Rugby union comment: The opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations championship offered plenty of excitement, drama and a couple of surprise results.
Despite winning the Grand Slam last year, Wales entered the first round of this edition low on confidence after a disastrous run of defeats since last March.
It took them 45 minutes of Saturday’s encounter against Ireland to really get going and show some of last year’s form, by which time they were trailing 30-3.
From there Rob Howley’s side began to gain momentum and put concerted pressure on an Ireland side that had defended stoutly and carried skilfully to score three tries in what was one-way traffic during the first half, but despite Wales’s spirited fightback the visitors held on for a 33-22 victory.
One of the most acute worries for the hosts was a complete lack of accuracy in a number of areas.
Centre Jonathan Davies squandered two clear overlap opportunities by failing to look where he was passing — a schoolboy error that he needs to address soon.
Wales were also turned over five times in attack in their half during the first 40 minutes and their line-out once again creaked at crucial moments.
Nevertheless, they fought back in the second-half, gained momentum and put the Irish under real pressure.
Perhaps there would have been a different conclusion if they had got their act together earlier in the second-half or if French referee Roman Poite had earlier penalised and yellow-carded destructive Irish play at the breakdown.
Wales travel to Paris for Saturday’s match against France and will be hoping for the likes of hooker Richard Hibbard and back-rowers Ryan Jones and Aaron Shingler to be back from injury.
Italy’s 23-18 win over France was the most significant result of the weekend.
Both their line-out and scrum impressed. They won French put-ins at the line-out on a number of occasions in the first half, courtesy of the outstanding Sergio Parisse.
Under their coach Jacques Brunel, Italy have developed a style that sees them well positioned with three homes games this season.
They have never been a particularly expansive team but they have worked strongly on their offloading game and they seriously damaged the French defence on a number of occasions.
There was too much seeking of the “miracle pass,” but as this season goes on, expect them to develop a maturity to their offload game that will bring them more opportunities to score tries and to perform more
Putting this together with their strong set-pieces will make Italy extremely difficult to play against.
They are a side that have the ability to achieve high levels of possession and territory and are adding a level of unpredictability to strengthen their overall game.
The one game that did go to plan was England’s 38-18 demolition of Scotland at Twickenham.
Fly-half Owen Farrell continues to develop into the favourite for the Lions fly-half position and will be joining his father on Australian soil this June.
A nice problem for Stuart Lancaster this weekend for their trip to Dublin is the balance of the midfield to play outside Farrell. Manu Tuilagi is now fit but both Brad Barritt and newcomer Billy Twelvetrees have qualities in defence and distribution that may outweigh Tuilagi’s return.
This decision may provide the most drama this week.
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