Guinness Six Nations Round 4 Wrap-Up: The Weekend Of The Underdogs
Guinness Six Nations Round 4 Wrap-Up: The Weekend Of The Underdogs

England 23, Ireland 22

The back-to-back Grand Slam no longer is available for Ireland, as Marcus Smith slotted an 80th-minute drop goal to sneak England home.

In reality, England was the dominant team throughout the 80 minutes but was unable to shake Ireland, which showed that even when the team was not at 100%, it could stay in the fight.

Leading 12- 8 at halftime, Ireland felt as though it had no ball or territory to play with, and yet, it had leaked just one try to Ollie Lawrence in the opening minutes.

Starting the second half, Ireland took control, as winger James Lowe crossed for the first of his two tries on the afternoon with a sublime finish in the corner.

Now leading 17-8, it appeared as though Ireland would kick on, but credit has to go to England, which found the right emotional pitch in front of their raucous home crowd.

Chipping away at the Irish lead, England struck back immediately through fullback George Furbank, who claimed his second international try.

Now, back in the fight, England claimed the lead through the ultra-impressive Ben Earl, who had his best game in a white shirt to date.

Ireland, now trailing and a man down following captain Peter O’Mahony’s yellow card had it all to do.

Still lacking possession and now down two backline players, as Ciaran Frawley joined Calvin Nash in having to leave the action with a HIA. This meant a major backline shift, with Jamison Gibson-Park moving from scrumhalf to the wing when Conor Murray entered the contest.

Lowe’s second try gave Ireland a crucial late lead with just a few minutes remaining, but unlike at any point since the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal, Ireland did not handle the pressure.

Instead of clearing the lines, a couple of wayward passes from Murray and a questionable box kick handed England valuable field possession. Capitalising on this, England put the Irish line under intense pressure and was rewarded with two penalty advantages before the decisive Smith drop goal.

Speaking post-match, England coach Steve Borthwick was pleased with his team’s efforts, saying, "The team has been progressing. We are four games into building a new team, and I am delighted for the players and especially the supporters.

"When you look at that game, the players showed incredible intensity from the first minute to the 80th minute.

"Against a team of this quality, you know you are going to have to problem solve, and there were small adjustments we could see from the box.

"The blend of the game for periods was an arm wrestle, and then it would break open with a counter-attack."

Echoing his opponent's sentiments, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell was clear and classy in his assessment of the fixture.

"For large parts of the game, I thought we were a little bit off, and that's down to England, but I felt we had the resilience to keep bouncing back," Farrell said. "England found a way in the end; they really deserved to win.

"We have been very good at winning. We have to be good at losing. We have to make sure we review that properly and come into work on Monday with a smile on our faces because there is a championship to win."

France 45, Wales 24

Warren Gatland’s band of youngsters put in a mighty shift for 60 minutes against a powerful, but inaccurate, French team to close out Round 4.

Playing fast and loose, both sides scored some scintillating tries, before Les Bleus knuckled down and went back to their power game for the final quarter.

Scoring tries through Rio Tyler, Tomos Williams and Joe Roberts, Wales looked to be on course to pull off the third upset of the weekend.

Pulling the string masterfully, young fly-half Sam Costelow showed why Gatland views him as first choice, as he kicked well and kept his side on the front foot. Thus his removal, along with his halfback partner Tomos Williams, was head scratching to say the least, as the Welsh attacking shape fell apart when they departed.

France, which has been under intense pressure so far this Championship, rebounded from its draw with Italy to score six tries.

Falling victim to a multitude of basic errors in the first half, France still led at the break, but took full control in the second half.

Scoring 25 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes, France asserted its physical dominance over the hosts and scrummaged the Welsh into the ground.

This display of power seemed to reignite the French flair, as their lethal backline played freely off the well-laid platform of the forwards.

In the end, this was the most complete performance from a French side that's still in the hunt to finish second in this year’s Championship with a win over England and an Irish victory over Scotland in Round 5.  

Speaking post-match, Welsh head coach Warren Gatland felt the match was one his team had let slip away. 

"We were up 24-23, but we didn't manage the game with turnovers, and we're disappointing with some soft points given away," Gatland said. "We probably overplayed. When we were down by six points, and you're thinking, just play territory and make it easy for yourselves, but we hurt ourselves and did not play well enough in that last period.

"France put our scrum under pressure; that's something we've been working hard on, and we're not there at the moment. I thought our lineout was excellent, and our line speed could have been better.

"The plan was if we went multiple phases then we'd cause them lots of problems and we did.

"But we didn't help ourselves with some of the mistakes for us."

Returning French captain Gregory Alldritt clearly was happy with his team’s return to form when he spoke post-match.

"We had a great performance today," he said. "We were really frustrated after Italy and wanted to make France proud again, so it's great to do that at this stadium. We have a massive massive pack, and we wanted to be tough on the collision. We have some really good young players, and I'm really proud of them. Nolan Le Garrec scored a try as well."