The opening weekend of the 2017 RBS Six Nations set up the rest of the tournament brilliantly. A number of lessons were learned and fans were given an early indication of how the tournament could pan out. So after a cracking weekend of rugby let’s ask, what did we learn?
Scotland are a force to be reckoned with
Anyone who said Scotland would dominate the first half at Murrayfield like they did would have been considered mad before kick-off on Saturday. The Scots stormed into a 21-8 halftime lead against Ireland to the surprise of everyone and they showed they will not be an easy game for anyone. Winning their opening Six Nations game for the first time since 2006, they outclassed Ireland all over the pitch in the first 40. Special mention must go to Stuart Hogg. Everyone knew he was good, arguably the best player in Scotland, but did anyone know that he could put on a performance like he did. He opened the scoring after a piece of over-enthusiastic defending from Ringrose and scored his second try after a superb dummy to fool the onrushing Kearney. His performance over the 80 minutes surely solidified his place as the starting fullback for the Lions. The Gray brothers dominated the giant Devin Toner in the lineout and Laidlaw led his team with confidence and a cool head. Ireland were not at full strength, missing key man Johnny Sexton, but even if he had played, would Ireland have beaten a resilient Scotland side. I don’t think so.
England are beatable
Going into the game between England and France it was widely expected that England would blow them away with the rugby that has led to them being undefeated in their last 14 tests. However, those who watched the game would have noticed that England didn’t look like a team who had beaten everything in their path in 2016. While they were missing influential players like Billy Vunipola and Chris Robshaw but they were disjointed and were lacking any real cutting edge throughout the game. They were lucky to escape from Twickenham with 4 points. Baptiste Serin ran the game from scrum-half for France. He didn’t look like a 22-year-old with 6 caps. France should have won the game. Desperation in defence was all that kept Vakatawa out on a number of occasions and a strong performance from man of the match Louis Picamoles helped to show that England could struggle to keep hold of their Six Nations crown. Eddie Jones admitted England’s performance was ‘ugly’ and they know they will need significant improvement when they face Wales next week.
There is hope for Italy
A 7-33 scoreline does not do the performance put in by Italy against Wales any justice. They led at halftime by 7-3 and Wales had the chance to be in the lead but they turned down 3 kickable penalties in favour of going for a lineout from the Italian 5 metre line. A ferocious Italian defence kept them at bay each time. Wales dominated the game with 61% territory and 62% possession but they only made 7 line breaks. In the end, it was the penalty count which stopped Italy from getting anything out of the game. 16 penalties conceded, one of which resulted in the sin-binning of Andrea Lovotti, inhibited Italy. However, they can take heart from the fact it was not until the yellow card that Wales stamped their authority on the game. Tries from Davies, Williams and a spectacular solo try from North stopped the Italians in their tracks. Sergio Parisse said in his pre-match interview he feared the Italians would fall off the pace and that is exactly what happened. The never-ending defensive effort took its toll but the scoreline flattered Wales. Yes, they dominated but they never looked like breaking down the defensive line of Italy. If Italy can play like they did for 60 minutes today, for 80 minutes every game, they will prove to be a team no-one wants to play.
The opening weekend proved that the Six Nations is full of quality and any team can be beaten. There is improvements for Ireland and England to make, the ability to last for 80 minutes for Italy and France to find, Wales need to show more attacking promise and the team of the weekend Scotland have got to find a way to keep up the winning mentality.