The 2021 Six Nations is, unfortunately, the first (and hopefully last) edition with eerie empty stadiums, and closed pubs and rugby clubs. But Six Nations round 1 certainly entertained, including Sunday’s drama-filled bonanza, and a legendary Calcutta Cup result the day before. Here are 10 memorable moments from Round 1.
10. Alun Wyn Jones’ ferocious tackle
At 35 years old, many have written off Alun Wyn Jones as one of the elite second rows. The Welsh captain has fallen out of many pundits’ Lions XVs, with Jim Hamilton on The Rugby Pod questioning his position in the Lions squad altogether. With strong competition, the veteran needs big performances this 6 Nations to keep these young whippersnappers in check. He certainly produced one against the
Irish. It’s great to see him back to his best, and we could have picked out various moments to epitomize this. The best has to be his immensely dominant tackle on Hugo Keenan in the 26th minute. Ireland were imaginatively testing the Welsh defense, and the big collision from the Test-record holder crumbled their momentum. For anyone who thought the Osprey was past it, this was a wake-up call.
9. Maro Itoje’s charge-downs
One of the only moments England fans could cheer on the weekend, but it was tremendous. Ali Price won’t want to see Itoje’s rangy arms leaping towards him for a while, as twice the Saracen blocked his box kick’s to intensify the pressure on Scotland. It reminded us why Itoje’s on the edge style is such a threat at its best.
8. Francis the Workhorse
This one is kind of cheating, as we list an all-round performance rather than a moment, but the Wales props’ contribution had to be celebrated. The 21-stone tighthead has a renowned reputation for scrummaging, but has always been perceived as limited with his work-rate around the pitch. Fans were left flabbergasted when the tackle stats came up onto our screens during the Wales v Ireland game, as
the Exeter Chief was regularly topping the tackle chart! Francis was eventually overtaken by 5 or so teammates, but this is partly due to Francis being taken off for a well deserved rest in the 66th minute. This was a fast-paced test match, so Francis certainly challenged any notion that he is just a scrummager.
6. Varney’s Double-Dummy
After their 28th consecutive 6 Nations defeat, concern spreads around the world that Italy is simply not good enough to participate in this tournament. But unlike previous years, there are some genuine signs of potential through their young talent, including Jake Polledri, Paolo Garbisi, and Stephen Varney. Varney created what is likely to be the best, disallowed try of the tournament, by dummying not one, but
two French defenders before setting winger Monty Ioane on his way (which was sadly a forward pass). It’s the first double-dummy we have seen in a long time, and the teenager’s all-round game was a rare bright light in the Italian’s performance. If prospects like Varney continue to develop, hopefully, this arduous run of defeats could come to an end.
5. Zander Fagerson and Ellis Genge’s Scrum Battle
Scotland’s set-piece has developed drastically in recent years, with Zander Fagerson being one of the biggest improvers. Fagerson made Lions selector Warren Gatland take notice with his scrummaging bouts against England prop Ellis Genge, who was arguably one of the form scrummagers of 2020. The pair shoved each other back and forth in a series of contests truly for the rugby purists. The Glasgow Warrior no doubt won the battle, with mutters of “Genge is struggling!” prior to one of the scrums. In a gritty Test match, these hard-fought inches are no doubt the difference, and winning these inches showed how far Zander Fagerson has come.
4. The Antoine Dupont Show
Paddy Power were offering special odds for ‘Antoine Dupont to win the 6 Nations Player of the Championship’ at 11/1. The author pondered taking this chance, but opted not to. Watching the Toulouse scrum-half carve up the Italian defense, he certainly regretted his reluctance! Dupont ended the game as a realistic contest with two try-assists in the space of 5 minutes. The first with a beautiful grubber kick through the Italian defense for Gael Fickou to latch onto. The second with an exquisite no-look offload over his left shoulder to Arthur Vincent. Dupont is making rugby look so easy right now, and will be in contention to retain his Player of the championship crown if he continues playing like that.
3. Henshaw’s Sidestep, Beirne’s awesome pickup
Ireland’s first try was a great piece of rugby all-round. First, Henshaw’s fantastic sidestep bamboozled Justin Tipuric to create the try-scoring opportunity. Second, as the ball is offloaded to Van der Flier, the work-rate to block him from scoring by Leigh Halfpenny and Ken Owens was tremendous, illustrating the value these experienced players bring to the team. But the final pickup from Tadhg Beirne, who was one
of the best players on the park, to drive it over the line was an undervalued piece of skill from the week. Both teams made this play special, as they did the whole Test match.
2. Stander flattens Faletau
The ‘BOOMFA!’ moment of the week no doubt goes to CJ Stander, for his rampaging run against his Welsh counterpart Faletau. In the 60th minute, Gareth Davies box-kicked into the Irish half, which CJ Stander collected and proceeded to gallop straight into the Wales No8 and completely sat him down. He sent Faletau backwards with another carry later on, but this first interaction was truly seismic. Those who question if the game is going soft clearly need to watch this encounter.
1. The Debutants raise the Cup
It’s hard to overstate how monumental Scotland’s Calcutta Cup victory was. Their first victory at Twickenham in nearly 40 years; it was featured on not only the top of BBC Sport (usually dominated by football stories on the weekend) but also on the home page of BBC news. To symbolize their victory in a moment is difficult. It was tempting to go for Hamish Watson’s immense rip of the ball in the final seconds of the game. It epitomized an incredible performance from the Edinburgh openside and was immediately followed by the jubilation from his teammates. But in the end, the picture to depict this historic day has to be Cameron Redpath and Dave Cherry lifting the 150-year-old Calcutta Cup. Stuart Hogg could have well-deservedly lifted the trophy himself, but in a moment of true class, chose the debutants to do so instead.
Moments like that are what lift rugby fans during this pandemic, despite us awaiting the return of more social tournaments to come.
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