By Felix Bolton | Contributor
After the tournaments’ three month hiatus, the Six Nations returned this weekend, providing a welcome break from pandemic life. The empty stadiums and abundance of touchline face masks were overshadowed by a fiery, competitive atmosphere on the pitch, resulting in attractional rugby with an odd glimpse of the outrageous. A team sport that often relies on individual magic or madness to define the outcome.
Rome’s Stadio Olimpico played host to the opening game of the campaign, as a free-flowing French side swept away an Italian team destined for another wooden spoon. Fabien Galthie’s attack orientated game plan combined perfectly with Shaun Edwards’s rugged defensive strategy, putting France in pole position for their first Six Nations title in eleven years. Orchestrated by the mercurial Antoine Dupont, Les Bleus looked merciless. Dupont’s Man of the Match performance bolstered his growing reputation as the best player in the world. Assisting four and scoring one of France’s seven tries, the Toulouse scrum half shone in a team of rising stars. His no-look, over the shoulder offload to set up Arthur Vincent’s try epitomised the current confidence surrounding French rugby, prompting Harlem Globetrotters comparisons and piercing Italy from all angles with no respite.
Substituted on the hour mark, Dupont’s influence on France’s game plan is undoubtable. Conceding one magical solo effort by winger Luca Sperandio, then scoring themselves in the last ten minutes, France seemed flat without the busy Dupont. France travel to Dublin on Sunday and will hope to build on this weekend’s convincing display.
England prove to be their own worst enemies
Game two swapped the clear blue Rome sky with a cloudy, tense Twickenham in the 150th instalment of the Calcutta Cup. The low scoring contest was a game handmade for the purists, as lofty kicks and fortified defences left little room for attacking flair. The sole try scored by South African born winger Duhan Van der Merwe proved the pivotal moment, doing enough to push Scotland to their first win at Twickenham in 38 years.
An uncharacteristically ill-disciplined England outfit handed Scotland a great deal of possession and territory, eventually resulting in a score that proved the difference between the two teams. Following Billy Vunipola’s yellow card, Scotland made camp in England’s 22 and ensured they converted their relentless pressure into points. A number of swift passes gave Van der Merwe enough space in the corner to power over the line with a robust finish. Jubilant roars from Scotland ensued, echoing throughout the eerie stadium. Victory has proved Scotland to be genuine title contenders, emphasised through their dogged ability to win ugly against a revered team like England.
All but convincing…
The final game of the weekend saw Ireland face Wales in Cardiff, with the home side in desperate need of a win after Wayne Pivac’s stuttering start at the helm of Welsh rugby. The key moment came in the 13th minute, as Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony made forceful contact with Thomas Francis’s face, resulting in a red card. Even with a numerical disadvantage, Andy Farrell’s team were able to control large chunks of the possession, testing the sturdy Welsh defence. Scoring 13 unanswered points at the tail end of the half, Ireland frustrated their opposition, who seemed unable to retain the ball and utilise an exciting backline.
As the second half progressed, Wales were able to exploit the tired Irish legs, with tries coming from George North and the electric Louis Rees-Zammit. The unconvincing win will be music to the ears of Pivac and fans across Wales, however it was arguably Ireland who lost the game through a moment of ill-discipline, rather than Wales winning in style.