Six Nations Week 1: Ireland show they mean business

Rugby Tuesday February 6, 2024 By: Harry Howes

After months of anticipation, the Six Nations finally got underway on Friday night as France and Ireland kicked off a dramatic opening weekend. Reigning champions Ireland were victorious as the heavyweight pair met in Marseille.

Meanwhile, England and Scotland also both made winning starts, coming out on top in narrow away victories. Following an action-packed first round of matches, we’ve taken a look at all the key talking points.

Can Ireland achieve another Grand Slam?

As Ireland travelled to take on fellow France, there was a feeling that the winner of the opening clash would likely go on to win the competition. And that may prove to be Ireland, who ran riot in a dominant performance.

The reigning champions are looking to become the first ever team to win back-to-back Grand Slams and they’ll have to do it without legendary captain Johnny Sexton. But the iconic fly-half wasn’t needed at the weekend as the inexperienced Jack Crowley stepped up, converting all five of his side’s tries and adding a penalty.

The win was Ireland’s biggest ever away victory in France and with Italy up next, they’ve got a real chance to build some momentum as they look to defend their Six Nations crown.

While France were among the favourites to win the competition, they looked shell shocked as they were run ragged. They lacked creativity without star player Antoine Dupont, who has elected not to play as he saves himself for the rugby sevens at this summer’s Olympics.

A lack of spark going forward, combined with a red card for Paul Willemse after just half an hour, condemned France to a miserable opening day defeat. They visit Scotland this weekend and they’ll be desperate to put this behind them.

England end opening game hoodoo in Italy

Italy have finished bottom of the table in each of the last eight Six Nations tournaments, winning just one game in the process. But England had to come from behind to edge a narrow contest in Rome.

It brought an end to four consecutive opening game defeats for England but they were far from convincing. While getting the win was the most important thing, they’ll be punished if they play like that against stronger opposition.

With Owen Farrell not involved in this year’s Six Nations and Marcus Smith injured, it was George Ford on kicking duties against Italy. And the fly-half was very much needed as he scored five penalties and a conversion to pull England clear.

They welcome Wales to Twickenham at the weekend and Steve Borthwick’s side will be keen to build on a promising result with a performance to match.

Despite the defeat, Italy will take huge positives from their display. However, while they’d love to continue in that vein in their next outing, they face a daunting trip to high-flying Ireland on Sunday.

Scotland survive comeback to see off Wales

If Saturday’s game in Cardiff had ended after 43 minutes, rugby fans across Europe may have been tipping Scotland for a surprise run at their first Six Nations title this century. Yet an almost incredible comeback from Wales made the end result much closer than the Scots would have liked.

The visitors looked to be running away with it, racing into a 20-0 lead at half-time before adding another seven points just after the break. But it truly was a game of two halves and they just about held on to win by a point.

Wales scored four second-half tries and put the pressure on but didn’t quite have enough as it finished 26-27 and Scotland claimed their first win in Cardiff for 22 years.

The hosts rang the changes at half-time time, with Warren Gatland trusting his younger contingent to rescue the game. Their promising performance showed that the new Wales era has real potential and if they can replicate their second-half performance at the weekend they’ll give England a real contest.

For Scotland, they’ll need to quickly put their collapse behind them. They welcome France to Murrayfield on Saturday who are looking to get their Six Nations campaign up and running.

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