Well, episode one has concluded and yet we are still clueless as to what is going to happen! Sound familiar. If the opening round of the six nations has proven anything, it is that the key to success may lie with the 16th man….. THE FANS!! Three home victories on the opening weekend may not be a shock to many, but victories for the French and Irish in particular suggest otherwise, with both teams avenging the dismal showings of last year against England and Scotland respectively.
First to Le Crunch (and possibly the game of the tournament) in Paris where rugby fans were treated to a pulsating match which swinged both ways right up to the death. A victory for the French which could be the catalyst for a successful campaign, while a heart-breaking defeat for young English pups such as Jack Nowell and Luther Burrell. Well, in contrast to the many sceptics pointing the finger at the England coach for this defeat I believe Lancaster should be commended for having the bottle to throw caution to the wind and throw promising youngsters into the team over experienced heads who fail to impress (Chris Ashton). While off to a poor start, there was enough in that England performance to suggest that this side may be able to bounce back just as the Welsh did last year as long as they continue to throw the ball around as they did so well on Saturday.
To Dublin, where Joe Schmidt began his Six Nations tenure with a solid victory over those plucky scots. In what will surely be seen as the prelude to the grudge match that is, Gatland versus O’Driscoll, Ireland – following a rocky start in which Scotland had the lion’s share of possession and territory – pulled away with three tries in a hard-fought victory which gave little away with the bigger tests such as the visit of the champions lying in wait. In contrast, another hard luck story for the Scots who continue to frustrate with a solid pack providing the platform for a disappointing back division (with the exception of the talented Stuart Hogg) who once again failed to spark.
And finally to Cardiff, and probably the biggest anti-climax of the opening weekend…. or at least we thought it would be! On paper things looked ominous for the Italians as they entered the backyard of the defending champions, but on the contrary, albeit after a poor start (two tries and 17-3 down at the break), led by inspirational leader Sergio Parisse the Azzuri bounced back with young centre Michele Campagnaro benefiting in particular with a brace of tries (the second of which stemming from an uncharacteristic lapse in concentration by Leigh Halfpenny), to suggest once more that this nation deserve to be on this stage and can match any of their European rivals on their day. For the champions, much improvement needed if they are to retain their crown.