Six Nations 2019 Round 2: Ireland respond, England destroy France, much-changed Wales beat Italy
By Michael Cantillon & Brian Barry
Last Updated: 11/02/19 5:26pm
We look back at Round 2 of the 2019 Six Nations, as Ireland respond and return to winning ways, England bury France and a much-changed Wales get over the line.
England 44-8 France
If somebody had mentioned the phrase 'England 2019 Grand Slam winners' last year, their thought process would have been seriously questioned to the point of near ridicule.
Yet, Eddie Jones' side are in a wonderful position to go on and achieve just that. Having rocked up to Dublin and played fantastically to defeat Ireland last week, they backed it up on Sunday by crushing France.
Their next Six Nations Test is their most difficult one remaining on paper: away to Wales in a fortnight's time - but the Welsh have hardly set this championship alight in 2019 so far, albeit having also picked up two wins from two.
It never fails to amaze the difference a year can make in sport. England so often floundered during a lot of their Tests in 2018, but now they are playing like a side whose tails are firmly up.
The sheer power the Vunipolas, Manu Tuilagi, Kyle Sinckler and Courtney Lawes bring, along with the subtly and cleverness Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Henry Slade and Jonny May add is a supremely potent combination. Add in the general confidence exhibited by the squad, and England are a match for anyone in this form.
As for France, the question on a lot of people's lips before this one was if Les Blues would turn up - they did not.
Sunday's performance at Twickenham was not even a case of one step forward, two steps back from France - it started that way, but by the end they had been bettered all over the park in every single facet. They were exceptionally poor. Woeful in fact.
Jacques Brunel's reign has been an unmitigated disaster. He now has just three wins from 13 Tests - Guy Noves was sacked after a run of three wins in 11. On the one hand, it would seem an act of lunacy to expel another head coach so close to the World Cup, but on the other, the question must be asked: can they really afford to pitch up to Japan like this?
Scotland 13-22 Ireland
It was not pretty and not without its hiccups, but Ireland got the result they needed in Murrayfield. The world's second-ranked side were wounded following their home loss to England last weekend, but falling to Scotland would have turned a speedbump into a car crash.
Conor Murray looked more assured after a patchy display against England, while Joe Schmidt will have been pleased with how his side controlled the pace and physicality of the game.
Despite throwing an intercept pass before the break, Joey Carbery settled and managed the game impressively. The Munster out-half showed some individual brilliance to set up Keith Earls' try. Crucially, his assured performance in the second half showed Ireland no longer rely on the fitness of Johnny Sexton.
They did not get a bonus-point win, but it was all about steadying the ship from an Irish perspective, and that's exactly what transpired.
For Scotland, it was an afternoon to forget. Losing Stuart Hogg in the early stages, they failed to impose themselves. The visitors were allowed to set the tempo, and smothered the Scots' platform to play a helter-skelter style of rugby in which they thrive.
Gregor Townsend has two weeks to pick his team back up for the trip to Paris. Defeat is certainly a setback, but how they react to the loss will define their Six Nations campaign.
Interestingly, the subplot in this tie was these two sides will face off in their World Cup opener later this year. To that end, Ireland's nine-point win away from home was a marker to lay down.
Italy 15-26 Wales
Warren Gatland's much-changed (10 in fact) charges eventually got the job done in Rome on Saturday, but did so without claiming a bonus point.
Yes, Italy performed well and put it up to Wales but two weeks before their next Championship Test, was so many changes and so much disruption necessary?
Wales host England in a fortnight's time in Cardiff in a mammoth clash, but even if they were to win that, the title could well come down to points difference. Not gaining the full five-point haul against Italy could really come back to hurt them.
We know from European competition how vital bonus points can be in a pool format, and they will decide a Six Nations title in the next few years - of that there is no question.
What of the Italians? They have lost 19 Six Nations Tests in a row, a record which looks unlikely to be stopped any time soon. So as long as it continues, questions over their future from certain quarters will persist as well.
By contrast, Wales won their 11th Test in succession, equalling a record which dates back to 1910. They may have established names to come back in, but will also know a huge improvement is needed to topple England in a few weeks.