RBS SIX NATIONS
So Scotland's seemingly eternal wait for a Six Nations victory has come to an end in the Eternal City, two years on from their last success.
Saturday's 36-20 win over Italy in Rome came as a huge relief to the players and coaches and the thousands of travelling supporters who filled the Stadio Olimpico stands in the hope of seeing their side finally get over the winning line.
First-half tries from back row duo, John Barclay and John Hardie, followed by Tommy Seymour's game-clinching score and a competition personal best of 21 points from man of the match and captain Greig Laidlaw made for a record Scottish points total in a single Six Nations fixture and their first win in 10 Championship matches. With victory Scotland move up two places above Japan and Fiji to ninth in the World Rugby Rankings.
For Italy another home defeat –this was their eighth in a row in all competitions – sees them drop below Georgia and Tonga to 14th in the rankings, just one place higher than their lowest ever position.
While Italy appear to be heading inexorably towards an 11th wooden spoon unless they can somehow stop the rot against Ireland in Dublin in a fortnight’s time, England remain in contention for their first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003 following a hard-fought 21-10 win at Twickenham against an Irish team giving debuts to Stuart McLoskey and Josh van der Flier.
Tough but hugely important win for England. Thought Sexton was outstanding -flashes of good play from England, need to prolong those flashes— Will Carling (@willcarling) 28 February 2016
Mike Brown and Anthony Watson both crossed the Irish line and Owen Farrell kicked 11 points in a match where the home side put themselves under pressure following yellow cards to James Haskell and Danny Care. Twice Ireland thought they had scored in the latter stages only to be denied on each occasion by the TMO and Eddie Jones’ charges held on for a third straight win under the Australian's command.
While unable to improve their position in the rankings table with victory, the world’s sixth best ranked team did pick up just over half a point to close the gap on Argentina to just over four tenths. Meanwhile, injury-hit Ireland, who were second in the world only six months ago, remain in eighth.
Wales are also unchanged, in fourth, after George North’s second try in as many games and the boot of Dan Biggar broke spirited French resistance at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Friday night. Wales’ fifth consecutive win over France sets them up nicely for a potential title decider against England at Twickenham on 12 March. France stay seventh in the rankings but, like Ireland, their points total is slightly reduced.
EUROPEAN NATIONS CUP DIVISION 1A
In the European Nations Cup Division 1A, Germany recorded an historic 50-27 win over relegation rivals Portugal. Having not scored a try in four previous encounters against Os Lobos, Germany threw off their shackles to run in seven – three of them by flanker Jacobus Otto –in front of a healthy crowd of 8,823 in Hanover.
It was Germany's first success at this level in 18 attempts and lifted them off the foot of the Division 1A table where they are replaced by Portugal. From a rankings perspective they climb three places to 23rd in the world from 26th but Portugal head in the opposite direction to 30th, Belgium, Kenya and Ukraine all benefitting from the Os Lobos losing one ranking point as a result of their first defeat to the Germans since 1994.
A 38-7 win at home to Spain means top of the table Georgia can wrap up their sixth straight European Nations Cup title with a round to spare if they beat Russia in a fortnight’s time. The result in Tbilisi did not affect either side’s rankings points total.
Meanwhile, Romania enjoyed a straightforward 30-0 win over Russia to avoid losing any further ground on the table-topping Lelos who retain their seven-point lead with two rounds to play. Romania’s victory, combined with the USA’s shock defeat to Brazil in the Americas Rugby Championship, sees the Oaks leapfrog the Eagles into 16th place in the rankings.