The 6 Nations tournament, Europe's biggest rugby event of the year, kicked off last week in empty stadiums and with isolated players, to avoid the problems faced in last year's edition. As round 2 is starting today, let's take a quick look at what happened last week.
Italy 10 - 50 France
France is riding on a huge high since the beginning of 2020. They finished second of the last 6 Nations and of the Autumn Nations Cup, falling shortly behind England in both instances. Italy has been slowly growing for about 15 years but that growth is still very slow and they haven't won 6 Nations match since 2015, that's almost 30 games ago... Their game plan has changed with the arrival of South African coach Franco Smith, and they showed great skills in both attack and defence in 2020, but they still seem behind the other 5 nations. They did beat over confident French teams twice in Rome in the last 8 years though, so Les Bleus ought to be careful.
And Italy did put up a good fight. But it was not enough. Even though the Italians held the ball (57% possession, 198 passes when the French only have 104) and the ground (53% of the time spent in French territory), they only crossed the line once against 7 tries scored by the French. Carried by an out of this world Antoine Dupont (man of the match), the French scored an average of 4.27 points every time they entered Italian 22m zone, when the Squadra Azzura only scored .64 points per 22m visit.
England 6 - 11 Scotland
After winning the 2020 Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup, England started out as the favorite of this edition. And this first match being in Twickenham, against Scotland was setting them up for another good year. But Scotland has been rising as well, and the Scots are unpredictable, especially against England. Call it the Brexit effect if you will, Stuart Hogg's men held onto the ball, carried it, kept it, and decided that enough was enough, they needed this win, 38 years after their last win in London. We didn't watch great rugby under this heavy rain, but it sure was historic, and under Scottish rule.
Twice the time in England's 22, twice the number of rucks won, 4 times less balls lost in rucks, 89% tackle efficiency. Pick a stat, it will show you how much Scotland was ready for this game. The most impressive is probably the average of 0 points scored by England in Scotland's 22. They only scored two penalties, from outside the 22. This win sure was historic.
Wales 21 - 16 Ireland
Even after losing O'Mahony to a totally avoidable red card for a stupid dangerous play after only 14 minutes, Ireland showed more envy and made me believe they could win this game. Ireland and Wales have both been playing under their usual level in 2020, I don't really know what's happening there but these players who have been playing together for years gradually seem to know each other less and less, so I didn't know what to expect for this game. And, sure enough, they both played relatively bad. knock-ons, missed passes, useless kicks, bad choices by the half-backs, this whole game was pretty frustrating to watch.
Ireland clearly dominates the stat board (61% ball possession!), and they did (sorta) dominate the game for about an hour until Louis Rees-Zammit scored the try that would put Wales ahead until the end of the game. An end that echoed the whole game, as Burns had a chance to kick for a 5m touch at the 84th minute (!), potentially putting Ireland in a good position for a winning-try last action, but missed it and ended the game "prematurely".
Round 2 preview
- England - Italy: England will want to find the way to victory again, especially in Twickenham and against Italy. As much as I respect the Italians, I don't see how they can win this one. My bet: England wins with the bonus point.
- Scotland - Wales: The Scots probably feel better about their win last week than the Welsh, and they'll want to keep this good dynamic going at home. If Wales play the way they played last week, I don't see them winning in Murrayfield. My bet: Scotland win and bonus point for Wales.
- Ireland - France: This is the hardest to estimate... Playing in Ireland is never easy, even though it will be absent crowd. This young. fresh French team wants to win titles, but the Irish probably feel like they could/should have won last week, and they'll want to fix this. But they will be missing O'Mahony (red card) and their top tier half backs Murray and Sexton (injury). This is probably the time for France to do something big and win in Dublin for the first time since 2011. My bet: France win and bonus point for Ireland.
What are your thoughts for the upcoming games?
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Credits: All images are the property of Guinness Six Nations.