Wales move into pole position

Wales trounce Italy while Ireland and England also win.

    Lee Byrne bags his double [AFP]

    Wales maintained its status as a surprise contender for a Six Nations Grand Slam on Saturday with its biggest ever championship win, while Ireland beat Scotland and England beat France to rekindle their title chances.

    Wales scored five tries and Stephen Jones kicked 18 points in a 47-8 win over Italy for the home side's biggest winning margin in the 125-year history of the northern hemisphere's premier international tournament.

    Fullback Lee Byrne and winger Shane Williams scored two tries each and center Tom Shanklin had one as Wales won its third straight game to stay in contention of repeating its 2005 Grand Slam success.

    "That's three from three,'' Wales captain Ryan Jones said. "We've always had huge belief and that's what got us the victories so far.''

    Jones, recalled to the starting team for James Hook, kicked four penalties and three conversions as Wales bettered its 49-14 win over France in 1910.

    Prop Martin Castrogiovanni scored Italy's sole try, while fullback Andrea Marcato kicked a penalty.

    After leading 13-8 at halftime, Wales scored 34 unanswered points at Millennium Stadium against an Italian team that had narrowly lost to Ireland and England.

    The first half had been competitive and Italy only missed going in to the break with a narrow lead because Andrea Marcato twice hit a post with kicks and Gonzalo Canale fumbled the ball when clear for a try.

    "You can't miss an opportunity like that,'' Italy coach Nick Mallet said.

    Having conceded two penalties to Jones in the opening 10 minutes, Italy made a rare foray into the Wales quarter. The hosts made an error on their own throw and Castrogiovanni, lurking at the back of the lineout, was able to muscle his way over the line and plant the ball one-handed.

    Italy should have scored again, but the unmarked Canale failed to hold a pass 10 meters out with the line wide open.

    Instead, it was Wales who scored next after taking a quick penalty tap.

    Inside center Gavin Henson swung the ball wide and Byrne dived over for a converted try and a 13-5 lead.

    Marcato closed the gap with another penalty, but Wales would dominate the second half.

    Immediately after the break, Italy flyhalf Andrea Masi threw a speculative pass that Shanklin, playing in his 50th test for Wales, intercepted to score.

    The speedy Williams then scored twice and Byrne once more to clinch the emphatic victory.

    Tommy Bowe crosses for Ireland [AFP]
    O'Gara powers Ireland home

    In Dublin, Ireland's backs finally came to life to set up a 34-13 win over Scotland that keeps their team in touch with the standings leaders.

    Flyhalf Ronan O'Gara dictated play for Ireland, which needed a convincing
    win to build upon an improved performance in a 26-21 loss at France two weeks

    "It was important that we got a win today,'' man-of-the-match Geordan Murphy said.

    Ireland, which only missed out on last season's title when France scored a last-minute try, touched down in Dublin through David Wallace, Rob Kearney, Marcus Horan and Tommy Bowe, the latter twice.

    Wallace burst through a gap in the 22nd to touch down under the posts and, moments later, Murphy started another scoring move when he caught the ball to set up a ruck near halfway on the right.

    Referee Christophe Berdos allowed play to continue even though the fullback was seemingly tackled in mid air, and O'Gara spotted a gap to sprint through the first line of defence and pass to O'Driscoll.

    The center drew in three tacklers and offloaded to Kearney, who dived over near the right corner for his first international try.

    Prop Marcus Horan scored an easy try in the first minute of the second half after he caught O'Gara's cross-field kick out on the right and, although Scotland hit back with Chris Paterson's second penalty and a try by Simon Webster, Murphy, O'Gara and Andrew Trimble combined to set up the best try of the match midway through the second half.

    Murphy offloaded a looping pass to O'Gara and the flyhalf gathered and flicked the ball under his right arm to Trimble in one fluid movement.

    Trimble then drew in the tacklers before passing inside to Bowe, who just made it across the line despite a last-ditch tackle by Mike Blair.

    O'Gara converted from wide out on the right and Bowe added the last try in the final minute after Paterson had fumbled the ball near his own try line.

    Richard Wigglesworth is jubliant after the
    final whistle [AFP]
    Wilkinson stars in Paris....again

    In the day’s late game, Jonny Wilkinson scored 14 points and England beat France 24-13.

    The flyhalf kicked three penalties, a conversion and a drop goal with England scoring two tries to one at Stade de France to leave Wales as the only unbeaten team in the championship.

    Scrumhalf Richard Wigglesworth touched down in the final seconds after winger Paul Sackey had given England an early lead, but France pulled back to 13-10 through captain Lionel Nallet's try.

    "I don't get many tries, so I will savor that one for the rest of my life,'' Wigglesworth said.

    Both teams have two wins and a defeat from the opening three rounds.

    England had lost to Wales 26-19 and narrowly beaten Italy 23-19 in the opening two rounds, and another close contest saw Brian Ashton's team hold on in the second half rather than capitulating.

    France again were felled by an early try.

    In the fifth minute centre Jamie Noon hit France fullback Cedric Heymans with a big tackle and the loose ball was kicked ahead by Sackey, who sprinted 30 meters into the right corner for a try converted by Wilkinson.

    Wilkinson made it 10-0 to England when he slotted over a penalty in the 14th minute.

    With a pairing of 19-year-old scrumhalf Morgan Parra and 21-year-old flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc, France didn't have a recognised place kicker for the first time since 1980.

    Instead, France looked to center Damien Traille to fill in. His first penalty, after 18 minutes, dropped short.

    France looked far better running with the ball and got back in the game through Nallet's pushover try after the French scrum had camped on England's line.

    Traille converted, but Wilkinson then nailed a 35-meter penalty on the left touchline to put England 13-7 ahead in the 30th minute.

    France pushed England back with some fluent running, and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski almost made it to the tryline before a late tackle upended him.

    Traille hit the post with the penalty.

    England hooker Mark Regan was penalised for punching Lionel Faure several times in the head, and this time the kicking duties went to Parra.

    His kick sailed through the posts to make it 13-10 in the 50th minute as France looked sharper.

    Wilkinson gave France a let-off when he missed two 30-metre kicks, but he landed another penalty before Wigglesworth sealed England's first Six Nations win in France since 2000.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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