In this years 6 nations most squads are under-going some maintenance of their squads with mature players retiring and young tyros forcing their way in. As such round 1 was full of inaccuracy and mistakes which made the games a bit stop start. So after another week in camp and getting to know each other did we see a marked improvement and who has seemingly run their race for another year?
France vs Ireland, 10-9
Ireland don’t have the best of history playing the French in Paris and as such the odds were stacked against the current 6 nations champions. What made the situation even harder was the loss of Dave Kearney and Sean O’Brien during the game and the French packs insistence on taking Jonny Sexton out of the game. Despite this the Irish were leading 9-3 for the majority of the game with their pack really taking the French front row to the cleaners. In the second half Guy Noves brought on Eddie Ben Arous and Rabah Slimani who soon turned the tide and it was from a scrum that they then fashioned a move to send Maxime Medard over to score the decisive try which resulted ultimately in the victory for France and has left the Irish out of the title race for 2016.
This was quite a tight and scrappy game probably due to neither side being able to create a greater than one score lead and France despite not playing particularly well are still on course for a grand slam. Who were the key players in the game? It’s tough to say as this wasn’t a game that will live long in the memory but I would probably go for the French front row that were on the bench.
Wales vs Scotland, 27-23
There was a lot of focus on the fact that the Scots hadn’t won against Waled in the 6 nations in the previous 8 meetings between the teams in this tournament, but the Scots were angry that they hadn’t given a good account of themselves against the English. So there was everything to play for in this game especially with the roof closed.
The execution wasn’t quite at the level of the Super 15 nations but there was entertainment abound with a try that shouldn’t have been given for Gareth Davies, George North rediscovering his try scoring form, Jamie Roberts proving once again that he is made of granite. For Scotland Tommy Seymour demonstrated his impressive aerial prowess, John Hardie was as difficult to shove at the breakdown last week and is fast becoming one of the best European 7s on the circuit and Duncan Taylor ran some great lines and took his try with aplomb despite being a late addition to the starting lineup. Ultimately the Welsh pressure was just to great and if it wasn’t for the Davies try and the ensuing conversion then the Scots would have won! The key players for me are mentioned above. Wales have still kept their title hopes alive and it looks like the game against France on the 26th of February will be massive in helping to decide where the title may end up.
Italy vs England, 9-40
Eddie Jones had asked his side to ‘smack’ Italy in this game, some people put this down to over confidence but Italy have never beaten the men in white so I believe this was a calculated risk and despite England not winning by a large margin in Rome in recent years it was hard to look beyond anything but an England win. That said the Italians were in the game until the final 30 minutes and were really taking the game to the English through the fleet footed Michele Campagnaro, their talisman Sergio Perisse and livewire half back Eduardo Gori. It just so happened that as England started to unload the bench and introduce some fresh legs that the Italians were starting to wobble under them due to the amount of work they were having to do earlier in the game. Jonathan Jospeh and his hattrick took the majority of the plaudits but for me George Kruis put in a shift which will be hard to replicate, he slowed down ball, had great line speed in defence, ran the lineout and scrummage like a beast. I also thought that of the players who came off the bench Maro Itoje had a the biggest impact in securing a number of turnovers and carrying well. It was good to see Jack Clifford and Jamie George get some more game time, with the later giving a great pass out of the tackle for Farrell to score a try. It was also a real joy to see Paul Hill make his debut. This is a young lad who has made his way up through the Yorkshire Carnegie team into Northampton Saints and has played for England at all age groups. A real star in the making.
England were still a bit inaccurate but it was pleasing to see them up the ante in the in the final 20 / 0 minutes to run Italy off the park. Next up Ireland at Twickenham. I’m sure the players will be looking forward to getting back into the familiar surroundings of west London.