Six Nations Round 1: 5 things we learned

six nations captains

1. Let’s not get carried away
Compare your reflections on this year’s opening round, to those of last year. Wales had put in an underwhelming performance (check), Italy had surpassed all expectations (check), England had managed a free flowing attacking game (check), and Ireland had looked the real deal (check). What happened next? Wales stepped it up several gears to look comfortably the best team by the end of the championship, Italy faded back towards the bottom of the table, England’s attack looked blunt for the rest of the tournament and Ireland regressed to pick up just a draw from the remainder of their games. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves here – there is still a long way to go.

2. Hookers on a learning curve – still
Sunday’s game proved that there are still those hookers adapting – or perhaps failing to adapt would be more appropriate – to the new scrummaging laws. Ross Ford, in the purest sense of the word, is not a hooker – he cannot hook. On two separate occasions his inability to lift his foot and hook the ball back, which Rory Best duly went ahead and did, cost Scotland possession. Of course, when your scrum is creaking as much as Scotland’s was it is always going to be difficult to destabilise it further by actually hooking, but they weren’t going to shove Ireland off the ball anyway – so what does he have to lose?

3. Eight is the magic number
It was a superb weekend for number eights, almost across the board. Taulupe Faletau was a constant thorn in Italy’s side at the breakdown, winning turnovers left, right and centre. Sergio Parisse showed glimpses of his majestic best, so nearly claiming a try, and is still the definition of a talisman to this Italian side – they simply step it up several notches when he plays. Billy Vunipola was England’s best player in Paris, rampaging over the gainline time and again and finishing with two try assists, one a gorgeous offload to Burrell. Louis Picamoles was overshadowed by big Billy, but still managed to carry for 71 metres and beat five defenders. Then on Sunday, Jamie Heaslip put in possibly the performance of the opening round, scoring one from the back of a maul and showing Kieran Read-like athleticism and awareness to almost grab another. David Denton was the shining light in an abysmal Scottish pack and put in his best performance since bursting onto the scene two years ago. All in all, a great weekend to be wearing the number eight.

4. The future is bright
There were several encouraging performances from the many youngsters that featured in the opening round of the Six Nations. France’s Jules Plisson started very brightly in Paris, probing behind England’s inexperienced wingers to send his side to an early lead, while another young back, Gael Fickou, stole the headlines with a cool finish in the dying minutes to win the game. Italy’s Tommaso Allan and Michele Campagnaro were the standout performers in Cardiff on Saturday, the former playing an intelligent game while also managing to spark Italy’s backs into life in a way that has not been seen for some time. And what of Campagnaro? The 20-year old looks made for test match rugby – quick, strong and possessing an insatiable work rate, it’s not just the Italians that are hoping he’s the real deal. Marty Moore, Jack McGrath, Tommy O’Donnell and Iain Henderson all also featured from the bench for Ireland, and early indications are they could be around the international squad for some time.

5. The full 80 minutes
This is fast becoming a trademark English malaise. In the autumn, they were guilty of not playing the full eighty minutes in every game – fortunately against Australia and Argentina good second and first halves respectively got them out of trouble. Against the All Blacks they shipped two tries early on, before rallying valiantly, only to concede late on and ultimately lose the match. Sounds familiar? It is almost the exact blueprint of what happened at the Stade de France on Saturday. If even one of those early tries had not been conceded, England would have won. And whether France’s late comeback was a result of the bench being emptied or not, one thing is for certain – England need to focus for the whole game if they are to start winning these tight matches.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

54 thoughts on “Six Nations Round 1: 5 things we learned

  1. If England play like they did in the 2nd half for the majority of the match we should be too far ahead to worry about last minute tries. But please Lancaster, can we have backs on the bench to win a match not defend a lead. May has a dodgy nose so can we have Watson on the bench or Eastmond to provide some pace and a proper fly half. If we’re not willing to risk young players against Scotland when will we?

