The first weekend of the Six Nations got off to an intriguing start, as pre-tournament favorites Ireland and France got off to winning starts, while England fell to a second successive Calcutta Cup defeat to Scotland.
The weekend got off to a resounding start as Ireland dominated Wales, in a game where the Irish laid down a marker that the rest of the competitors may find difficult to follow. The game was completely one-sided, as Wayne Pivac’s side didn’t look close to breaking their Dublin duck – they haven’t won in Ireland’s capital in 10 years.
Last year, in Pivac’s first Six Nations, the team won, a triumph that makes their decline this year all the more drastic and surprising. Only time will tell whether this is only a blip in Wales’ usual standards, before they rise again, or a symptom of longer-term decline.
Ireland began as they meant to go on, with a try after only two minutes, and were dominant in all aspects of the game, showing strength in the scrum and a dynamism and speed in attack that few teams in world rugby will be able to replicate. The same, however, could not be said of England, who fell to a surprise defeat against historic rivals Scotland.
Although there were some positives for England, namely their quality in possession and the mercurial talent that is Marcus Smith, Scotland possessed a nous and rugby intelligence that England simply could not match. No one in rugby at the minute quite possesses a kicking game quite like Scotland’s Finn Russell, as he kicked for strategic line-outs, and moved England around the pitch while of course putting away a fantastic conversion and another penalty.
This is an odd period in England’s rugby history, as they have the players and the talent, but appear unable to put together their different parts into a successful rugby team. Some fault must lie at Eddie Jones’ door on that front. Scotland, however, have found a new lease of life, and may even be hoping to challenge for a first Six Nations title (they last won in 1999, when the competition was the Five Nations).
This is shaping up to be a Six Nations full of intrigue, sub-plots, and competitive rugby
The other game was a foregone conclusion, and only raised questions as to what Italy are doing in the tournament, as France triumphed 37-10. France secured the bonus point they needed and exemplified the physicality that is the key trait of this impressive French team. Their game against Ireland could be key, as both teams look in fine fettle, with Ireland’s win over Wales now meaning they are on a run of nine wins on the bounce.
What is for certain is that, as always, this is shaping up to be a Six Nations full of intrigue, sub-plots, and competitive rugby, as five (or, this year, maybe four) impressive teams fight it out to take home the trophy.