Six Nations: talking points from a thrilling third round

Guardian sport

A big performance from Italy may not be far away

Italy have failed to score a point in two out of three Six Nations matches so far. While that is the dismal reality for the coach Franco Smith and his players to reflect on before their trip to Ireland in a couple of weeks, it would be wrong to write off this talented group. The Azzurri are trying to play positive, entertaining rugby and players such as the back-row Jake Polledri, the wings Matteo Minozzi and Mattia Bellini and the fly-half Tommaso Allan have had their moments, especially in Paris, while Scotland were forced to scrap for success in Rome on Saturday. Italy must improve their defensive discipline and get the scoreboard moving at the other end. Easier said than done? Of course, but they are not a million miles away. Luke McLaughlin

Match report: Italy 0-17 Scotland

Hogg scores Scotland’s first try in sensational fashion

Following harrowing errors in the first two rounds of the competition, Scotland’s talisman showed signs of his scintillating best in Rome. Fresh from a confidence-boosting performance for Exeter last weekend, Stuart Hogg’s sensational first-half try did not only demonstrate his incredible talent but it was Scotland’s first try in this year’s Six Nations. It enabled them to ease the psychological burden of negativity surrounding the team and gave them confidence to push on. Rome was also Hogg’s first win as captain and Scotland’s professional performance provides them with a solid platform to build on. “We came here to do a job, and we’ve done exactly that,” said Hogg. “I wasn’t making a mess of that one, I can assure you.” William Pickworth

We need to step up if we are to deny France, admits McInally

Stuart Hogg scores his stunning first-half try for Scotland against Italy. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

Fumbles and the lack of cohesion leave Wales adrift

They say margins are tight at the highest level. Ask Wales. One could easily argue they are playing better rugby now than they did last season, when they won a grand slam. If that was the most flattering clean sweep in Six Nations history, their current tally of one win from three is harsh. With only a few tweaks to What Actually Happened, Wales could be sitting on three from three. A collection of infuriating fumbles cost them in Dublin, while against France, even if they played with less cohesion, a different pass here, a different referee there might have swung things their way. The trick is to appreciate that and remain true to the current path. Michael Aylwin

‘You’ve got to scrum straight’: Pivac livid over late France penalty

France are back with youth coming through to shine

A responsible journalist would couch what follows with all the usual qualifications of there being a long way to go, so young a team, have not won anything yet, blah, blah. But to hell with that: France are back. Peopled by brilliant youngsters, they also seem to have acquired a hardness of mind to make them more than just a joy to watch. The generation that have just won consecutive junior World Cups are coming through to spice up a side that should be developing nicely come the next World Cup, on French soil. Meanwhile momentum is everything in the Six Nations. A first grand slam in 10 years is practically a done deal. Michael Aylwin

France’s Paul Willemse thankful knock-on effects were not too severe

Larmour preferred but was exposed against England

Andy Farrell has taken a largely conservative approach to team selection in his first three matches as Ireland’s head coach. He has kept changes to a minimum but perhaps the most telling one he has made has been at full-back, opting for Jordan Larmour rather than Rob Kearney. Larmour is one of the most exciting players around when he has space to showcase his footwork but England were able to target the 22-year-old and expose his frailties under the high ball. George Ford hoisted two high kicks in his direction inside the opening five minutes and later in the first half Larmour’s decision not to call for a mark proved to be the wrong one. Surely he will develop those skills to add to his attacking armoury but this championship is proving a learning curve for Larmour in the No 15 jersey. Gerard Meagher

England will be ‘10% better’ against Wales, says upbeat Jones

Can England get across the line with two victories?

Eddie Jones has been obstinately refusing to talk about anything other than the next match right through this tournament but, given the way the two teams played this weekend, it feels as if England really should beat Wales given that the match is at Twickenham. After that they have only Italy left to play. The question, then, is whether two wins can still win the Championship. They will likely need the Scots to do them a favour by beating France at Murrayfield in the next round. If that happens, then the thing really will be wide open. Andy Bull

Bullish Tuilagi leads charge for England with a lot left in the tank