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Opinion

Six Nations: What have we learnt so far?

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Roar Rookie
10th February, 2020
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While the new-world Rugby Championship may boast eight World Cup titles between its four participating teams, the Six Nations carries the old-world romance.

All away venues can be reached within a couple of hours’ travel, supporters from both sides fraternise in city pubs before and after games, and the most demanding task on the travel roster is a weekend in Rome.

The first two rounds of the Six Nations has thrown up plenty of surprises, with four new coaches and a new generation of exciting talent on show.

England

What’s going well?
England did well in deplorable conditions at Murrayfield over the weekend. Their pack is industrious and workmanlike with Sam Underhill a standout against Scotland and Jonny May tearing it up along the wing on the verdant fields of St Denis, Paris. Even without Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola, England should have the firepower to account for Ireland when they meet at Twickers in two weeks’ time.

Challenges
Eddie Jones has made some interesting selection choices. I’m not sure if fullback George Furbank is Test match material, Willi Heinz struggled in the Murrayfield morass and I’ve questioned Jones’ decision to pick Tom Curry at number eight at the exclusion of the rampaging Alex Dombrandt.

Eddie Jones

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

France

What’s going well?
New coach Fabien Galthie has managed to do a remarkable thing: identify France’s best players and start moulding them into a team. The back line is perhaps their best in a decade with stars like Teddy Thomas and Gael Fickou complementing talented new blood like Arthur Vincent and Anthony Bouthier. Antoine Dupont is maturing into a world-class scrum half and France have a back row of the highest calibre. Shaun Edwards’ defence template is evident in France’s defensive work rate.

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Challenges
The French need to be aware of falling back into old shambolic patterns. In both games the French took the lead and then let the opposition back into the game. The French lineout misfired against both England and Italy. There may be an over-reliance on the back of the lineout, which makes throwing more difficult.

Ireland

What’s going well?
Ireland were very good against Wales, stepping up from their Scotland outing. Jordan Larmour looks to have nailed the fullback jersey and Andrew Conway was simply excellent on the wing, where his speed, tenacity and work off the ball is a great asset. Let go by Leinster early in his career, Conway fully deserves his chance in the Ireland starting side. Up front, CJ Stander has been immense, as has Tadhg Furlong. They both played a large role in Ireland’s forward dominance against Wales.

Challenges
Their first outing against Scotland was an exercise in winning ugly. The Irish pack struggled against an unheralded Scottish front row and Conor Murray kicked away too much possession. Ireland’s high penalty and missed tackles counts will be punished by better teams, unless Andy Farrell can come up with a fix quickly.

Conor Murray

(Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Italy

What’s going well?
Italy acquitted themselves well again France. They have some excellent players like Jake Polledri, Matteo Minozzi and scrum half Callum Braley. Against France they played some very good rugby.

Challenges
The sheer challenge of losing so many games. Italy haven’t won a Six Nations game since 2015. While their pack is competent and workmanlike, they lack power to dominate in the forwards and need some extra invention in the backs.

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Scotland

What’s going well?
Scotland were still in the game with ten minutes to go in the Murrayfield deluge. The Scotland pack also dominated against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Transplanted Queenslander Sam Johnson has been an honest performer at inside centre as has giant winger Blair Kinghorn.

Challenges
Dear old Hoggy is one of my favourite players in Europe, but a ball dropped over the Irish try line in Dublin and a ball dropped over his own try line against England have made for a heartbreaking start to the Six Nations for the great Stuart Hogg. Scotland also seem to miss the flair and inventiveness of Finn Russell and are tryless so far in the competition.

Wales

What’s going well?
The Welsh scrum did well against Ireland in the first half and the evergreen Alun Wyn Jones continues to excel. The 9-10-12 axis of Gareth Davies, Dan Biggar and Hadleigh Parkes may be the best in the comp. The Welsh offloading game was excellent with 13 offloads in their game against Ireland. Josh Adams’ hat trick against Italy augmented his reputation as a quality finisher.

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Challenges
George North and Taulupe Faletau were both very quiet against Ireland with North subbed early in the second half. Wales seem to miss Josh Navidi’s dynamism and work rate and I would pick Ross Moriarty ahead of Faletau. Wales seemed to struggle with the physicality of the Irish pack in key defensive passages of the game in Dublin.