Three key talking points from the second round of the 2024 Six Nations

Mon, Feb 12, 2024, 3:35 AM
by AFP
Freddie Steward starred in England's win over Wales. Photo: Getty Images
Freddie Steward starred in England's win over Wales. Photo: Getty Images

Ireland stayed on course for successive Six Nations Grand Slams by routing Italy.

Meanwhile, France beat Scotland in a controversial finish and England came from behind to defeat Wales.

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Below AFP Sport highlights some of the key talking points from the second round of action as this season's tournament takes shape.   

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 fly-half'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.

England's Steward coming on leaps and bounds

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

Nevertheless, England were still 14-5 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 fly-half landing the penalty that put England ahead at 16-14 -- the final score.

"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 offers Scotland 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 20-16 to France, but Harry Paterson's brilliant Test debut offered some consolation.

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 full-back.

"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 full-back Stuart Hogg.