Five things we learned from the third round of Six Nations matches

Anthony Watson scores a try for England against Wales in 2023 Six Nations Anthony Watson scores England's opening try against Wales (Joe Giddens/PA)

The 2023 Six Nations will enter its penultimate round of games in a fortnight’s time with plenty of talking points after a trio of fascinating encounters in round three.

Here, we examine five talking points arising from the games.

England take another step forward

It is steady, rather than spectacular, but England are undoubtedly making progress under new head coach Steve Borthwick. Their 20-10 victory over Wales in Cardiff was certainly not a classic, yet England got the job done at a stadium where they had only won twice from their seven previous visits. Full-back Freddie Steward was the star performer, but there were strong contributions throughout the team, with players like Ollie Lawrence, Ellis Genge and Lewis Ludlam also excelling. The degree of difficulty will increase sharply with tournament heavyweights France and Ireland now awaiting England, but they remain in the title mix after three games and are quietly going about their business.

Freddie Steward’s high-ball masterclass

Former Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies hailed Steward as the world’s best full-back under the high ball following a virtuoso display in Cardiff, and it is hard to disagree. England star Steward time and time again reached high to claim the catch as Wales repeatedly – and foolishly – kicked in his direction. Steward’s command of the skill combined accuracy, bravery, strength and positioning as he dealt comfortably with everything Wales threw at him. At just 22, he already looks an accomplished international performer who has been around the Test game for years, and a player who looks set to take everything in his stride.

Ireland are not about to panic

Depleted Ireland could easily have seen their Grand Slam dreams ruined in Rome. Missing a host of star names through injury, the world’s top-ranked team were under serious pressure going into the final quarter of a thrilling clash with fearless Italy after the hosts moved to within four points at a raucous Stadio Olimpico. Yet Andy Farrell’s in-form side regained their composure to close out a third successive bonus-point win – triumphing 34-20 – to keep themselves on course for a clean sweep. While it was not entirely convincing, the five points were all that mattered and head coach Farrell is optimistic most of his missing men will be ready for Murrayfield in round four.

Mohamed Haouas is a liability

Three years after he was sent off for punching Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie, Haouas was at it again against the Scots, this time seeing red following a head-on-head contact with visiting scrum-half Ben White in Paris. France had a one-man advantage following Scotland lock Grant Gilchrist’s dismissal, but Haouas – who had been called up as replacement for suspended Les Bleus prop Uini Atonio – could not help himself. France prevailed without him, winning a titanic contest 32-21 that ended Scottish Grand Slam hopes, yet his World Cup selection chance might now be over following such recklessness.

Wooden spoon threat a reality for Wales

It is 20 years since Wales last finished bottom of the Six Nations table, but that ignominious fate now looms large. Warren Gatland’s team have two games left – Italy in Rome and France in Paris – and the Azzurri encounter is likely to decide this season’s wooden spoonists. Wales are reeling from three successive defeats, 89 points, 12 tries and 44 penalties conceded, while their last Six Nations victory came more than a year ago when Scotland were edged out 20-17 in Cardiff. Wales’ 2019 Grand Slam success and 2021 title triumph are distant memories, and improving Italy will fancy their chances at Stadio Olimpico against a side that needs to find some answers – quickly.

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