The 2023 Six Nations is only one week old, but already there are major talking points being discussed all over the place, with fans far and wide wanting to have their say on what happened at the weekend and where each of the six teams goes from here.
In these weekly articles, Total Rugby Analysis will bring you three key takeaways from every round of the tournament, with a discussion of each one and an analysis of why they are important to consider when looking at the competition as a whole.
Gatland’s honeymoon period is well and truly over
If Warren Gatland had any lingering doubts over how difficult his rebuild of Wales was going to be, he will be fully aware of the size of the job now. Not many expected them to win in Cardiff on Saturday, and few thought that it would be a close encounter between them and Ireland, but the simple fact is that Wales were all over the place in the first half and made it very easy for Andy Farrell’s side to take control of the match. There were errors in every area of their performance, as well as a general lack of composure when they were looking to create positive moments and poorly executed set pieces, and at times players just didn’t seem to be on the same page.
They did get better in the second half, to their credit, and Ireland did get a little more complacent and dropped off, but the damage was done in that poor first half display and Wales know that they have to respond next weekend when they make the tough trip to Murrayfield.
Lots of positives in England’s performance – and one glaring negative
Despite suffering another defeat, the word that many have been using when reflecting on England’s Calcutta Cup display is “hope”, and the fact that the stands cheered the home side despite them falling to another defeat shows that they feel that there are a lot of positives to take from it. Certainly, England put together some nice weaving runs, had a lot of pace in the wide channels and were creative in the middle, and it was clear that they wanted to go out and play for the shirt and had a desire to keep pushing even when things were not going their way, both of which are qualities that have not been evident in England teams in the last year and which have continually frustrated those watching in the stands and at home.
However, despite the many good things on show at Twickenham, there was still a big problem in their play that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible, and that is their defensive work. Too often on Saturday afternoon, England gave Scotland far too much room and made it very easy for the visitors to beat them, and both of Scotland’s early tries could have been avoided through tackles being made and England not reading the game as quickly as they need to, and that was the most disappointing thing about the loss.
If they can work on that in training this week and make themselves more difficult to break down, then they do look like a side that will compete this year, and the general consensus is that they are moving in the right direction under Steve Borthwick.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown
France may have had arguably the easiest opening weekend game, with Italy picking up the wooden spoon in each of the last seven editions of the tournament – but they struggled to get past a resurgent home side team who have been on an upward trajectory in the last 11 months, with wins over Wales and Australia under their belts. The simple truth is that France were probably the second best side in Rome on Sunday, with them struggling to impose themselves on the match and only taking the lead early on through Italy gifting them early tries through poor decision-making.
Are Fabien Galthie’s side feeling the pressure of being defending champions and the team to beat? Are the pressures of being the hosts of the upcoming Rugby World Cup getting to them? Very possibly, and they will know that this was not one of their finer performances, so a lot of work needs to be done in order to increase their sharpness and precision in both halves of the field if they are to challenge for another Six Nations title.