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The big Six Nations talking points from Round Three

RECAP: Ireland moved one step closer to back-to-back Grand Slams by beating Wales, Scotland proved too hot for England to handle and Italy held 14-man France to a dramatic draw.

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Below we highlight some of the key talking points from the third round of Six Nations action.

Ireland bench make their mark

Over the years, a common complaint from Ireland fans was the lack of depth beyond the first-choice XV – but that is certainly no longer the case.

Ireland’s squad strength was evident during Saturday’s 31-7 win over Wales in Dublin, a match where the visitors staged a second-half fightback.

Wales’ 44th-minute penalty try cut Ireland’s lead to 17-7 and, with Tadgh Beirne sin-binned, the Six Nations champions were under pressure.

Ireland coach Andy Farrell, sensing there were some tiring legs out on the pitch, sent on a quartet of replacements in the 55th minute.

Ryan Baird, who came on for captain Peter O’Mahony, impressed in particular with a couple of dashing bursts through the Welsh defence.

“It was huge,” said Farrell of the initial impact made by his substitutions.

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“They were always going to come on and add some power, when you bring a bit of power on to the field when others are a bit tired, and for that ten minutes of the yellow card it was free flowing and there were people sucking it in big time.

“They were always going to take advantage of that and they got us back on the front foot.”

Scots beat English ‘rush’

Before this match there was much talk about England’s new-look ‘rush’ defence.

But sheer physical speed, allied to speed of thought, can still prove too much for any system as Scotland proved in Edinburgh.

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Duhan van der Merwe became the first Scotland player to score a hat-trick of tries in a match against England as his side came from 0-10 down to defeat their oldest rivals 30-21 in front of a raucous Murrayfield crowd.

Van der Merwe’s scorching bursts down the touchline left England floundering, but he was helped on his way by incisive play from Scotland’s midfield.

“The first try was exceptional from Sione [Tuipulotu] and Huw Jones to keep the ball alive,” said Scotland coach Gregor Townsend. “The second one was a big momentum-swinger. The crowd appreciated it.

“And the third one, Finn [Russell]’s kick, a good bounce and Duhan to finish was great to see.”

New-look France struggle

France coach Fabien Galthie admitted his side were in a sticky patch after a remarkable 13-13 draw with Italy, where centre Jonathan Danty was sent off, left them at their lowest point since he took over following the 2019 World Cup.

Last year’s World Cup quarterfinal defeat by South Africa on home soil was a huge disappointment and Galthie’s bid to get Les Bleus back on track is stuttering.

A change of his coaching staff and the absence of key players, including star backs Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack will only increase criticism before a March 10 match away to Wales.

But Sunday’s result in Lille saw Italy return to the top 10 of the world rankings for the first time since 2013.

Strong performances from captain Michele Lamaro and flyhalf Paolo Garbisi, who would have won the match had not his injury-time penalty hit the post, put Italy in a good place to target Scotland on March 9 or Wales a week later for just their third Six Nations win since 2015.

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