AFTER the feeling of liberation of the first weekend of the Six Nations and its 16 tries, a more familiar sense of constriction came on the second. The away wins for Wales and England in Paris and Dublin, with their one solitary try, felt a bit like the arrival of security after a party got slightly out of hand. The fun police were back in charge.
The peeling pitch at the Stade de France and the incessant rain at the Aviva were offered in mitigation but Jamie Heaslip dropped two kicks that, if manacled and blindfolded, he would normally catch. And Cian Healy went from being a perfectly agreeable first-up ball carrier and likely companion of Dan Cole in the Lions front row, to the villain who put his stamp on the England tighthead prop. The joy of a first-round win in Cardiff gave way to the strain of losing at home.
There was nothing quite so stressed about Murrayfield, where Scotland, try-shy for years, again proved that they are deadly from deep. The back three of Tim Visser, Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg confirmed, or added themselves to, the list of serious candidates for the Lions. Against Italy, Scott Johnson, conscious of Scotland coming off second best at Twickenham in the contact area, ordered an increase in speed and aggression in defence, without compromising his team's counter-attacking spirit.
Italy, and in particular Luciano Orquera, their hero of the victory over France, may have fed the ball to Hogg too easily but Scotland are in a good place and will remain at Murrayfield for their next game, against Ireland, who have lost Jonathan Sexton, Simon Zebo, Mike McCarthy and Gordon D'Arcy to injury, and Healy to the doghouse.
Last weekend's sound of the round were the catcalls delivered by the crowd in Paris at the final whistle. Disapproval comes without ambiguity in France. This latest ear-splitting rejection of the team's effort was not, however, as intense as the anger that was vented at the old Parc des Princes 21 years ago, when France lost to England 31-13. They had also lost to them in the autumn, in the quarter-final of the 1991 World Cup, but this was even more gruesome, France's dark day ending with Gregoire Lascube and Vincent Moscato sent off. If it is any consolation to Healy, other front-row forwards have lost their head against England.
Which brings us to the remarks made by Warren Gatland about the issues that go with the only remaining unbeaten country in the championship. First, a rubbish round of rugby and then the Lions coach wades, as well as his dodgy heels allow, into England.
Hasty declarations of devotion to the Lions cause by Bill Beaumont, the cuddliest man in jovial England, and the invitation from the England camp to Gatland to suck deeply on a peace pipe seem to have detoxified the New Zealander's observation that England have baggage. But it remains a fact that they do.
Does it have any bearing on Gatland's selection for his Lions squad to go to Australia? As far as I can tell – and in rugby there is only a limited number of lines between which we should read – the hooker was pointing out that being England was something to bear in mind. He was not saying that a hammer is a dangerous tool and should be left at home. He was recognising its worth, but acknowledging its potential to be blamed for anything that gets broken in Australia in June and July.
Goodness, we could be through the entire toolbox by the time of the announcement of the Lions squad. The funny thing then, of course, is that everybody ceases to be anything other than a Lion and a race begins to build one team.
England are not traditionally the quickest to embrace new routines and patterns but it is also clear that Stuart Lancaster has transformed his players in double-quick time. For the moment, and with only two of the five rounds completed, there are more players impressing than fading.
Adam Jones did not have one of his most steadfast of evenings in Paris, but he was not the only principal to falter. There were the Heaslip spills, and Brian O'Driscoll had a wobble too. It is reassuring that players tagged "indispensable" can turn in a poor performance by their standards and the only threat to the Lions project is the coach's musings on taking Englishmen overseas.
The truth is that whatever was said last week, or in September about November being more important than any other month for Lions selection, or whatever amendment was made in January that each round of the Six Nations would make the picture clearer, there is still everything to play for. There remain acres of empty space to be filled and presumably loads more observations to be made that will cause offence in one quarter or another.
Here is something to lob into that void: if Visser and Hogg and Maitland go well against Ireland and if nothing changes in the feeling that Australia is a place where a threat from the back three is essential, then how about Scotland filling the first three shirts on the Lions team list?