After an opening weekend in the 2023 Six Nations which saw big wins for Scotland and Ireland and a narrow victory for France, there was a lot of anticipation for the second round of games. The headline fixture was undoubtedly the clash of the top two sides in the world rankings, Ireland and France, but the performance of Scotland last time out and Italy’s continued resurgence meant that every game had gained a great deal of interest.

In this latest roundup, Total Rugby Analysis brings you three key talking points that emerged from the second weekend of the Championship, as excitement over the way the tournament is progressing continues to grow.

Ireland and France are the top two in the world for a reason

The action got underway when defending champions France travelled to Dublin on Saturday afternoon for a game that many expected to be the title-decider  – and it did not disappoint when play got underway at the Aviva Stadium. Right from the first minute, both sides were on the front foot, showing good handling skills, executing set pieces well, finding spaces with their kicks and displaying plenty of pace, and it made for a very entertaining match which kept fans glued to their TV screens and not wanting to miss a moment of action.

Neither side had a perfect performance, with the reason that it was so end-to-end being down to the errors that both sides were making at times, and both teams did understandably drop off in intensity in the second half due to their energy levels sapping away. However, they showed why they are at the top of the world rankings, and there is no doubt that, if they continue playing as they did in Dublin, they will both be huge favourites to lift the Webb-Ellis Cup in September when the Rugby World Cup gets underway.

Scotland turn up at last

For the last few years, the same thing has been said about Scotland, in that they have a talented squad and it could be their year to take a huge step in the right direction – and then every year they fall away, lose confidence in what they are doing and never seem to live up to their full potential.

In 2023, however, things are looking very different, with them winning both of their opening matches and looking really strong in all areas of the pitch. One noticeable thing against Wales this weekend was their tactical flexibility, because they started out with a plan to run forwards and try to cause uncertainty amongst the Welsh ranks in the first half, and then changed in the second half to focus more on switching the ball from side to side at speed, both through long-range kicks and through quick handling and accurate passing, and tried to stretch Wales out (to great success).

Essentially, what that showed was that they had the ability to not only identify what wasn’t going so well for them, but to then make the necessary alterations tactically to play a different way, and that is one big reason that they should not be underestimated by any team as the Six Nations goes on.

England’s conundrum at fly-half

England may have won for the first time under Steve Borthwick on Sunday, but they left Twickenham with a problem, in that they now have a system that uses either Owen Farrell or Marcus Smith and not both.

The issue is that both players are good at moving the ball around the pitch and using spaces for their club sides, but the decision to combine their capabilities in the national side at 10 and 12 has never quite worked out, despite being championed time and time again by former head coach Eddie Jones.

It had been reported that Borthwick was looking to revert back to playing one or the other at fly-half and introducing a big ball-carrier at 12 against Scotland, but injuries to key players forced his hand as he went with the Farrell-Smith axis once again. However, with those players back in contention against Italy, he named Farrell at fly-half, dropped Smith to the bench and gave Bath centre Ollie Lawrence a start at inside centre, and the decision to play with a powerful player like Lawrence did work for England both with and without the ball, with England showing more clarity in their link-ups around the field.

However, the problem now is that, if Borthwick persists with this 10-12 combination (as many are asking him to), who does he start at standoff and who is effectively confined to being a replacement? With two weeks to go before the Six Nations returns, it will be interesting to see what is said and who fans want to start, and what Borthwick ultimately decides to do.