    1. Agree entirely, we won’t have another good opportunity to try Watson (someone Lancaster specifically name-checked to the press in the build-up to the 6N) until the final round, when it will arguably be too late. I would also suggest Ford to the bench, if the centres get in trouble bring in Ford to FH and Faz can cover. If Burrell can avoid disgracing himself against France in Paris in his debut we don’t need Barritt there in case he poos the bed against a Scotland side who were rank last Sunday.

  2. A note on 1: I am sure England’s free flowing game will continue this week, when you consider they are playing Scotland, who although tried pretty much everything could not score in a brothel!! Their scrum will be under serious pressure again, and Billy I expect May, Nowell and Brown to have plenty of opportunities to run with the ball.

    Benjit: I’ll second those requests. Scotland is the game to let Ford and Watson have a go. Goode is not required for this game.

    1. Goode isn’t needed for any game. His sub par pace and overly hesitant step simply isn’t good enough for international rugby. When is the last international he managed to properly evade a player? Carter, ABs 2012?

      Is May fit for the Scotland game? If he isn’t then I hope Lancaster plays Watson/Brown/Nowell with Eastmond on the bench. Horrible feeling in my gut that he’ll resort to putting Brown there with Goode at 15.

  3. Benjit
    What can you do to stop England giving the other team 15pts start in last 3 out of 4 games?
    I was shocked to read today England are making the classic English mistake of believing their own hype in that O Farrell thinks the backs were ‘brilliant and outstanding’!owen FFS we Lost-end of.Also SL believes his subs decision was correct.No Kiwi would ever think like this especially after a loss.I feel some humility and pragmatism is required in the English camp and I fear they will go to Scotland with the same mindset as 1990.Deep fear of losing is preferable to expecting to win.Fear is a better motivator than confidence

    1. I know what you mean Simon – I was surprised to see all of the massively pro-England summaries in the media. All the talk is of magic performance, heroic mindset to come back from that start, etc. All the loss talk is of heartbreak, France “stealing” it etc. It seems the general conception is that England were robbed and therefore doing the same again next week, or any week judging by some comments (Larry thinks they won’t lose another match given that performance in Paris), will simply result in a convincing win.

      It was a close game – England were dominant in possession for a large part of the match but still didn’t outscore France for tries. Plenty of positives for England to take out of that match but the “loss” part of it is being too easily discounted as far as I can see.

      1. Brighty-don’t you think the emphasis should be on the main fact that it was England’s game to win and we still lost… Far too much beating around the bush with regards to the main problem. Still think sticking tried and tested on the bench is a big factor with regards to how we finish. Everyone knows what Dickson, Barritt and Goode can do, they’ve all started. Why not throw Eastmond, Watson, ford and so on into the mix and see if they can cut the mustard. Lancaster throws Barritt on the bench, gatland sticks halland Amos on to see what he can do. Says it all

        1. Couldn’t agree more. The backline that finished the game on Saturday is arguably the most pedestrian and uninspiring I’ve seen in a long time.

        2. James, I’m afraid I think that fan perspective gets in the way of a fair appraisal here. I, as a non-England fan, was amazed at the way France dropped off completely after going so far ahead. Their fitness was awful. I was then further amazed by the lack of fire when they came out for the second half and kept telling myself that if they just went back to what they can do then they could score some more and that is what finally happened. So for me if England had won I would have seen it as France blowing it. I think though it’s really hard to be objective about that, it depends what result you wanted – the opposite result, in such a close match, would have felt like an opportunity missed no matter who won.

          Agree with your appraisals of the team and I think England would do best to not even consider it as a close loss but rather to work out

          a) why they didn’t turn up for the first and last 15 mins
          b) why 12Ts doesn’t look like the guy with the answer to the creativity vacuum
          c) why Brown often looks like the only guy on the pitch willing to cough up a lung to keep going
          d) why, with all that possession and a knackered pack in front of them, they couldn’t create a hatful of tries from one of the dozens or so missed tackles on Billy
          e) why their replacements were woeful – hooker who can’t throw and a full back who can’t play rugby
          f) why, if they want to have 2 6s or whatever in the backrow, they don’t just have 2 8’s instead when Morgan and Billy are by far their best backrow players (ok, that’s not going to work…)

          To give Lancaster some credit one of his problems his the huge player pool in England. Gats puts Amos on because we don’t have much back 3 cover – SL could pick two XVs of “decent looking” back 3 players, it’s hard for him to find out which ones are his magic back 3 and stick with them.

