Mack Hansen scores for Ireland, underlining the depth of their squad

London (AFP) - Ireland kept their Grand Slam dream alive with a hard-fought win away to Italy and England heaped more misery on Wales as World Cup hosts France rebounded from their defeat by the Irish with victory over fellow Six Nations title contenders Scotland.

AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from an absorbing third round of the Championship.

- Ireland’s strength in depth key to Slam dream -

Ireland remained on course for a first Grand Slam since 2018 and just their fourth in all with a hard-fought 34-20 win away to Italy.

The Irish have been rightly lauded for the quality of their rugby under coach Andy Farrell on the way to topping the world rankings.

But another aspect of that rise was on show in Rome on Saturday against a much-improved Italy – strength in depth.

Ireland were without seven frontline players yet it was still their bench that made a key difference at the Stadio Olimpico, with replacement scrum-half Conor Murray sending in Mack Hansen for the visitors’ fifth and decisive try.

Substitute forwards Tom O’Toole and Ryan Baird also made their presence felt after coming on in the 36th and 52nd minutes of a thrilling contest.

- Farrell proves his worth despite kicking woes -

England may well have enjoyed a more comfortable success against Wales in Cardiff than their eventual 20-10 triumph had not captain Owen Farrell endured a torrid time off the kicking tee.

The fly-half missed four of his six attempts, a squandering of points that meant the game was still in the balance until centre Ollie Lawrence scored the third of England’s three tries five minutes from time at the Principality Stadium.

Owen Farrell struggled with his kicking but still made a key contribution to England's win against Wales

Farrell’s kicking form appears to have declined since he had suffered an ankle injury last year.

Even the very best goal-kickers have an off day and in those circumstances it is not unusual to see a captain call up someone else for penalty-goal and conversion duty.

But it is asking a lot of Farrell to demote himself when skipper in such a situation, particularly as he may well regard such a move as a dereliction of duty given his desire to lead from the front.

Nevertheless, in a low-scoring contest Farrell proved his worth in defence by making 17 tackles and contributing to four turnovers – a reminder there is more to his game than goal-kicking.

- France show mettle -

After a first defeat since July 2021 in Ireland two weeks ago captain Antoine Dupont challenged his France side to “get back on their fee” by beating Scotland and they did just that.

Captain Antoine Dupont got the reaction he wanted from his France team

The 32-21 win kept their slim hopes of retaining the Six Nations alive but the performance and ability to hold on and then claim a bonus point against the in-form visitors highlighted their credentials for the Rugby World Cup on home soil.

France’s clinical edge will stand them in good stead for the tournament starting in September as well as for the trip to England, which has not been a happy hunting ground for Les Bleus.

The last time France won in the Six Nations at Twickenham was in 2005, with an 18-17 victory in which Dimitri Yachvili scored all his side’s points.

France’s last win of any kind at Twickenham was a 21-15 success in a 2007 World Cup warm-up match.