Rugby

5 things we learned from the opening round of the Guinness Six Nations

Ireland, England and Scotland made winning starts.

Wales’ Teddy Williams walks past as Scotland players celebrate with the Doddie Weir Cup
Wales’ Teddy Williams walks past as Scotland players celebrate with the Doddie Weir Cup Wales’ Teddy Williams walks past as Scotland players celebrate with the Doddie Weir Cup (David Davies/PA)

Ireland, England and Scotland made winning starts to the Guinness Six Nations on a dramatic opening weekend that provided many twists and turns.

Here, the PA news agency examines five things we learned from round one.

England broaden their horizons

While a too-close-for-comfort victory over Italy hardly paints a flattering picture of their performance in Rome, tactically the game was a welcome change in direction for England.

True to the word of Steve Borthwick and Jamie George, their head coach and captain, greater ambition was shown in attack than at the World Cup.

Marauding wing Tommy Freeman roaming the Stadio Olimpico provided the most obvious evidence of a change in thinking, but the sight of scrum-half Alex Mitchell taking on defenders in a way not seen at a kick-heavy France 2023 was possibly more telling.

Italy’s near miss

Italy’s Tommaso Allan takes a high ball in Rome (Andrew Medichini/AP)
Italy’s Tommaso Allan takes a high ball in Rome Italy’s Tommaso Allan takes a high ball in Rome (Andrew Medichini/AP) (Andrew Medichini/AP)

Italy making an encouraging start to the Six Nations before falling away in the later rounds is a familiar theme, but in Rome there were many impressive moments from the tournament’s perennial strugglers.

Not only was it the smallest margin of defeat in their 31 Tests against England, but the inspired Azzurri were sharp in attack with Tommaso Allan’s first-half try brilliantly constructed and finished.

They led 17-14 at the interval and outscored England 3-2 on the try count and should march into round two with a renewed sense of purpose even if it is Ireland they face.

A star is born

A star is born in Ireland’s Joe McCarthy
Ireland's Joe McCarthy dodges a tackle A star is born in Ireland’s Joe McCarthy (Andrew Matthews/PA)

What Ireland’s rivals would give to have their own ‘Big’ Joe McCarthy, the hulking second-row who laid waste to France’s pack in a remarkable victory in Marseille.

A man-of-the-match performance on his Six Nations debut was evidence of his nation’s depth at lock with even the outstanding James Ryan unable to force his way into the starting XV.

McCarthy’s physicality was a throwback to old school tight five forward play and he took on the role of enforcer by bossing the collisions and breakdown as well as carrying hard. Every team should have one.

Les Bleus in post-World Cup limbo

The question of how France would recover from the crushing disappointment of exiting their home World Cup in the quarter-finals was answered emphatically at the Stade Velodrome.

Their hangover from the tournament was most visible in a passive defence, which was breached easily by Ireland.

It could be a long Six Nations unless Fabien Galthie finds the right buttons to push psychologically as well as providing a new sense of purpose in the wake of their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity being snatched away by a one-point defeat by South Africa.

The great entertainers

Is Finn Russell rugby’s Lionel Messi?
Scotland's Finn Russell Is Finn Russell rugby’s Lionel Messi? (Joe Giddens/PA)

Scotland feature heavily in the recent Netflix documentary on the Six Nations and they are undoubtedly box office, although not always for reasons they would appreciate.

From amassing a sensational 27-0 lead against Wales in swashbuckling fashion to almost falling victim to the greatest comeback in Championship history, they can dazzle and confound in equal measure.

And with magician fly-half Finn Russell – the self-anointed Lionel Messi of rugby – pulling the strings, you can not take your eyes off them.