For the second year in a row, there was defeat for all three home teams over the weekend as the Six Nations got underway.
France vs Ireland 17-38
For most people, myself included, this was the match to decide the tournament, and I really thought that France were going to come out on top. However, defending champions Ireland placed themselves as firm favourites with a dominant win in Marseille. No side has ever won back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations but this year it is looking like that might change. I’m not sure anyone has the ability to beat the Irish team which played on Friday evening.
Yes, France were down to 14-men for the majority of the match. Paul Willemse was handed a yellow card which was lucky not to have been a red, and then sealed his with another high tackle which was awarded another yellow, and thus a red. However, I think Ireland would have beaten them even if France had had an extra player on the field, they looked to be so dominant.
For France, Antoine Dupont’s absence could not have been more obvious; not only his game making ability, but also his level headedness. And they definitely could have used one of his try-saving tackles which he pulled off against Mack Hansen when these two teams met last year.
Dupont’s replacement Maxime Lucu struggled throughout, being put under great pressure at the ruck and looking unsure of himself and his decisions. Against the Irish, there is no time for hesitation.
On the other hand, Ireland looked unfazed during their first game since Johnny Sexton’s retirement. While the team themselves of course deserve a lot of credit, I believe the same must also be said of the coaching team. Andy Farrell has done incredible things at Ireland since he became head coach in 2019. Every player on the pitch always looks 100% sure of himself, and this surety is invaluable, especially at an international level.
This confidence extended to all players, including 22-year-old Joe McCarthy who won player of the match for his outstanding performance on what was only his sixth appearance for the Irish senior national team.
Italy vs England 24-27
Both Italy and England showed promising performances in Rome on Saturday. In the past, a mere three-point win against Italy would not be something the English would celebrate; however I would argue what should be focused on is not the score, but rather how the English side achieved it.
Don’t get me wrong, there were moments when I, as an England fan, was worried that Italy would make history and beat us. However, there are definite positives to be taken away from the game.
Tommy Freeman played out of his skin on the wing, something which has seemed to have been missing from the English side in recent years. Among the problems in recent English history, one has seemed to be the inability for the wingers to become involved in the game, often being left out on the wing and not seeing much of the ball. The same cannot be said for Freeman who seemed to be everywhere on Saturday.
Another stand out player was Ethan Roots. While I am a big Sam Underhill fan, I was still disheartened about Courtney Lawes’ retirement, and worried about who would replacement. While it is still very early to say this, perhaps the replacement has been found in Roots, who brought necessary physicality and a strength in contact which can be put down to his martial arts background.
Another aspect of England which seemed promising was their defence. They welcomed new defence coach Felix Jones before the start of the tournament, a man is no stranger to success. He played a key part in both of South Africa’s recent World Cup victories, and already improvements could be seen among the English side. Their line-speed was much quicker, and Italy seemed to only break through due to lack of organisation. This is something which will take time to come when working on a new defence strategy as everyone finds their feet and their placement will become subconscious.
For Italy, this was the closest score they have ever had when playing against England and was much improved compared to the 22 tries which they conceded in their two final games of the World Cup. However, next weekend they are facing Ireland, so they will need all of their strength. Hopefully, Ange Capuozzo will be back to health for Italy’s trip to Dublin.
Wales vs Scotland 26-27
The first half in Cardiff was without a doubt one of the most dismal performances Wales has produced under Warren Gatland’s rule. It was the Finn Russell show as the self-proclaimed Messi of rugby tore through the Welsh side with a smile on his face. After the first 45 minutes, Scotland were up 27-0 and looked to be on their way to a record-breaking victory.
In the next 25 minutes Wales scored 26 unanswered points, and the look of relief on Russell’s face when the final whistle blew showed just how much the tables had turned.
I have never seen a game which showed momentum to have such a large impact on the score. Tomos Williams coming on at scrum-half after half-time seemed to really turn the Welsh team around, and once they got going, and the crowd found their feet once again, it seemed like they really were going to win. If the game had been five minutes longer, I think they would have done.
Scotland definitely did not help themselves as they gave away 14 penalties in a row, two of which amounted to yellow cards. In comparison, Wales conceded four penalties throughout the entire game, the last of which was at 26 minutes.
While it was the first win in Cardiff for Scotland since 2002, it really did seem like a defeat by the end of it, and Russell spoke of his disappointment after the game. Scotland welcome France at Murrayfield next weekend, and les bleus will be coming with something to prove after their performance against Ireland. If the Scottish want to win, they will have to fix their discipline.
Image: Daniel via Wikimedia Commons