Below are the 10 key things we learnt from yesterdays 6 Nations openers featuring Wales, Italy, France and England;
1 – Underestimate the Italians at Your Peril
Although nobody will be expecting the Italians to win the 6 Nations this year, their performance against Wales in Cardiff suggests they may yet spring a few surprises. They could very easily cause a few upsets this year and have a huge baring on where the title ends up this year if they manage to beat one of the top 4.
2 – The Kids Are Alright
The majority of players who stood out yesterday where young guys who had little to no caps to their name such as Gaël Fickou, Michele Campagnaro and Billy Vunipola. All of these guys stepped up yesterday and looked totally at home in the international test arena with several making telling try-scoring opportunities.
3- There Are No Favourites This Year
It was expected that after the first few games this year a clearer picture would emerge of who the title contenders would be for the 6 Nations crown. Unfortunately after Wales’ stuttering performance against Italy and France and England failing to sparkle for a full 80 minutes we are no closer to knowing who might emerge victorious.
4 – French Flair Beats Pragmatism Every Time
For years Les Bleus were famous for the flair shown by their backs, however in recent years they have become more focussed on power plays through their forwards. What yesterday proved beyond doubt is that with such a talented back-line, if the French play the ball through hands they are a match for anyone.
5 – Wales Will Only Get Better
Once again the Welsh failed to sparkle in their opening game of the 6 Nations as they struggled against an enthusiastic Italian side who pressured them for 80 minutes. What we do know though is that Warren Gatland’s men have an uncanny ability to bounce back and will once again be a contender come the final stages of the 6 Nations.
6 – England Need More Than A Solid Pack
Once again the English pack provided a solid foundation that the backs failed to fully capitalise on in Paris. If Stuart Lancaster can build on the strength of the pack by sticking with playing wingers on the wing and finds a consistent centre combination then his England team will have every chance of claiming the 6 Nations crown.
7 – Games Will Turn on the Slightest Mistake
Both England and Italy fell victim to mistakes early on that resulted in tries for their opposition that proved costly in the end. Despite both sides coming back into their respective games strongly they failed to fully overturn the early deficit which proved costly in the end. Other such mistakes are likely to prove costly later on in the 6 Nations.
8 – The Referees Have An Important Role To Play
John Lacey (Wales v Italy) and Nigel Owens (France v England) had extremely contrasting games yesterday. Whilst Owens used common sense and allowed the game to flow Lacey was quick on the whistle and seemed to swing one way and then the other when penalising at scrum time. Their differing styles resulted in two very different games and could affect results later on in the 6 Nations.
9 – Half-Back Selections Are Key
On his debut for France, Jules Plisson put in a composted display to help lead his team to victory whilst Rhys Priestland’s stuttering performance resulted in a talented Welsh backline failing to spark. For Italy Tommaso Allan failed to properly impose himself on the game whilst Danny Care’s energetic performance at Scrum-Half nearly helped lead England to victory.
10 – Offence Not Defence Will Win the 6 Nations
In both games it was attacking the oppositions line, not defending their own that led to victories for Wales and France. Although several of the tries came from a moment of luck or a piece of individual brilliance, teams were rewarded for their willingness to try something going forward.
What do you think will be key to victory in this years 6 Nations?