          1. Brighty – your point c) is incredibly harsh on Robshaw, Wood, Launchbury and Hartley, all of who consistently run themselves into the ground.

            1. Harsh it may be but I stick with it. To me it’s more a case of Brown taking the effort to another level, showing the way forward. I used to think Jenkins/AWJ/Others used to work themselves into the ground for Wales until I saw Warbs play and then saw AWJ et al step up their levels as well. This didn’t mean that AWJ etc were not playing hard, just that Sam showed it was possible to go even harder. For me this is what Brown is now doing.

              I’m like a religious convert – now I’ve seen the light I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Brown.

              1. It’s not just harsh it’s utter nonsense. Robshaw, Wood, Launchbury, Cole, Lawes all give huge 80 minute performances on a regular basis for England of late. Brown actually had a relatively poor and quiet day in Paris, missed several tackles (including letting Huget in for the first try though it was a scramble defence on a slightly tatty pitch) and generally didn’t quite look his usual self. Suggesting he’s the only one who looks like he’s giving it his all is rubbish.

              2. Brown’s a great performer and you can’t fault his effort and willingness to look for work.

                He’s still not a top notch international player though.

                Not enough pace and inability to straighten the line and time the pass correctly.

                (See Strettle’s botched try against Wales 2012 for illustration.)

                Foden is a far superior player when fit. Unfortunately SL rewards good service (Goode, Barritt, Brown etc) rather than ability (Foden, Eastmond etc)

                1. Have to say that I have grown to like Brown more over the past 12 months but my problem with him is that the ball dies with him in the tackle. It always goes to ground and is never released for an offload. This is what Foden is good at, and why he offers something extra to my mind, but even when not injured SL doesn’t seem to favour him.

        3. I would have no issue picking someone for the bench who is “tried and tested”, selecting “tried and failed” is another matter.

          Here is the moment, one year ago, when it became abundantly clear Alex Goode was not an international full back.

 (time index 11 min if the link doesn’t start at the correct place)

          One more year of capping experience that will not (I hope) be going to the RWC and keeping Brown out of position whilst doing it.

          “We have 41 games between now and the next World Cup and we need to use them wisely.” Stuart Lancaster, Dec 2011. Wise words, heed them pls!

          1. How many are left now? It seemed odd to me what Lancs did on Saturday – no Ford etc. on the bench. Running out of time to give them a good go before RWC? Who’s the 2nd choice OH?

            1. Down to 19 now I think. Taking Watson and Ford to Paris for “the experience” is odd, we aren’t going back there before the RWC anyway. Only way they will get experience is on the pitch and given how crucial developing a backup to Farrell is I don’t see what we’ve achieved in not capping him, or by sending the message “we trust Alex Goode to cover your position”

          2. I thought it was going to be his butchering of an overlap against Italy for this supposedly great visionary player!

            1. The comedy collision with Flood was indeed more evidence for the prosecution, I was didn’t need any more convincing by that point.

          3. Given Lancaster’s comments, I wonder how many caps he has wasted on clearly average players:

            *I’m not saying their selection were always unjustified. But picking haskell last year ahead of a proper 8 or Barritt over 12t last 6n has been a waste.

            The common defence for some of these selections, such as Strettle is to point to club form. But many average players have benefited from playing for successful teams and sometimes this needs to be taken in context.

