5 things we learned from the opening round of Six Nations action
Scotland and Ireland registered victories on the opening day of the Guinness Six Nations as the competition was launched in compelling fashion.
Here the PA news agency examines five talking points from the round one games.
Calcutta Cup kings
Could this be Scotland’s time? Of course, there have been false dawns in the past – not least last year’s Six Nations when they opened with a win at Twickenham and finished on a triumphant note in Paris, only to fluff their lines in between. Toppling England at Murrayfield on Saturday may have set their supporters up for a fall once more, but the ability to dig out victory against opponents who dominated lengthy spells of an engrossing Calcutta Cup clash is evidence of their resilience. The next two rounds, against Wales in Cardiff and France at home, are now key staging posts in the quest to prove their revival is build on solid foundations.
Running the show
Identified pre-match as the key duel, the battle between Finn Russell and Marcus Smith did not disappoint as each departed Murrayfield with reputations enhanced. Russell’s decision making was impeccable during the critical phase of the match as he hoisted successive crossfield kicks to force England to concede a penalty try. Smith, meanwhile, proved once more he is the genuine article as he excelled on his Six Nations debut and Eddie Jones must surely regret the decision to take him off in the 64th minute so soon after he had run in a mesmerising try.
Smith’s exit from the field was curiously timed, but the reasons for England unravelling from being 17-10 ahead extend far beyond their replacement strategy. From Eddie Jones to his players, the decisive final quarter was a calamity of mismanagement. Luke Cowan-Dickie’s penalty try and the failure to bring on Jamie George as a substitute right away, Joe Marler’s botched line-out throw and the inability to convert a series of attacking scrums in overtime were largely self-inflicted wounds. And the overall stats, dominated by England, make for grim reading. Damningly, they spent four times as long in the opposition 22, yet their points per visits totalled a third of the amount registered by their old foes.
On the day England displayed old fault lines at Murrayfield, Ireland were busy storming into early title contention by dismantling Wales. A winning run of nine games shows that Andy Farrell’s rebuilding project is at an advanced stage and their willingness to attack, combined with the skill needed to execute, lit up the Aviva Stadium where forwards were every bit as comfortable on the ball as backs. Four tries were engineered against the visitors and there would have been more but for commendably committed defence. Saturday’s visit to France could be an early title decider and at the very least will provide an important gauge of their progress under Farrell.
A grim Dublin afternoon for depleted Wales illustrated the concern that some lean years await the defending champions. Ravaged by injury, they barely fired a shot – with only their frantic defending preventing a bigger defeat. Apart from Taine Basham, the 22-year-old flanker, there are few pointers towards a hopeful future and head coach Wayne Pivac must fear it will get worse before it gets better. Bullied physically by Ireland, it could be a long Six Nations for Wales.
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