The Six Nations series was back with a bang this weekend. Scotland have started turning heads already, England got themselves out of jail and Wales were ridiculously rampant (albeit against incompetent Italy). Here’s Impact‘s verdict on the opening weekend of matches.
Scotland v Ireland
Scotland were impeccable in defence, diffusing two attacking efforts within their five-metre line and really dominating the loose balls. Ireland could not get through. Stuart Hogg scored twice in the first twenty minutes, showing his form and confidence by gliding past the Irish back line.
However, Ireland didn’t take the Scottish onslaught lying down. A quick surge in tempo and physicality, along with intelligent running angles, eventually broke down the Scottish defence.
The game opened up about a quarter of the way through, with both sides knowing their strengths and aiming to dictate the game. However, Scotland’s determination was shining through, and in response to the outstanding crowd a third try from Scotland gave Ireland a mountain to climb in the second half.
The second 40 minutes began with a change of character from the Irish, building and controlling a wonderful set of phases to eventually crumble the excellent Scottish defence and put the Irish from 21-5 to 21-22 – and well deserved.
Scotland were still being dominated by Ireland into the last ten minutes; a rare glimpse of Scottish possession was taken well, however, and led Ireland to give away a shameful penalty. Gloucester scrum-half Greg Laidlaw capitalised on this, and brought the score to 24-22 to Scotland, a reward for the extensive defensive efforts at times of need.
The game was decided in the 79th minute, where another instance of Irish carelessness gave Scotland a penalty, and the last play of the game. Laidlaw took his time and converted the final penalty, securing a brilliant Scottish win. No winning bonus point, but a well deserved losing bonus point for Ireland.
Scotland were the better side on the day, but their defence was erratic, and their discipline worse. Ireland showed glimpses of good rugby, but a real lack of urgency which saw them unable to climb back from Scotland’s miraculous first half.
Full time: Scotland 27 – 22 Ireland.
England v France
Through the first quarter both teams looked dysfunctional, perhaps as a result of the injuries on England’s part. However, France only managed to take six points whilst having an extra man on the pitch, and Farrell’s sheer class taught the French that all penalties will be kicked. Elliot Daly’s outstanding kick from 51 meters out saw the half end 9-9, with both teams having a lot to improve on in the second half.
England grew through the second half and though they couldn’t push for a try for the first hour, they did take opportunities in the kicking to lead 12-9. However, a wonderful French pursuit trampled the English to secure a four point lead on the hour mark.
But England kept their composure, working their way patiently towards a very good try, fuelled by the substitutes and a wonderful running angle by Ben Ta’o. England played far below average, they were careless in discipline and when attacking.
France were the better team, and this was certainly reflected in Louis Picamoles being awarded man of the match, but another case of ill discipline and wonderful kicking has allowed England to take the game by the skin of their teeth.
There were definite positives to be considered for England, however: the side, which barely turned up, did beat the French and sustain an unbeaten run, whilst getting used to playing with the injuries in their squad. Only a side of the top class could manage such an effortless win with the pressures of an opening match against an unpredictable side like France.
Full time: England 19 – 16 France
Wales v Italy
A wet Rome didn’t provide the pitch for fantastic rugby. Wales had a relatively confident start, controlling possession nicely, dominating the rucks, and using aerial kicking to earn territory and a penalty.
Italy gained momentum through their outstanding scrum play, where they dominated for much of the game and often left nothing for Wales to do other than concede a penalty. Aside from the scrum, however, Wales were holding the game in defence, which presented far more opportunities for attack.
Overall the game was even for the first half; Wales were the better side but failed to score anything but three points from a slight lack of Italian concentration.
They seemed more alert, and although still quite predictable with the attacks, were executing quite well. A forced error eventually saw the beginnings of a Welsh revolution – within 15 minutes of the second half Wales had kicked three penalties.
Through the last ten minutes of the game Wales were confident in attack, trying more inventive running and set pieces. However, there was also complacency in their defence.
Ultimately, the complacency did not matter as Wales had all the possession, and gave the fans something to cheer about with a wonderful run by North bringing the score to 7-33. A final attempt by Liam Williams nearly saw the first winning bonus point of the Six Nations, but it was not to be.
Wales need to combine their ability to attack well with their startling first half defence if they’re going to take England on next weekend. Italy showed great intent in the game, and often left Wales speechless when momentum was high. However, when Wales took opportunities Italy lose all composure, and will have to work on this if they are to do well in the championship.