            1. Don’t think there’s too much of an issue in the forwards, but back 3 and centre is a bit of a joke.

              Strettle 8
              Ashton 19
              Barritt 17
              Goode 14
              Tomkins 3
              Brown (on the wing) 10
              Foden (on the wing) 4

              So I think we’ve had 22 tests under Lancaster, so that’s 132 cap opportunities across the back 3, centres and the 23 shirt with way more than half of them going to players who probably aren’t going forward to 2015 (at least in those positions).

              Not saying they were all bad initial selections, but hanging on and keeping on dishing out the caps at the expense of looking at other options is a huge failing.

              Then you look where the caps aren’t!
              May 2
              Eastmond 2
              Wade 1
              Yarde 3
              Nowell 1
              Watson 0

              The top 3 names were certainly ready to be introduced last 6N. Sure some bad luck since on injuries hasn’t helped, but that’s just compounded the error.

              1. Matt. Whereas I agree with your sentiment, I disagree with some of your reasoning on wasted caps. Tomkins got 3 caps to prove himself. It didn’t work so SL moved on. I have no trouble with SL trying 3 caps on someone to give them a go in a troublesome area. Strettle is a top try scorer at club level and so was worth a run out to see if he could cut it. Ashton was an outstanding try scorer at the start of his international career and therefore all of those caps weren’t wasted. Barritt still offers something to England and whereas he isn’t spectacular, he does the nuts and bolts well and formed a good partnership with Manu – NZ anyone, so I don’t think that they were all wasted, and many of those caps came before the younger centres pushed themselves forward for selection. Goode – agreed! FB’s on the wings. Don’t agree with playing players out of position, but some of those caps came when to be bluntly honest, there weren’t any viable alternatives.

                Therefore although I agree with your sentiment, it’s not as cut and dried as you make out.

                1. Agree they weren’t all poor initial decisions and of that group Barritt has at least proved he can offer something and I can understand giving Ashton the opportunity when you look at his track record. But when you pick through in more detail:
                  – Strettle has only hit his good club form after his England caps (just his last one in Argentina after he hit a hot streak towards the end of last season). Other than that they were just capping a straight up and down, do the basics, kick/chase winger.
                  – Barritt offers something, but I disagree with his elevation back above 36 last year after 36 made an encouraging start (OK jury still out on 36 as well).
                  – Tomkins: given he was capped once I have no issue with him being given 2 more to give him a proper chance. However the choice at the time was Tomkins or Burrell. I didn’t understand the decision to pick him in the first place, Burrell was the form pick and appeared to have the attributes to step up.
                  – Foden on the wing, 2 caps were tactical (against the Boks) and 2 were as a result of not calling up another winger (i.e. May) when Yarde got injured, yes more bad luck with Wade also picking up a knock, but it just exacerbated the poor decision.
                  – Brown on the wing, almost exclusively to accommodate Goode – nuff said
                  – Ashton is an excellent finisher playing in a team that creates no opportunities to finish. Maybe after 2 tries in 2 games (ABs and Scotland) they were hoping the magic was returning, but to not look at Wade at some point seemed crazy, i.e. Gatland calling up Wade up after 1 cap against second string Argies highlights how he was overlooked. To not pick Wade because of concerns over defence, but to retain Ashton who can’t defend made no sense.

                  Whilst it’s not as black and white as my deliberately one sided post (to emphasise the problem) repeatedly capping players not cutting it has been the biggest failing of the Lancaster era thus far. He’s done a lot of good stuff, but I think keeping on capping the likes of Goode and not capping any alternative to Farrell is now damaging our chances of progressing in 2015 as the players we end up taking will have less experience than they otherwise would have done.

                2. Looks like SL will have another conundrum to solve then as the Burgess rumours are gathering steam so he is going to have to try out a new centre.

        4. I think Hallam Amos is a bit of a poor comparison. He’s played once for Wales against Tonga. How many young players has Bomber given caps too?

          I do agree about selecting Ford, Eastmond and Watson for the Scotland game. We won’t get a better chance to test them out before the New Zealand tour.

    2. Do agree on this, I’m not a fan of accepting the valiant loser tag.

      Losing is losing, we lost. France beat us.

