Six Nations – Five things we learned from round one

The first round of Six Nations fixtures has been completed and a story has begun to unravel. Robert Rees looks at five key points from the three opening games.

England must bring in an eight

England’s lackluster loss to France leaves Eddie Jones with a head-scratching issue. They averaged just 1.58m per carry and had no go forward man in the pack to turn to in the absence of the Vunipola’s and early injury to Manu Tuilagi.

Alex Dombrandt had himself another stormer in the Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final and has been punching holes in defenses all season. Likewise Sam Simmonds – currently suspended – has worried Premiership sides when he has ball in hand.

There is a wealth of eights in the Gallagher Premiership, but none named in Eddie Jones’ Six Nations squad. One thing is for certain, with the lack of punchy carriers we could see Jones bring a fresh face in.

Pivac’s expansive game plan

Wayne Pivac’s Scarlets side were known for finding and exploiting space, whereas Warren Gatland’s Welsh side of yesteryear made the space to run into. Following Wales’ 42-0 triumph over Franco Smith’s Italy, it’s open for all to see how Pivac will approach his Welsh tenure.

Wales looked to spread the ball wide and exploited the space in behind the Italian defensive line with some superb kicking.

Quick ball and high tempo the key to their bonus-point victory and you’ll expect them to stick with this in weeks to come.

French flair has arrived

France looked ’90s-esque with ball in hand during the first half of their game against England. The second half may have simmered out slightly, but this French side, lead in attack by Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, looks deadly.

Clean breaks and bags of pace is the name of the game. Given an inch they’d take a yard, and more.

If France keep their defensive structure under the new coaching setup they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

Italy look lost

Italy’s poor World Cup saw the end to Conor O’Shea’s tenure as head coach and temporary leader Franco Smith has taken over for the duration of the 2020 Six Nations.

They haven’t had a long time with Smith, but it doesn’t look like they did anything useful within that short period. Italy was out of shape and panicked in the second half, despite the array of changes made.

It’s a new era as Luca Bigi captain’s the side in Sergio Parisse’s absence, only for their legendary eight to feature in home games as a farewell tour for a band that was probably past their best a few seasons back.

Grand Slam built on defense

This year’s Six Nations title, and possible Grand Slam, will be won rather than lost. Sides who are unbeaten – France, Wales and Ireland – looked to control the game defensively and capitalize on opposition mistakes.

France, under ex-Wales defence guru Shaun Edwards, looked uncharacteristically disciplined and structured.

Ireland was methodical and patient, pouncing on Scottish mistakes and Wales, lead the attacking game well, but kept a vital clean sheet on home soil.

In all likelihood of a Grand Slam occurring in the 2020 Six Nations then it’ll be won by teams defending their guts out rather than losing it with over-exuberant attacking flair.

 

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