The young guns of Les Bleus again showed moments of brilliance, elan and the flair seen all too seldom in recent years as they defeated Italy 35-22 in Paris in an entertaining encounter.
The final scoreline might have been higher in favour of the French had No 10 Romain Ntamack not struggled off the tee. The rest of his game was classy. The son of former French wing Emile Ntamack, who became great friends with the late Jonah Lomu, set up the first try to wing Teddy Thomas via a sweet grubber, and scored a sizzling solo try, slicing through the Azzurri defence.
France brought continuity and commitment to its rugby, as it did against England, working off a solid set-piece and the energy of No 8 Gregory Alldritt and lock Paul Willemse in the pack. Halfback Antoine Dupont again expertly orchestrated the attack and set the tempo with his sniping, creating a try for Alldritt with a long pass after several phases.
As they did against England, the French lost concentration for a time in the second stanza before replacement halfback Baptiste Serin reignited them with a sterling solo try from a break, grubber and regather.
The Azzurri, for their part, were far more committed and innovative than they were against Wales, scoring three good tries. The two starting New Zealanders, fullback Jayden Hayward and lock Dean Budd, both had useful games, while former North Harbour No 8 Jim Tuivaiti, husband of former Silver Fern Cathrine Latu, was a replacement. Wing Matteo Minozzi finished a fine try in the corner. Italy will be gunning for winless Scotland in Rome in the third round in a fortnight.
France will travel to Wales to face Wayne Pivac’s men, who are licking their wounds after the 24-14 defeat to Ireland in Dublin. The Irish were fired up in the pack and displayed grit on defence in the four tries to two win.
Wales did showcase a nice offloading game in the forwards, and registered two good tries, the first to halfback Tomos Williams from an Alun Wyn Jones pass. But the forwards, in particular, suffered a reality check at the hands of man of the match CJ Stander, who was at the boot of the scrum (though we have named him as No 6 in our Form XV), loosie Peter O’Mahony, lock James Ryan and tighthead prop Tadgh Furlong, who crashed over for a try.
The midfield of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw outpointed their counterparts, Kiwi Hadleigh Parkes and Nick Tompkins.
Ireland will head to Twickenham in a fortnight in buoyant mood as it attempts to kick off the Andy Farrell era in style, and perhaps still bristling at the manner in which England took the honours in 2019 in Dublin.
England took a small step forward in beating Scotland 13-6 to lift the Calcutta Cup, but it was difficult to be definitive about the performance of Eddie Jones’ men as Murrayfield turned on a foul night of wind, rain and cold.
As such, there was precious little decent rugby and a lot of kicking, some of it aimless, some of it productive. Kiwi halfback Willi Heinz had an up and down night as he struggled with the wind, as did Kilted Kiwi wing Sean Maitland. Owen Farrell missed an uncharacteristic three shots at goal, while replacement prop Ellis Genge scored the sole try of the clash, late in the piece.
England will need to lift considerably to stay in the hunt for the Six Nations, but the resurgent France is the real story of the tournament thus far.
Dublin: Ireland 24 (Jordan Larmour, Tadgh Furlong, Josh van der Flier, Andrew Conway tries; Johnny Sexton 2 con) Wales 14 (Tomos Williams, Justin Tipuric tries; Dan Biggar con, Leigh Halfpenny con) HT: 12-7
Edinburgh: England 13 (Ellis Genge try; Owen Farrell con, 2 pen) Scotland 6 (Adam Hastings 2 pen) HT: 3-0
Paris: France 35 (Teddy Thomas, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt, Romain Ntamack, Baptiste Serin tries; Ntamack con, Mathieu Jalibert con, Ntamack 2 pen) Italy 22 (Matteo Minozzi, Federico Zani, Mattia Bellini tries; Tommaso Allan 2 con, pen) HT: 23-10
15 Jordan Larmour (Ireland)
14 Teddy Thomas (France)
13 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
12 Owen Farrell (England)
11 Matteo Minozzi (Italy)
10 Romain Ntamack (France)
9 Antoine Dupont (France)
8 Greg Alldritt (France)
7 Sam Underhill (England)
6 CJ Stander (Ireland)
5 Paul Willemse (France)
4 Maro Itoje (England)
3 Tadgh Furlong (Ireland)
2 Rob Herring (Ireland)
1 Cyril Baille (France)
Points: France 9, Ireland 9, Wales 5, England 5, Scotland 2, Italy 0
Round three (NZT), February 23-24
Italy v Scotland, Rome, Sunday 3.15am
Wales v France, Cardiff, Sunday 5.45am
England v Ireland, London, Monday 4am