What a start to the 2022 Six Nations! Scotland retained the Calcutta Cup in a hotly contested fixture in Edinburgh while France and Ireland both asserted their championship credentials with convincing victories.
There was a lost to take in during game week one where we got plenty of questions answered but a few new ones opened up.
What next for England after their defeat? Can Scotland challenge for the title? Will anybody be able to stop France this year?
Here are six talking points from the opening weekend of the 2022 Six Nations Championship:
Italy must maintain standards for 80 minutes
The Six Nations really is ruthless. The standard of international test rugby allows for few to no unpunished errors and Italy felt the full impact of their own slip ups at the hands of title favourites France.
The Italians got off to a great start in the match and even took the lead but the lacked the grit and resilience to stay in the match and were soon blown out of the water by their continental rivals.
Make no mistake, this France side will brush aside plenty of opponents with more strength in depth and talent than Italy but the underdogs could have at least kept the score more respectable than it finished.
They are a capable side with talented players and have real threat in attack but they need to sort out their defence or risk similar repeats of Sunday where a strong start wont count for much if they gift opponents so many opportunities.
Baptism of fire likely to continue for unfamiliar Wales
Everybody wanted to right this Welsh side off pre-tournament but it’s hard to bring yourself to do that with a nation so used to defying the odds.
However, the worst fears of the Welsh fans were probably met in Dublin as they were comfortably brushed aside by Ireland to the tune of a 29-7 scoreline.
Most worrying for Wayne Pivac, and perhaps the rest of the teams in the competition, is that the Irish cruised to the win with their trademark unflappable style.
The injury issues of the Welsh squad are well documented and the lack of quality, experience and leadership was obvious in their hapless showing at the Aviva Stadium.
Every cloud has a silver lining as they say and Wales perhaps need to look at the 2022 Six Nations as an exercise in building for the future, giving these mostly new faces plenty of minutes on the test match turf.
Discipline costs England this time
Turn your attentions back a few months to England’s 27-26 win over South Africa in the Autumn Internationals.
While there was so much to be positive about in that match, the fact that Eddie Jones’ side conceded a whopping 18 penalties really should have been more of a cause for concern than it seemed to be at the time.
It’s incredible that the world champions didn’t punish that lack of discipline more and the one point win meant that all the post-match talk was about the small measure of revenge for the 2019 Rugby World Cup final that the English had achieved.
Back to last weekend now and that lack of discipline was there to see once more and was epitomised in Luke Cowan-Dickie’s volley ball style block into touch which saw him sent to the sin-binned and Scotland awarded the penalty try.
While Scotland deserve the credit for implementing a tactic which saw the hooker out on the wing against the far pacier Darcy Graham, it really was a case of England being the architects of their own downfall with silly mistakes.
They will get the chance to sort things out against Italy this weekend and such errors might not prove quite as costly in the context of the whole match but it’s still a good opportunity for them to try and iron out the ill discipline.
France are the real deal and welcome the challenge
We’ve already discussed the Italians self-inflicted errors which gifted the French a way back into the game but take nothing away from the hosts, it was commendable that they dusted themselves down after going behind and stepped up a gear before really putting the foot down on the back of Italy’s metaphorical neck.
A 37-10 scoreline didn’t flatter them, this France side have all the talent you could ask for but they’ve got grit to back it up as well.
If anybody wanted to know why they are title favourites this year they need only look to their win at the weekend.
Gabin Villiere was deservedly awarded Player of the Match after his hat-trick but it could have been any of a number of the French team.
Antoine Dupont was as brilliant as expected but the likes of Grégory Alldritt and Cameron Woki in the pack played just as important a part in the commanding win.
The problem with France has never been talent, it’s always about whether their nerve will hold if the tournament comes down to on big moment in one big match. That question maybe isn’t answered just yet but it doesn’t look Les Bleus lack bottle.
Ireland are here to compete for the title
France were the pre-tournament favourites and are still the favourites to claim the title after week one.
If anyone was going to challenge them then many seemed to think it would be England with Marcus Smith leading the way in their charge for a 40th title.
Ireland were probably happy to not be in the discussion, they knew how good they were and didn’t need the media or the bookmakers odds to tell them what they already knew.
The win over Wales was trademark Ireland under Andy Farrell, methodical but with just a enough flair to get the crowd off their seats.
As ever, they do the basics well and are able to ground teams into submission and come away comfortable victors.
You’d think it would be easy to stop but it’s anything but, they are here to win the title and it’s up to their opponents to stop that happening.
They’ve got France in Dublin this weekend and that one is going to be huge in the context of the title race. The question is, who are you backing? It’s a tight call.
Scotland must build on Calcutta Cup win
Victory over England is always special for Scotland and, in previous tournaments, a Calcutta Cup win and avoidance of the Wooden Spoon might have been enough to class the competition as a success. That’s not the case anymore though.
By all means enjoy the win and celebrate the victory but it wont count much for much if their title challenge collapses in their very next match.
This Scotland side have all the tools to be Six Nations champions and that has to be the aim for Gregor Townsend and his players, even if they supposedly prefer the underdog mentality.
They’ve got to go to Cardiff next and, while Wales might be weakened as we know, it’s still a big mental hurdle for the Scots to overcome.
Their only away win against the Welsh since 2002 came at an empty Parc y Scarlets in 2020, it will be quite a bigger occasion in front of a sold out Principality Stadium.
A win there really will cement them as serious title contenders but a loss probably writes them off for another year.
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