By Nicola Kenton
- England’s intensity allowed them to beat Ireland 32-20 at the Aviva Stadium
- Scotland sit top of the table after their 33-20 victory over Italy
- Wales produced a second-half comeback to claim a 24-19 win in France
SIX NATIONS – After the opening weekend of the championship saw a couple of surprises, what are the talking points ahead of round two?
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Wales are the comeback kings
Half-time at the Stade de France saw the French have a 16-0 lead over Wales. It was one-way traffic and it looked as though the Wales were going to open their championship with defeat. However, in the second-half errors from the French led to two George North tries after Tomos Williams opened the Welsh account.
Suddenly there was a game to be won and Wales managed to secure a 24-19 victory. The comeback, a 16 point deficit at half-time, was the best in Welsh rugby history and extended the side’s unbeaten run of Test victories to ten. If they can beat Italy this weekend, they will equal their all-time unbeaten run in Tests which was set between 1907 and 1910.
Despite claiming victory, Wales still have many questions over their performance. It is fair to say that the first-half performance was poor and although they improved in the second-half, the level of the French performance decreased. Ahead of their match against Italy, Warren Gatland has made 10 changes to the side giving more players a chance and showing the strength in depth they have to offer.
England show renewed vigour
Straight from the off, England showed a level of intensity that many weren’t expecting and within 95 seconds they had scored a try through Jonny May. They continued in the same rich vein of form and Elliot Daly soon crossed the whitewash for a second England score. At half-time they led 17-10 and in the second period their dominance shone through. Henry Slade’s double sealed the win, as Ireland’s dream of a second successive Grand Slam ended in the first match.
Ireland had had a flawless international period which included beating New Zealand, while England’s only loss came to the All Blacks. Eddie Jones played down his side before the game stating how they were underdogs but they managed to nullify the Irish threat with ease. Owen Farrell won the battle of the fly-halves while England managed to sail through the ten minutes in the first half when Tom Curry was sent to the sin-bin.
While head coach Jones told BBC Sport: “We have a team with a lot of growth. If you look at the profile of the teams, Ireland have an average age of 28, average number of caps 40. We are 26 and 30 so we have a lot of growth.”
Scotland face test against Ireland
In their opening match of the 2019 championship, Scotland beat Italy by 33-20 with Blair Kinghorn scoring a hat-trick to put them at the top of the table. Over the past couple of years much has been said about Scotland’s creativity and Kinghorn’s tries in the first-half epitomised this philosophy. However, in the last ten minutes of the match Scotland seemed to switch off and as a result they conceded three Italy tries.
It was only the third time in 20 attempts that Scotland have won a Six Nations opener and shows their improvement in the championship but it was against Italy. This weekend’s match will provide a much sterner test, as Ireland travel to Murrayfield battered and bruised from their defeat to England.
Head coach Gregor Townsend told BBC Sport: “We have obviously got to improve from today, but I was pleased with the way we managed the game. Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg were excellent with their kicking game and their decision-making on the ball. That is going to be important next week. Ireland will test you wherever they see an area of opportunity. They will run it from their own 22 if we have not got our spacing right, they will test us at the set-piece and are an excellent defensive team.”
Ireland bemoan slow start
It was a first Six Nations defeat in Dublin for six years, as they lost 32-20 to England. After their slow start at the Aviva, Ireland struggled to get back into the game when England swarmed them at the breakdown. They forced errors and slowly ground down the Irish defence. It was a stark difference to their 2018 opening match which saw Johnny Sexton kick a penalty in the closing minutes against France to get Ireland off to winning ways.
Last year’s Grand Slam champions will still aim for the title but they come up next against a strong Scotland side. It could be a mismatch as Ireland prove too strong but don’t rule out Scotland who could overhaul their visitors, like they did with England last year.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt told BBC Sport: “That is a reality check,” said Schmidt. “That is how it’s going to be (at the World Cup) and that’s why England are, literally, such a big team and I thought they played really well tonight. It’s hard to take anything away from England and the intensity they brought to the game from the very first line-out. It was more a kind of simmering, physical intensity that they collectively delivered, which made it a really suffocating place to be out on that pitch tonight.”
On Saturday 9 February, Scotland host Ireland at 14.15 GMT while Wales travel to Italy for a 16.45 kick-off and England play France at Twickenham on Sunday at 15.00.
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