Leigh Halfpenny and Jonny Sexton look set to shoot it out for top scorers in the championship, with each notching 13 points in their team’s win. Two players, Yoann Huget and Michele Campagnaro, crossed the line on two occasions each to head up the try-scoring list. Danny Care, of all people, was the only one to kick a drop goal, and a cheeky one at that.
There was a huge spread of notable caps awarded on the weekend. First timers included England’s Jack Nowell and Luther Burrell; Ireland’s Martin Moore; Jules Plisson and Antoine Burban of France. Meanwhile two players hit their half-centuries, French captain Pascal Papé and Irish fullback Rob Kearney.
Arriving at the next level is rugby newest centurion, Marco Bortolami. The former Azzurri captain, first capped in 2001, becomes the 29th member of the exclusive club, and the 4th Italian. Just ahead of him are Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni, who will equal their old chum Andrea Lo Cicero’s record of 103 caps this coming weekend. Just behind is Mauro Bergamasco, who with 96 caps is on track to crack 100 on the last weekend of the tournament.
And moving up one more level still is Brian O’Driscoll, who surpassed his former teammate Ronan O’Gara as Ireland’s most capped player of all time with his 129th appearance for his country. Adding his 8 Lions caps brings his total to 137 caps, just two behind the all-time record of 139 set by George Gregan. O’Driscoll already has the record for most starts, having been sat on the reserves bench only once in his illustrious career.
BOUNCING BALL OF EVIL
On three occasions it was the bounce of the ball that wreaked havoc on hapless defenders. First it was Angelo Esposito, on debut no less, who watched in horror as the ball skipped under his hands and into the end zone where Alex Cuthbert pounced on it. The second and third both had the same result – try time for France!
What an opening sequence, as poor Jack Nowell knocked on his first touch in international rugby, then another debutant Jules Plisson’s grubber ricocheted high off the foot of Billy Twelvetrees and bounced straight into the arms of Yoann Huget, stepping a dumbfounded Mike Brown to dive into the corner. It was Huget again the recipient when Brice Dulin’s chip over the top took a wicked bounce back over the heads of Nowell and Alex Goode. Some guys have all the luck.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
If you noticed the commentators often referring to a mystery player named “Taulupe”, it’s because Toby Faletau has asked for his ‘print’ name to be his Tongan title, though it’s actually his middle name, Tangaki being his first. Faletau says it’s ok to call him Toby in person, so that’s what we’ll stick with here, mostly to avoid calling him “Tulip”. Besides, Toby sounds more Welsh.
In exactly the opposite manner, Tommy Allan will forever now be known as Tommaso Allan, simply because it sounds more Italian. Sorry lads, them’s the rules.
It was a pretty good weekend as far as the refs were concerned, with nothing too untoward taking place, and nary a yellow card in sight. There were a couple comical exchanges worth revisiting. Nigel Owens was at his best once again on Saturday, and after Messrs Brown and Huget became acutely aware of each other’s presence in the 63rd minute, Brown complained of a ‘head-butt’, to which Nige responded “Are you finished? You are both acting very immature.”
Another came on Sunday in Dublin, with Craig Joubert losing his patience with Jim Hamilton, no surprise there. In the 55th minute Big Jammy was penalised again and got stuck into another little pushing match, and Joubert waved over the big man. “Come here please Jim.” After a brief lecture on discipline Hamilton quipped “I’m sticking up for myself sir,” which earned a chuckle from Joubert and the commentators alike.
Poor Jonny May broke his nose in the 5th minute of the match in Paris and had to miss out on the rest, but he has been passed fit to play this coming week. It had been hoped that David Wilson would be fit in time for the Ireland match on February 22nd, but it now looks more likely that he won’t be ready until Wales on March 9th.
France have suffered another blow, with debutant Antoine Burban sufficiently pulling a hamstring to rule him out of the match against Italy. Castres flanker Ibrahim Diarra, winner of one previous cap in 2008, coincidentally also against Italy, has been called up in his place.
Ireland are expected to have Paul O’Connell healthy this week after a nasty chest infection caused him to drop out of the Scotland match at the last minute. Donnacha Ryan, Eoin Reddan, Luke Fitzgerald, and Tommy Bowe are all hopeful of getting game time with their provinces soon but time is running out for them to be involved against England in a little over a fortnight.
No news from Italy, though Giovanbattista Venditti should be up and running soon and may be in contention for the critical match against Scotland.
The Scots have lost Sean Maitland to both concussion and a damaged ankle with no time set for a possible return, but have been boosted by the news that Tommy Seymour is fit to resume duty after recovering from a dead leg.
Wales have recalled Sam Warburton to the starting lineup after the captain proved his fitness on the weekend, and Gethin Jenkins had decided his knee is good to go. Jonathan Davies is back training with the squad but will not be risked this weekend, with clubmate Scott Williams retaining his spot at centre. Luke Charteris misses this week with a hamstring injury, with Andrew Coombs filling in at lock and Jake Ball in line to win his first cap off the bench.