Six Nations wrap

by Staff Writer

ENGLAND v SCOTLAND

Grand Slam-chasing England moved within touching distance of a first Six Nations rugby title since 2003 by squeezing past Scotland 22-16 in an error-strewn match at Twickenham on Sunday.

The sides were level 9-9 at halftime but England scored 10 points - through Toby Flood's fourth penalty and a converted try by Tom Croft - while the Scots were down to 14 men to go 19-9 up with 13 minutes left.

Scotland winger Max Evans' well-taken try in the 74th set up a tense finale but England held on for a fourth straight win, despite failing to impress.

If Martin Johnson's men beat Ireland in Dublin next week, they will clinch the Grand Slam.

Only second-place Wales can stop England landing the title.

ITALY v FRANCE

France's World Cup and Six Nations hopes are in disarray after they slumped to a 22-21 loss to perennial battlers Italy at the Stadio Flaminio on Saturday.

Italy's Mirco Bergamasco kicked a penalty five minutes from time to score an historic victory.

It was the hosts' first ever Six Nations win against the French, whose championship hopes are all but in tatters following a second successive defeat.

France coach Marc Lievremont was visibly seething with anger even over 30 minutes after the final whistle.

"I haven't bothered talking to the players yet, I just spoke to Titi (captain Thierry Dusautoir)," said the 42-year-old, for whom little has gone right since guiding France to their first Grand Slam since 2004 last year.

Lievremont, who steadfastly refused to step down last November following the humiliating 59-16 home defeat by Australia, said that the Italians had shown more hunger and more desire than his side.

"They were a lot more determined than us and they fought physically from start to finish whereas we were absent and not very keen to engage," Lievremont said.

For Italy the stunning and dogged performance will have banished memories of their 59-13 capitulation to England at Twickenham earlier this season.

Bergamasco kicked five penalties and a conversion for a personal haul of 17 points with man-of-the-match Andrea Masi adding Italy's try.

For Italy coach Nick Mallett it was a victory he had been yearning for and perhaps will make the Italian rugby federation reflect about whether they should replace him after the World Cup by Frenchman Brunel.

"This win against a good French team is a huge huge achievement, I am so proud of the players and proud of what they've done for the Italian supporters," said the former South Africa coach.

France made a shaky start, knocking on from the kick-off and giving away a free-kick at the subsequent scrum before captain Thierry Dusautoir was penalised for straying offside and Bergamasco kicked the hosts into a second minute lead.

However, it didn't take long for France's greater class, and mostly speed, to tell.

On the quarter-hour mark Francois Trinh-Duc kicked ahead and although Masi blocked off Yoann Huget to allow Bergamasco to recover the ball deep in the Italian 22, when Masi went to kick clear he failed to find touch.

France spread it left and Vincent Clerc chipped over Gonzalo Canale, easily outstripping him in a foot-race to touch down, although Morgan Parra missed the extras.

Canale made a great break on 24 minutes but lacked support, although France were penalised for offside and Bergamasco kicked another easy penalty, reducing the arrears to two points at the break.

France led 8-6 at halftime with Morgan Parra slotting a penalty early in the second term to stretch their lead.

Italy's resistance was seemingly broken on 51 minutes as a quick tap pass from Parra found Trinh-Duc, who stepped inside two men, burst through a gap and passed back inside for his scrum-half to go under the posts.

Parra scored a converted try five minutes later to put France up 18-6.

Italy hit back with a try to Masi in the corner with Bergamasco converting to put the Italians within striking distance.

Parra kicked another penalty but then two more from Bergamasco gave Italy an unlikely one-point lead with only five minutes to go.

WALES v IRELAND

Wales derailed Ireland's hopes of the Triple Crown with a hard-fought 19-13 Six Nations victory over the visitors at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

A controversial Mike Phillips try, 11 points from the boot of James Hook and a long-range penalty from Leigh Halfpenny proved too much for Ireland, for whom Brian O'Driscoll scored a five-pointer and Ronan O'Gara bagged two penalties and a conversion.

The victory means Wales, who have beaten Scotland (24-6) and Italy (24-16) but lost to England (26-19), remain in contention for winning the Six Nations.

It was only the second defeat in Cardiff since 1983 for Ireland, who this season have beaten Italy (13-11) and Scotland (21-18), but went down 25-22 to France.

The performance of both sides will hardly have impressed their World Cup rivals, however, a catalogue of handling errors, turnovers and inaccurate aerial ping-pong littering a disappointing spectacle in which a lot of bluster added up to not very much.

WEEK 5

In the final week of the 2011 Six Nations championship, Scotland meet the renewed Italy at Murrayfield in the hope of finishing their season on a high. Scotland are now the only side in the competition who are without a win and Italy will be out to prove last week was not a fluke and register themselves as an up and coming Rugby nation.

In what will be the match of the round, England head to the Aviva Stadium in Ireland to chase down the Grand Slam and the Six Nations title. With all things considered many would believe England should take this match easily, however the Irish at home is a daunting task. Out to prove last weeks result with Wales was there to be won, the men in green will ready and raring to go when their neighbours in white arrive.

In the final match, Wales meet France in Paris. If England are to win, Wales can only place second in the 2011 competition however they need to overcome an angry and no-doubt revengeful French outfit. The Les Bleus were stunned last week, going down to Italy, and will need a win to give themselves any hope heading into the June internationals and the Rugby World Cup at season's end.

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