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The big Six Nations talking points of Round Two

SPOTLIGHT: Ireland stayed on course for successive Six Nations Grand Slams by routing Italy, France beat Scotland in a controversial finish and England came from behind to defeat Wales.

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AFP Sport looks at some of the key talking points of Round Two:

Ireland: A cut above the rest

Ireland continued to look a class above their European rivals, thrashing Italy 36-0 in Dublin despite coach Andy Farrell making six changes to his starting XV.

It was the first time Ireland had ‘nilled’ their opponents in a Championship game since a 17-0 win against England back in the 1987 Five Nations.

An arguably even more remarkable statistic from Sunday’s match is that Jack Crowley’s maiden Test try was also the flyhalf’s first in senior rugby following 45 appearances for Munster.

No team in the Six Nations era has yet won back-to-back Grand Slams, but following a 17th successive home victory in all competitions, it is hard to see where Ireland will slip up.

‘Unbelievable Freddie’

JPR Williams was among the late players honoured with a minute’s applause at Twickenham on Saturday, so it was perhaps appropriate that England fullback Freddie Steward revived memories of the outstanding Wales No.15 by being rock-solid under the high ball.

Nevertheless, England were still 5-14 behind at half-time. But, significantly, it was from yet another fine Steward catch that George Ford produced an excellent 50-22 kick, which led to the flyhalf landing the penalty that put England ahead at 16-14 – the final score.

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“Freddie was unbelievable in the air again,” said Ford.

“He’s worth his weight in gold in a game like that.”

Now the challenge for both Steward and England is to improve in counter-attack – as much a notable feature of 1970s star Williams’ game as his fearsome defence.

Paterson: Scotland’s hope amid heartbreak

Scotland were denied a perfect start to the Championship by a matter of inches and a questionable refereeing decision at the death in losing 16-20 to France, but Harry Paterson’s brilliant Test debut offered some consolation.

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The Edinburgh back was not even due to start until Kyle Steyn pulled out of the morning of Saturday’s game to attend the birth of his child.

Paterson was making only his seventh start as a professional, not that his inexperience showed, even though he admitted to a moment of “panic” when he got the call from Scotland coach Gregor Townsend to start at fullback.

“It’s one of the best debuts I’ve ever seen,” said Townsend.

“Going up against that French backline on a wet day at Murrayfield, he was excellent. To play like that was fantastic and gives us a lot of encouragement about where Harry can go over these next few years.”

Townsend’s team are at home to England in a fortnight and even though Paterson faces competition from Steyn and the injured Blair Kinghorn, he may now be the long-term heir to retired Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg.

 

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