HOT: Sam Simmonds
Making his Six Nations debut, the dynamic back-rower had a standout game. The Exeter Chiefs man has been impressing this season for the Premiership champions, and he carried this fine form as he tore open the Italian defence in Rome.
Not only did he score two tries, but the way he uses his explosive power to leave defenders behind him is something special. Making three clean breaks and beating six defenders.
— ITV Rugby (@ITVRugby) February 4, 2018
He also excelled in defence, leading the tackle count for England with 22 tackles.
Sam Simmonds has done that after making 23 tackles. The guy’s engine is a joke.
— Charlie Morgan (@CharlieFelix) February 4, 2018
All in all a mammoth performance on his first England start from the Chief – a selection Eddie Jones will be more than pleased about.
NOT : Scotland
So much was expected of Gregor Townsend’s side coming into the tournament. They came into the Six Nations off an exciting Autumn in which they beat Australia and ran New Zealand close. The expectation was that Scotland could be the dark horse this year, but from their performance on Saturday in Cardiff, they looked way off the pace.
Conceding 18 turnovers is a terrible statistic for the Scots and something that Townsend needs to address moving forward, with a home game against the French on Sunday. Last Six Nations they had a 100% record at Murrayfield, and they will be looking again to make it a fortress this year.
The handling of the Scots was the most disappointing aspect of their performance. Every time they started to get some positive play going, they fumbled and lost possession to the Welsh.
Ali Price was disappointing at 9, he was at fault for the opening Welsh score, handing a simple interception to Gareth Davies who ran into score with ease.
Chris Harris at outside centre also disappointed, making just four metres with the ball. That tells the story of the game for Scotland, they failed to really hurt the Welsh going forward and only managed a late consolation try through Peter Horne.
HOT: Johnny Sexton
It was an absolutely outstanding performance from the Leinster man. He led from the front, scoring all the Irish points. The most important was the final kick, a drop goal in the 83rd minute, from 45 metres out after 41 phases from the Irish side. It’s one of those scores that go down in rugby history, where time seems to slows down and the ball travels in slow motion as it drops through the posts. Ireland have pedigree for a late drop goal, with Ronan O’Gara clinching the 2009 Grand Slam with a last-minute drop at goal in Cardiff. In many ways, a drop goal is the most satisfying way to clinch a victory.
— BBC Rugby Union (@bbcrugbyunion) February 5, 2018
Sexton’s performance was a standout, controlling the back line with his usual looping runs and dummy lines which allows the Irish attack a solid platform to work from.
CJ Stander also was a notable key performer, as is the case most games Stander plays. He led the game with his carrying, with 24 carries, the most of the entire weekend.
25 carries from CJ Stander who had another big game for Ireland. Watch his spin out of the tackle in the final carry before Sexton’s drop goal. Gains an extra couple of metres. Absolutely crucial. Small margins.
— Cian Tracey (@CianTracey1) February 3, 2018
It was an impressive performance all round for the Irish as they grabbed an important win in a tight game against a strong French side which kept them from scoring a try.
NOT: French Medical Team
It’s a new competition, a new year, but some things keep rearing their ugly head. Something that we do not like to see in rugby is teams exploiting medical rules to cheat. It happened with Harlequins with “Bloodgate” back in 2009. But France have previously been accused of exploiting the Head Injury Assessment Rules, when last year they caused controversy with Rabah Slimani in the “100-minute game” against Wales at the Stade De France.
Once again they controversially claimed that Antoine Dupont had suffered a head injury in the closing stages of the game. However, replays showed that he went down clutching his knee, but the independent match doctor, who did not enter the field of play, said it was a HIA. Referee Nigel Owens seemed dubious of this and repeatedly asked if it was indeed a HIA.
Just because we won with an INCREDIBLE 42 METER drop goal that HIA decision shouldn’t get swept under the carpet. It was nothing short of a disgrace!!!
— Brian O’Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) February 3, 2018
Following the game, Six Nations Rugby Limited, the body in charge of the tournament, have confirmed there will be an investigation into the incident.
HOT: Conor O’Shea
Whilst Italy may have been beaten, Conor O’Shea’s side are showing more than a few signs they are not to be sniffed at this year. This is O’Shea’s second Six Nations in charge of the Azzuri, and he has garnered a reputation as somewhat of an innovator, with the memorable use of the ruck loophole last season at Twickenham against the English.
He has got the Italians playing with an attacking intent, using their back rows as strong crash runners to set up a ball out to the backs to attack wide. This was shown with Italy’s opening try through Tommaso Benvenuti’s, in which they took advantage of the narrow defence from Jonny May to score in the corner.
What a response from Italy! Benvenuti goes over after some superb passing! pic.twitter.com/nvIxjHPc05
— ITV Rugby (@ITVRugby) February 4, 2018
With the introduction on Seb Negri, who was playing in the English third tier for Hartpury last season, he has added a ball-carrying threat that along with stalwart Sergio Parisse, sets the platform for the Italian attack.
O’Shea deserves a lot of credit for his work as his job of head coach is not his only role. He also plays a key part in developing rugby in Italy as a whole. The two Italian Pro14 sides are improving, with Treviso looking stronger. They have a new generation of players coming through which look to bring an exciting zip to the nation, including Jake Polledri, the Gloucester back-rower who has been pulling up trees this season for the Cherry and Whites.