Scotland stun England as Ireland make their mark in Wales – 5 things we learned
Ireland made a strong start to their Guinness Six Nations campaign with victory in Wales while England lost their first game under Steve Borthwick as Scotland triumphed at Twickenham.
Italy made life hard for reigning champions France in Rome but ultimately fell to a defeat.
Here, the PA news agency looks at five things we learned from the opening weekend of the championship.
Tentative signs of revival
A third successive Calcutta Cup defeat stung England, but there was promise in their maiden outing under new head coach Steve Borthwick.
Confounding expectations, they defended poorly but showed the type of ambition and accuracy in attack that was expected to be layered on at a later date.
Their set-piece is still in need of attention and they missed a hefty carrier to really dent the line, but in scoring three tries they showed a purpose that was missing in the latter stages of Eddie Jones’ time in charge.
Duhan’s the man
A simply incredible try 😍#AsOne pic.twitter.com/l8FfuCnm5x
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) February 4, 2023
The difference between the rivals in a gripping Calcutta Cup encounter was Scotland’s unflinching willingness to attack and their most potent weapon, Duhan van der Merwe.
England’s loose kick, fragmented chase and dismal tackling provided the platform for the giant wing to score one of Twickenham’s great tries in the first half, but it was still a magnificent finish.
And with six minutes to go he showed strength and agility to condemn the hosts to defeat with a classy second.
To a Scotland backline blessed with dangerous runners, Van der Merwe brings his own brand of X-factor.
Ireland in the box seat
Today was a good day! #TeamOfUs | #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/YIGfTMmsYw
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 4, 2023
Apart from struggling for a long period in the second half, Ireland fully justified their title favourites tag with a 34-10 victory over Wales in Cardiff.
A 27-3 interval lead came after a near-faultless 40 minutes in which they physically dominated Warren Gatland’s ill-disciplined side and, having lost their way, they finished strongly with Josh van der Flier grabbing the bonus point.
France’s visit to the Aviva Stadium in round two has the look of a title decider and on this evidence it is Ireland’s to lose as they live up to their billing as the world’s top-ranked side.
Rookies offer hope to struggling Wales
There was no fairytale script to accompany Warren Gatland’s return as Wales head coach, with Six Nations title favourites Ireland powering to a 34-10 victory in Cardiff.
Wales were horribly outplayed during a first half to forget, but the overall performances of wing Rio Dyer, centre Joe Hawkins and flanker Jac Morgan should give Welsh supporters cause for optimism. All three made strong contributions during a difficult afternoon to enhance their reputations.
When there is so much that needs fixing in Welsh rugby, such exciting young talent is worth savouring.
Italian rugby on the rise
Breathtaking finish in Rome! @FranceRugby take their first step towards defending their Grand Slam with a hard-fought victory against the superb @Federugby .#GuinnessSixNations | #ITAvFRA pic.twitter.com/F0k7sINWGe
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) February 5, 2023
“It’s quite tough to swallow this defeat” was fly-half Tommaso Allan’s reaction to Italy’s 29-24 loss and with a bit more composure in a dominant final 10 minutes, they could have claimed a momentous victory over France.
Victories against Wales and Australia in 2022 has provided a lift to Italian rugby that was in full view as they went toe to toe with the Grand Slam champions, who were crushed by their high penalty count.
Full-back Ange Capuozzo burst on to the scene last year and his electric attacking skills, typified by his slick try against France, are the focal point for a team that is proving worth of a place in the Six Nations.
Italy visit Twickenham on Sunday and England must beware of a dangerous fixture.