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