      Yes of course there were positives, that’s great. Our backline performed better, but not perfect. Billy V and his back row colleagues were good, as were the lock combination. Farrell was much improved, or should we say showing his Sarries form? But, there is still a lot of work to do.

      I’m hoping inside the camp they know that they must improve, in fact, I’m sure they do. In the media, well, a lot of it is nonsense, but I’m use to that.

      England must concentrate for the full 80. I’m sure that this England side are good enough to beat anyone if they can do that. Not a simple task, but the ingredients are there.

      1. One wag on here on the weekend neatly summarised it – “Now I know how Wales feel when they play Aus”. We (Wales) are the classic example of how a narrow loss, the result itself, doesn’t really mean much going forward unless you expect it to mean you’ll lose narrowly again next time. Most international rugby losses are “narrow” when you get near the top end.

    3. Our restart strategy has been a problem for a while. We never really look comfortable or assured and if I recall the Aussie and France tries came from poor restarts.

      With regard to the pro media. Yes it is a bit ott, probably a reflection of how bad we’ve been by comparison. My main concern is not the last minute try, it was the fact that we had so many forays into the French 22 that yielded nil points. That and our less than convincing scrum.

      It looks like Murrayfield is going to be it’s usual mud fest, so not sure whether we’ll see much progression this week but it does mean that chances will be at a premium, so we need to be far more clinical. I also hope Farrell has been practising drop goals!

  4. Other similarities with last year’s opening weekend, the 2 outdoor games were played in good conditions on reasonable/good pitches.

    The lack of quality in many of the remaining games and the disgraceful pitches, combined with abysmal conditions, were not mutually exclusive. I fear the Murrayfield pitch will devalue this weekend’s encounter as well.

  5. I wouldn’t believe anything you hear or see in the media. I can almost guarantee that every player in the 6N will go through an extensive analysis session post game, and they will all know exactly how well they all played, everything else is unnecessary media hype and hot air. I would imagine England are going to Scotland confident that if they can eradicate the uncharacteristic errors that occurred against France, they stand a good chance of winning, and playing some entertaining rugby whilst at it.

    1. It’s not just the media Jonny, see the above comment from Farrel – “O Farrell thinks the backs were ‘brilliant and outstanding’”

  6. Wildly off topic I know, but can’t see where else to discuss.

    Does anyone have a view on the Sam Burgess rumours. Would he be a good steal for England, bearing in mind our struggle in settling on a centre partnership; would another option be helpful or is he really THAT good?

    It has bugged me that other sides have managed to poach really talented players like SBW and Folou, and yet all England have managed is Joel Tompkins and Shontayne Hape!

    1. Benjit, it’s madness. Tomkins was a player in the Burgess level in league, wasn’t he?

      Given the massive, massive range of players England have it’s crazy to hear them needing to go and get a league one in. Says something about the English schools/academy system that their best hope might be a boy who’s stayed well clear of all of it?

      1. England got the wrong Tomkins brother when he switched codes. The one we would have liked to have had is the younger Tomkins, Sam, who is a superb player

        Sam Burgess is in his league – a monster of a man who is strong, fast and very difficult to bring down

        Would he work in union? Not entirely sure as to where he would be played. Probably in the centres as he’s got the speed but also has good feet and a decent pass.

        Think its all pie in the sky, but i don’t really have an issue with it. An accident of birth and upbringing has seen him playing league rather than union. If someone has the ability, then I see no problem with trying to fit them in.

        What I do have an issue with is league players being tempted by money offers to cross codes and then still being played despite clearly not being good enough.

        BTW Benjit – don’t forget England got Jason Robinson – he makes up for quite a few of the failures

      1. Genuine ignorance from me Jamie, but was Eastmond a star GB player or just a league player who switched code? I wasn’t aware that he was a recruit in the way SBW and Tompkins were?

        1. Ah fair play, I’ve no idea, I just thought you were talking about league converts in general. Really hope that if 12T continues to underperform we get to see Eastmond at some stage.

