With the first round of the 2016 Six Nations over with, we take a look at what teams may have learnt for the next four rounds…
1.The skill levels are still well below those in the Rugby Championship
There was an expectation that teams would focus on a more expansive style, like that employed in the Rugby Championship. The reality though is that teams that focussed on their core strengths performed well, for example France made 15 offloads during their game against Italy, and yet their victory was only cemented after Sergio Parisse missed a last second drop goal.
2.Drop goals are a lost art
In every single game, teams attempted drop goals, mostly in favourable positions, and yet most failed to execute them effectively. Whether it be Sergio Parisse’s last minute miss, or Rhys Priestland’s well set effort, top internationals failed to execute what should be a simple move. There is a huge opportunity now for a team that focuses on getting their kicker comfortable making drop goals under pressure so they become a regular source of points.
3.There are no certainties this year
Many people expected France to dominate Italy, whilst Ireland and Wales overcame a raft of injuries to battle to a draw. It is now clear that there are no longer any givens with teams springing surprises all over the first round. Many had expected Scotland to at least give England a scare, but in the end Eddie Jones’ side ended up running out comfortable winners in the second half after Vern Cotter’s side failed to build on their World Cup campaign.
4.This is not the championship for blooding new players
There were a few players who earned their first caps this weekend, but in most instances coaches resisted the temptation to throw new players into the mix. Given how close all three games were for the most part, it is clear that this will not be the year for trialling new players, especially for teams who are seriously hoping to claim the title with coaches even resisting the temptation to bring new caps off the bench,
5.The breakdown isn’t as important as many expected
Before the Six Nations began, much was made of the breakdown and how having an openside like David Pocock who regularly wins turnovers was going to be vital. The reality is that the breakdown actually wasn’t as important as many expected with most sides struggling to win turnovers, and even when they did, it didn’t really matter. Despite conceding 19 (yes 19) turnovers, France still came out on top against a spirited Italian side.
6.Defence looks set to be more important than offence at this stage
This weekends action was a far cry from the final round of the 2015 Six Nations with just a handful of tries across all three games. It therefore came down to which sides defence was able to hold out, and in England’s case in particular, their solid defensive structures ensured that Scotland’s normally impressive backline was never able to make any impact on the game, unlike during their World Cup run.
7.Ireland and Wales must now be considered favourites
A draw may not have suited either side in the long run, but the quality in the clash from Dublin proved beyond doubt that on current form both Ireland and Wales are someway ahead of any other side in the Six Nations. England obviously cannot be completely discounted at this stage, but they will have to take some huge leaps forward over the next few weeks if they are to stand any chance of beating either of these two sides.