There are no prizes handed out on the third weekend of the Six Nations, but that does not reduce its importance. In a weekend that could arguably be seen as one that built in quality, it began with a clash of the two teams without a win so far this year: Scotland and Italy.
Generally regarded as the annual battle to avoid the wooden spoon, it was Scotland who started the brighter as an early penalty and interception try from Mark Bennett saw them open up a ten point lead.
Almost immediately, however, Italy halved the deficit through Josh Furno following an unstoppable Italian maul.
Scotland kept the scoreboard ticking over with Greig Laidlaw adding two more penalties, but then – a moment of madness. An Azzurri penalty struck the woodwork and rebounded into grateful Italian arms, allowing Giovanbattista Venditti to score his side’s second try. A chance to score three had turned into seven, and Italy went into the break just a point behind.
As the weather began to deteriorate, so too did the cohesion of play. Laidlaw slotted home another penalty, but Scotland were about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Consistent infringements at the scrum led to Italy being awarded a last minute penalty try as they completed a dramatic 22-19 win. It was a step backwards for Scotland, who will do well to finish the tournament with a win following their latest display.
And so to Paris, and a rivalry that has been rather one-sided in recent years, with Wales winning the last three in a row.
Both teams knew a win would keep their championship hopes alive and Wales ended the half 6-3 ahead as penalties seemed to be the order of the day, with few try scoring opportunities for either side.
After the restart the visitors managed to extend their lead as Dan Biggar scored his first international try. Wales were looking comfortable with a little under fifteen to go, but the French were not able to roll over. Bruising work from their forwards got them into within metres of the Welsh line before spreading it wide for Brice Dulin to nip over in the corner.
Nerves could easily have taken hold, but a Leigh Halfpenny penalty put breathing space between the sides who held on to win 20-13.
An encouraging display from Wales keeps them in the hunt for a championship, while it leaves France with just one win from three, looking directionless and low on confidence.
Despite all this, there was one match that dominated conversation all weekend. Ireland against England saw a clash of the two remaining unbeaten teams in the tournament.
All eyes were on the battle of the fly-halves, as Johnny Sexton took on George Ford.
It was Sexton and Ireland who came out on top in the first forty minutes. Three penalties to England’s one saw Ireland take a deserved lead as their intensity and tactics rattled the visitors.
There was no let up after the break as Conor Murray placed a perfectly executed kick that was gathered by Robbie Henshaw to score a lovely try and give Ireland a commanding lead.
A hamstring injury saw Sexton depart the fray and England sensed a way back into the match.
Two penalties from Ford cut the gap and their tails were up. But it was not to be as Ireland regained their composure to close out a 19-9 victory, leaving them as the only potential Grand Slam winners.
With the tournament now past the halfway stage, Ireland sit in the driving seat, but Wales and England both have points to prove and are far from out of contention. France look lost and a defeat against a confident and improving Italian side could see heads roll across the channel.
As for Scotland, it’s the same old story: over-achieve when expected to lose, then regress when expected to win. Regardless, a thrilling Six Nations continues with everything to play for in the coming weeks.