Well what an opening weekend of action in the 6 Nations! There were three superb games, a high number of tries scored and a collective commitment from all six sides to play attacking rugby. Also there was a hell of a shock in Rome too!
In Cardiff we witnessed an absorbing contest. Let’s look at it just in terms of statistics. One side had 64% possession, 66% territory, created 140 rucks (the other by contrast managed only 66), made 101 tackles (as opposed to the oppositions 176) and still lost by 8 points. Whilst the home side may rue a number of missed opportunities that could have made the game even closer the simple truth is that you cannot in International Rugby allow one team to get a 30 point start and then hope to win. Wales were awful for the first 45 minutes. The clinical Irish took their opportunities and with the added moments of brilliance by O Driscoll and Zebo, it seemed to be a case of just how many points the visitors would accumulate. Am I paying Ireland a disservice in that I felt they didn’t really have to work too hard for their points in that first half? Wales threw caution to the wind at 3-30 but nobody in red should be seduced that the panic stricken, nothing to lose rugby we saw in the last 30 minutes was anything other than a desperate attempt to salvage some respect. Still it made great viewing for the neutral. But the only team that will have really enjoyed that final 30 minutes was England. Watching the Irish drain their tanks and pick up injuries will test the men in green’s powers of recovery to the limit this week.
At Twickenham, England were determined to show their win over the AB’s was not a flash in a pan. They achieved this in comprehensive fashion and the England team on this showing are the real deal. They dominated the game throughout and their physicality, pace and precision were hugely impressive. They dominated the Scottish pack and looked a balanced threat behind with the debutant Twelvetrees adding an increased “footballers” presence in attack. The English back row was head & shoulders above their Scottish counterparts (despite a heroic performance from Kelly Brown) and the speed of the ball they were able to produce will have their upcoming opponents worried. For Scotland there were few positives. The back three showed glimpses of attacking intent and Stuart Hogg impressed with his speed, awareness and booming touch finders. However the Scottish midfield again looked impotent and the decision to pick a part time scrum half horribly back fired. Sunday’s result will have not made them feel any better.
And so on to Rome for the final game of the weekend. Did we witness a “coming of age” for Italian rugby? Apart from a 10 minute spell when France ran in two tries, the Azzurri dominated the game and played at a pace and skill level that has not been evident before. They also kept to a level of intensity for the full 80 minutes. The home side finally displayed some attacking skill, with the half backs of Botes and Orquera keeping their team going forward and mixing their tactics beautifully. The Italian pack had the measure of their French counterparts and we saw yet another sublime performance from Parisse. France produced what can only be described as a “strange” performance. True they were up against an inspired home team but the lack of urgency and cohesion was the total opposite of what we had seen from them in the autumn. At numerous stages in the second half, it would have been possible to throw a blanket over the full XV such was their total lack of width and obsession with playing the game within the tight confines of the tackle area. Les Bleus seemed to obsessed with showing their physical power and the question marks about Michalak’s ability to impose himself resurfaced once more. However this should take nothing away from Italy who were superb throughout and will travel to Edinburgh with huge ambitions of winning two games in a row for the first time in their brief Six Nations history.