Irish hopes of a first Grand Slam since 1948 were shattered on a blustery afternoon at Lansdowne Road by a French side that finally found their flowing game of old. The injured backs Gordon D’Arcy and Shane Horgan were sorely missed as the French winders sprouted wings, it is doubtful if even they could have prevented their pack being so overwhelmed in the first-half.
There was no hint of things to come as Ireland were kept ahead by Ronan O’Gara’s kicking, becoming his country’s leading all time point scorer in the process. Leading 9-6 Ireland were then blitzed by a brilliantly worked Christophe Dominici try. Still shell-shocked, Ireland’s defenders then stood back following a last lineout and allowed debutant Benoit Baby to fly through the centre to extend France’s advantage to 18-9.But for two missed conversions and some poor kicking into the wind, in general, Ireland’s dreams would have been buried as the half-time whistle was blown.
As it was, Brian O’Driscoll gathered his troops and proceeded to take the fight to France. Scoring one magnificent try himself, which was converted by O’Gara, the Irish pack came agonisingly close to victory with the score poised at 19-21. But heartache was to follow. With the last seconds ticking away, Ireland were caught running out of defence, and Dominici went over for his second try of the game to make it 26-19. Now a second Triple Crown in 12 months is all there is left to aim for.
England, in the unfamiliar role of playing to avoid the “Wooden Spoon” restored a little pride with a 39-7 win against Italy at Twickenham. On the plus side of this performance, against a limited Azzurri side, stood six tries, Mark Cueto shining with three of them. Less impressive was England’s failure to impose themselves often struggling to break down the Italian defence. Charlie Hodgson missed four from seven kicking attempts, and Harry Ellis still does not look comfortable at this level. The real stars of this game were the back three, Jamie Noon leading the way.
Wales travelled to Murrayfield for a date with destiny, knowing that the last 20 years had only brought one success in Scotland. At stake was the fourth leg of what is their attempt to win their first Grand Slam in 27 years. In the event, Wales more than exceeded expectations, overrunning the Scottish pack in the first-half to effectively finish the game by the interval. To put it simply, Scotland were annihilated in the space of 50 minutes with superb handling and devastating running establishing a 38-3 lead. If Gavin Henson, Ryan Jones, Reese Williams, Steven Jones and Kevin Morgan continue in this form every honour is theirs come next Saturday. Scotland were allowed to save some face in the second playing period, the final score reading 46-22. Coach, Mike Ruddock, has certainly shaped the most exciting Wales team for the past 20 years.