have lost their unbeaten record in the 2011 6 Nations.

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