Well a pretty decent first weekend in the bag. We saw England upset the odds against the Welsh, Scotland show some previously lacking attacking intent but lose out to a lacklustre France, Ireland tough it out against Italy and James Haskell get tackled by a post.
Wales vs England - 16 - 21
I was lucky enough to be at my stepbrothers wedding in Oxwich Bay on the Gower peninsula for the Wales vs England game, and managed to have some great banter with a few of the locals!
And what a game it was. From the pre match incident in the tunnel when England rumbled the Welsh ruse to leave them on the pitch in front of a fervent Welsh crowd on a freezing cold night whilst they stayed behind in the dressing rooms by simply refusing to leave the tunnel until Wales did! It was the first sign of the English resilience that would be the catalyst for a superb turnaround after being 16 - 8 down at half time after a smart kicking display from Leigh Halfpenny, a superb drop goal from Dan Biggar and an opportunist try as Taulupe Falatau picked the ball up from a rapidly retreating Welsh scrum, evaded a frankly appalling attempted tackle from Haskell and sent scrum half Rhys Webb around the outstretched arms of Jonny May with an excellent offload for the first try of the 2015 6 nations tournament!
The 'inexperienced' England backline (who combined had 1 less international cap than Gethin Jenkins on his own!) came of age in the second half, marshalled by George Ford, who put a couple of missed kicks and a brace of charge downs in the first half behind him and surely cemented himself into the 10 shirt for the World Cup. In fact, all the points were scored by Bath players as Anthony Watson gathered a superb Mike Brown kick and Jonathan Joseph rode his luck to score a try when it seemed he'd butchered a 2 man overlap! It could've been more Bath points, but Dave Attwood had a try ruled out for an earlier obstruction. A vital contribution was made by the much maligned Billy Twelvetrees, who tackled like a madman in a 7 minute cameo appearance,also managing to earn the vital match sealing penalty with some great work in a ruck. Best way to answer critics is to stick 2 fingers up to them!
One of the main talking points from the game was the fact that George North played the entire match despite being seemingly knocked out twice, which has caused World Rugby to announce they will be looking into the concussion tests conducted by the Welsh medics. Video courtesy of RugbyPigs. Whatever the outcome, the questions over an uncharacteristically quiet performance and that missed tackle on Joseph will alway be linked to the 2 big headshots he took.
England went into this game ravaged by injuries but in all honesty, I can't see many changes being made to the line up that beat Wales. All the starting players earned their right to the jersey, and the subs came on and performed admirably. I though Ben Youngs played very well, and his previous connection to George Ford from their Leicester days were vital, but against Italy, we may see Wigglesworth and Cipriani get more game time and pushing on for round 3.
As for Wales, the alarming way England dominated the pack, especially Samson Lee's struggles will need to be addressed as they have the improving Scots at Murrayfield next time round and will be looking to make sure they don't suffer another defeat to a team the bookies think they'll beat. I can't see many changes to the backline, maybe Liam Williams for North, but other than that, the places seem pretty nailed on.
Italy vs Ireland - 3 - 26
Admittedly, first up, I only saw the last 20 minutes of this game, and all of the action was done by the time I watched, so what I've gathered was from the little I saw, and from the highlights and match reports,was that Italy were slow to start although in the second half, were very spirited and Ireland just had the extra class to beat them.
Kelly Haimona got Italy's only points of the game with a penalty, whereas Ireland had 4 penalties from Keatley and a pair of well worked tries from Murray and O'Donnell (who made a fantastic run for his try, although he was helped by some horrible tackling!!) which were converted by Keatley and Madigan respectively, which made the result very comfortable for the Irish. They won't be anywhere near happy with the performance, and at one point were hanging on to keep Italy out, in fact, Haimona had a try disallowed for the most marginal of knock ons from the fingertips of the ever impressive Sergio Parisse.
The big blow for Ireland actually happened pre game, with the late withdrawal of 'The Tullow Tank' Sean O'Brien who was aiming for his first test start in well over a year. A top quality player when fit, Ireland will hope it's a niggle and nothing more serious!!!
Ireland will most likely go with more of the same, as France will provide a sterner test than Italy, but they will hope for an improved performance. Sexton and O'Brien were missing in round one, but if they are fit, they will likely be recalled and the Irissh will certainly hope for better weather than they had in Rome!
Italy will head to Twickenham hoping that they can keep the scoreline down against England, and maybe even spring an upset! The performances of Parisse and McClean will give them some hope, but the reality is that Italy just don't have the quality of player needed at the moment, and there is no quick fix for that!
France v Scotland - 15 - 8
Scotland started the first competitive game in the Vern Cotter era quite brightly, but this game can only really be described as attritional at best. France seemed hell bent on knocking the ball on everytime they made the smallest bit of headway, but not to take away from the Scottish, they certainly gave the French a tough test.
Scotland lost Tommy Seymour to injury early doors, but the replacement Dougie Fife was the guy who went over for the games only try after some fantastic work from the whole team. Phase rugby at its finest.
Rob Harley in the 6 jersey played the role in a proper old school way, in your face and antagonistic and he was my man of the match, but the centre pairing of Dunbar and Bennett deserve plaudits for the way they kept Fofana and Basteraud honest during the game.
Camille Lopez was the hero for France with his kicking proving enough to win the game, but in all honesty, France seemed a little too reliant on Basteraud and Spedding smashing through and didn't seem to have a Plan B. Kockott at 9 is an undoubted talent, but seems to be struggling for form, apart from one blistering break down the blindside, he was very average.
France have the dubious honour of a trip to Dublin and will know that they will need to improve if they are to win at the Aviva. The pack seemed to be solid at times and terrible at others and they will need to sort that out against the big Irish unit. They really missed Picamoles guiding them from 8, along with the physicality he brings. Has the 'nationalise forigners' tactic worked for Saint Andre? Juries out. It's a BIG test next week!
Scotland will hope for Maitland and Seymour to hurry back, as they add to the undoubted quality of the Scottish back 3. Vern and his charges will think that Wales are there for the taking, as they will have the home support cheering them on. It won't be easy, but another determined and committed effort from 1 to 23 and it's definitely a possibility. Scotland has often been the land of false dawns when it comes to rugby, but this one seems to be gaining some traction.
I'd love to say I'll do a round up blog like this, but with my job taking most of my weekends up, it's highly unlikely I will have the opportunity to watch all the games. So I hope you enjoyed this blog and I'll catch you soon!!