What week one tells us about the 2018 Six Nations

February 5, 2018

The first weekend of one of the most eagerly-awaited Six Nations tournaments in years produced some outstanding rugby - and also upset a number of pre-tournament predictions. 

Before a ball was kicked or thrown, the prevailing consensus was that the title would be a three-way battle between the usual suspects England and Ireland, plus an emerging Scotland side that had enjoyed a highly impressive autumn. Wales were expected to be among the also-rans along with France, while Italy were everyone's favourites for the wooden spoon.

It took just one game for this particular apple cart to be upset, in a way that means fans enjoying corporate hospitality at next weekend's England v Wales clash at Twickenham could be seeing one of the most important matches of all.

Wales may be a better bet than Scotland after all 

If Scotland were meant to show much they have improved in Cardiff and Wales were supposed to suffer after a spate of injuries to key players, neither Warren Gatland or his men had read the script. Wales outplayed and out-thought the Scots all over the pitch. Moreover, while they may be missing eight Lions players, the Welsh can still call on Leigh Halfpenny. His 24 points, his best international match return, was a world-class display that will sound a major warning to England. 

As for Scotland, they were left a little like the the last line of their anthem, as they were sent homeward to think again. The experts might do likewise as they reassess Welsh chances.

Ireland have grit, but is it enough? 

Much-fancied Ireland, who will visit Twickenham next month, were close to a defeat of their own in a tight game in Paris. France looked set for a fine victory after a magnificent Teddy Thomas try put the home side ahead, only for Johnny Sexton to pinch the victory with a drop goal from just inside the French half with the last kick of the game. 

The match showed how far determination and a never-say-die attitude can carry the Irish, but coach Joe Schmidt felt they could have done better, commenting: "We can't leave matches in the balance. We must make the most of advantages and get the points we need." 

Nonetheless, failure to get a bonus point means the Irish are already playing catch-up on England and Wales.

England show the right stuff

England produced exactly the kind of performance in Rome that Schmidt would have hoped Ireland had managed in Paris. Their 46-15 win in Rome looked every bit the kind of display fans and coaches alike were looking for, with no less than seven tries of varying excellence.

That might have been expected against the unfancied hosts, but Italy produced a highly creditable display that will have left them feeling the scoreline was harsh. Their two tries were one more than they managed all autumn and their fitness held up well. Better sides than Italy will be beaten by England's strength off the bench late on. 

Indeed, the most pleasing aspect of the match was the way England put together a series of brilliant, pacy attacks, moving the ball swiftly, changing the angles and creating gaps both out wide and through the centre.

The brilliance of George Ford and Owen Farrell in combination, plus the lightning pace of Sam Simmonds, was all too much for Italy. But will it also see off a resurgent Wales next week as they head to Twickenham seeking to confound their critics once again?

Image: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images from Keith Prowse subscription