        2. He was a capped England international, don’t think he was an established star and different to many of the others as he switched young.

          Next one to watch is Benji Marshall (now Auckland Blues) tough ask for him as they playing him as a 10, but it could be spectacular.

      2. Possibly. I think the big question at this point, for Lancaster in particular, is his temperament. It’s a crying shame he walked out of that match as I think it really knocked him down in Bomber’s esteem, after a hugely promising Argentina tour (loved his passing, loved it loved it loved it). He’d be great to have in there.

        Or did you mean in regards to the League connection? We’ve not had great luck with converts from league, aside from Tomkins there was Leslie Vainikolo who was amazing in league and phenominally average in rugby, and precious few else. I don’t think any of us are of the opinion that Owen Farrell is an England superstar, yet at least. Jason Robinson is the only unqualified success story. I understand that Sam Burgess is a bit of a hot name in league (and he, and all of his family, is HUGE) but I’m not convinced he’s going to be our SBW. There’s a pretty great clip on youtube of him running straight over Sonny Bill though.

        1. I have very find memories of Lesley the Volcano. He was going to single handedly mutilate the welsh back three. Instead we had our first Twickers victory for twenty years. So, more league converts please.

  7. England had managed a free flowing attacking game – Free flowing with Farrell at the helm? I saw nothing of the sort. England were formulaic and slow. Burrell was the only sign of anything resembling “free flowing” in the back line and the only sign of anything inventive in the English attack all game. They simply can’t keep relying on their pack when their up against teams which can actually be exciting and score tries.

    I also have no idea why you’ve heaped praise on Denton. There was absolutely nothing impressive in his play against Ireland and he consistently failed to make an impression in the loose – something he does at club level and something his size should make him perfectly designed for. Less a shining light, more a dull bulb with a poor connection. He simply isn’t no.8 material, back to the blind side with him.

  8. Lancaster had named the same 23 for the Scotland game. For F’s sake, I’m so peed off I have to rant on here. Same starting 15 hopefully but why do we need Goode and Barritt on the bench again!

  9. 12T has never shown any creative spark in the internationals he has played in, all he has done his repeat his average premiership performances. We need Barritt back at 12 and give Burrell another go at 13, this is the combination closest to the Barritt/Tulagi unit that enabled us to win the game against the AB’s last year

    1. “the Barritt/Tulagi unit that enabled us to win the game against the AB’s last year”

      I think the emphasis there was on the Tuilagi bit……

      My mum could play center alongside Tuilagi and it would still be a dangerous partnership – and she’s got a bad knee!

      1. The same pair that played in the MS last year? I do worry for Tuilagi with the massive expectation that as soon as he comes back all the back play worries for England will dissolve.

        1. England’s woes won’t disappear overnight. Or at all.

          Manu can’t/won’t pass so he’s not really your typical centre.

          However, he has that incredible power that makes him simply unplayable at times.

          How many other England backs have either the pace, power or skill level to cause similar problems for the opposition?


          1. May/Wade have the raw pace, and Watson/Yarde have pace and are fairly powerful- lets just see if they can bring it to international level! I’d say Daly was one for the ‘skill’ category. Little by little we are beginning to find the missing pieces. The problem area is that 2nd centre position… Someone needs to step up and grab it. Quick.

            If we can find 2 new quality international backs this 6n, I’m a happy man.

        2. I agree with Brighty here. I remember talk on here last year (or the year before?) about how Tuilagi can’t pass and is stopping our wingers getting into the game. There was even suggestions about moving him to the wing so he doesn’t need to pass. But now he’s injured he is hugely missed and we expect his return to suddenly change the performance of the backline?
          I actually do think he’s the best option at 13 and of course his physicality is missed. I’m hoping with more exciting wingers than Ashton outside of him things might improve.

  10. I’m looking on the brightside – 15 months ago, we didn’t really have any options beyond 10 (except 15 and Manu). Now we are trying to work out which combinations work best. We may or may not get to the RWC in shape behind the pack, but I see us getting better.

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