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Round Four talking points

SPOTLIGHT: England scuppered Ireland’s dream of back-to-back Grand Slams with a thrilling win, Italy defeated Scotland and France added to the pressure on Wales as the Six Nations sparked into life.


Below AFP Sport looks at some of the key talking points from a dramatic fourth round!

Borthwick’s plan coming together

England’s impressive 23-22 win over Ireland at Twickenham was a triumph on several fronts, not least for coach Steve Borthwick.

Following a dispiriting 21-30 loss to Scotland, Borthwick was accused by fellow former England captain Will Carling of imprisoning his players in a “data straitjacket”.

But with England harrying Ireland up front, and demonstrating admirable game awareness to rally from 8-17 behind early in the second half, they produced a display of pace, power and skill topped off by Marcus Smith’s decisive last-ditch drop-goal.

It was England’s best performance since their 2019 World Cup semifinal win over New Zealand and gave them an outside shot of dethroning Ireland as champions in the final round.

Borthwick, often labelled a “conservative” coach, stunned many observers by dropping Freddie Steward, renowned for his skill under the high ball, two games into the tournament and recalling George Furbank at full-back instead.


Furbank responded with a fine try against Scotland and on Saturday his scorching diagonal run and slick pass helped pave the way for a fifth-minute try by Ollie Lawrence that wiped out Ireland’s early 3-0 lead.

Typically, Borthwick played down his role, saying: “What pleased me the most was that the players stayed true to the path that we’re trying to follow and tried to take the next step.”

See-saw Scotland frustrate yet again

Italy coach Gonzalo Quesada affectionately referred to his team as “nutters” after the Azzurri ended their 11-year wait for a home win in the Six Nations with a well-deserved 31-29 defeat of Scotland in Rome.

But it was the mentality of Scotland, fresh from a win over England, that was once more under the spotlight.


Scotland were 14-3 ahead after 12 minutes and still 22-16 in front at the break. Well though an improving Italy played, it was hard to imagine a side with genuine aspirations for the Six Nations title letting things slip as badly as Scotland did during the second half at the Stadio Olimpico.

Whether someone other than long-serving Scotland boss Gregor Townsend could get more out of a talented, if inconsistent, group of players is now an open question. But it would be unfair to pin the blame on Townsend for several of his side’s ‘coach-killer’ errors on Saturday.


Fickou’s enduring class

This has been a difficult Six Nations for a France team dealing with the emotional fall-out from failing to win last year’s World Cup on home soil.

Without star scrum-half Antoine Dupont, concentrating on sevens ahead of the Paris Olympics, Les Bleus made a lacklustre start to the tournament and were fortunate to escape with a draw against Italy.

But there were signs of their trademark power and backline panache on show during a 45-24 win over Wales in Cardiff on Sunday, with experienced centre Fickou producing a typically elegant finish after bursting through Sam Costelow’s attempted tackle to score the first of France’s five tries at the Principality Stadium.

The 29-year-old also helped steady a youthful France team by living up to his billing as defence captain with several thumping tackles as Wales suffered a fourth straight defeat of the Championship.

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