In the final round of the RBS Six Nations:
Italy 20 – 61 Wales
Scotland 10 – 40 Ireland
England 55 – 35 France
It turns out that the northerners can throw the ball around and score lots of tries. When the incentives are right, as they were through this last weekend.
Coming into this last round three teams (Wales, Ireland and England) had each won 3 matches and lost 1. Each of the three was playing against teams they were favoured to beat. The winner of the trophy was likely going to be decided by points differential.
Cue running rugby.
Wales showed the way in the first match of the round by thumping the Italians in Italy, scoring 8 tries in the process. Eight tries. Wales. Three by George North.
That gave them a points differential of +53.
Ireland started the second match of the round with a points differential of +33, so they would need to beat Scotland by 21 points or more to lead the trophy table over Wales. They won by +30, scoring four tries in the process. Which is as many as they had scored in the rest of the tournament put together.
So to the last match, to decide the winner of the whole shebang, England hosting France at Twickenham. And England knew by kick-off what their goal was: to win by +27.
So guess what? They tried to score tries, lots of tries. And they did: seven tries in all, all converted, and two penalties as well.
The irony – oh, you’ve got to love irony – is that their defence let in five tries, and so the differential fell short by 6.
The thing to take from the whole weekend is that when the incentives are right, the northerners can play running rugby well, and they have the ability to score lots of tries.
But this was a weird weekend for the Six Nations, that does not have bonus points for scoring 4 tries or being within a 7-point losing margin, as we do in Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship. This was the one weekend where teams knew exactly the big points they had to score, and went out with ambition to achieve it.