What do pundits know, eh? Wow, what an opening round of this year’s Six Nations. The build-up for this year had been one of anticipation and intrigue as the teams shaping up were looking very different to what we usually see. Typically, it’s a three way shootout between England, Wales and Ireland. However huge injuries to the Welsh side had them looking extremely depleted and weak and with the Scots playing some of the best rugby they have ever played, everyone had more or less written Wales off. How wrong we all were. With Scotland slammed down to earth and Ireland taken right to the death, this first weekend had changed the tone of the tournament considerably.
WALES v SCOTLAND
Let’s start with the first game which saw Scotland coming down to Cardiff for a game that was hugely anticipated. HEKKTA was in front of the big projector at our local surrouded by Scots expecting to see the attacking flair of the Scottish backline silence the Millenium Stadium. After an early Welsh score, we again expected Scotland to come back fighting. But the response never came; they were hammered. This took us hugely by surprise and also saddened us, as it was as if the huge bright light of hope that this would be a new era of Scottish rugby was instantly switched off.
But this really does change the tone of the Six Nations now, as Scotland are no longer the serious contenders we all saw them as. There is time yet in the tournament and we reckon they will put in a few good performances but looking at the newfound strength of the French defence, it may just be against Italy.
Wales replicated the form of the Scarlets, whose expansive play has had everyone talking in admiration. Wales’ defence was solid and their attack was sharp and clinical. They looked very well trained and despite their lengthy list of injuries to key players like Falatau, Warburton (the Lions captain) and Biggar, their replacements looked completely at ease. We were especially impressed with Patchell and Navidi who really put their hands up for a place next week. Maybe because everyone had written them off, the pressure was off and they were able to thrive. However you see it, this Wales win has put them right up there as serious contenders for the trophy. Wales England next week promises to be an absolute corker. We expect England to take it, as their convincing win against Italy showed off their lethal attack. But if Wales can choke the English attack and replicate their expansive style that pummled Scotland, they could produce another shock.
FRANCE v IRELAND
What a finish. Just incredible from the Irish to have the patience and control to slowly move up the pitch when the clock is in the red and after 41 phases, get the match winning drop goal! It was one of the most remarkable finishes to a game we have seen in the Six Nations. Even had echoes of Wilkinson’s infamous 2003 drop goal. The game itself was all about defense. I was surprised at how strong France were, their defence was so solid. Ireland really didn’t get a look in. When Thomas went over for the only try of the match in the last 10 minutes, we all assumed it was over. But the Irish had other ideas.
But what does this mean in the context of the rest of the tournament? Well Ireland have Italy next so that is a bit of a dead heat, but France will now back themselves against anyone in this tournament, and the doubters of this French team will surely start to change their tune going into the next game. Both Scotland and France are teams that can be very inconsistent and their best performances come when they thrive off their patriotic passion. Scotland will have the home advantage and after such an embarrasing defeat, we expect they will really put in a performance and potentially just pip this French side. High scoring and attritional we imagine.
ITALY v ENGLAND
Predictably good from England. They had the task of getting a bonus point victory and they did that while showing off some dazzling attacking play. The Ford-Farrell partnership should stay for the entire tournament, as when they are together, England are the best backline in the Six Nations by a distance. Watson was impressive and the pack was solid as usual. Simmonds was impressive but we’re still not sure how he will fare against much more solid back rowers like the Welsh. That question shall be answered next week as we imagine he will retain the number 8 jersey. Italy tried their best and when they got the ball into space at speed, they were threatening. But England were just too good and the subs increased the gap beyond the Italian side. One loss for England was the serious looking injury picked up by Youngs. His yelp was not a good sign and we expect he’ll be gone for the rest of the Six Nations. We reckon Dan Robson will fill in for him as he has been in top form for Wasps.
Wales next week for England at Twickenham. England should win but the Welsh will really give them a game, that is for sure. Wales’ back row were very impressive against Scotland, and considering the weaknesses in the English back row, Wales could really bully England in that part of the field.