Six Nations 2012: Lessons from a thrilling opening weekend
What did we learn from an eventful opening weekend in the Six Nations which saw England and Wales make winning starts?
England skipper Robshaw steps into the breach
After the World Cup debacle, England needed a right old clear-out, and Stuart Lancaster obliged with a new-look squad. With Tom Wood out of the first two games, Harlequins skipper Chris Robshaw is the temporary captain of the new-look England. Despite a poor pass to Chris Ashton betraying some early nerves, Robshaw recovered to deliver a solid performance. Many feared that England’s new young charges would buckle under the pressure of a hostile Murrayfield. But if Robshaw’s handbags with Chris Cusiter, which left the England captain with a well-ripped shirt, is anything to go by, then this England team look up for the fight.
Discipline works for England
After the first 20 minutes of the match, in which England were pretty much camped in the Scotland half, the hosts reversed the trend and spent the rest of the game piling on the pressure in English territory. Scotland might have themselves to blame for a host of mistakes at crucial moments, but praise should rightly go to England’s defence. If this was the same England team that played so stodgily at the World Cup, then Scotland could have expected them to concede a rash of ill-disciplined penalties. Instead they barely gave Dan Parks a whiff of the posts, keeping the points from ticking over and providing the defensive platform for victory.
Scotland must trust the kids
In a performance riddled with individual errors and a serious lack of cutting edge, there were few positives for Scotland. Parks had a nightmare at fly-half, while Ross Rennie fluffed a glorious chance to get Scotland back in the game. But the Tartan Army should be buoyed by the emergence of two young bucks. Richie Gray continued to assert himself as a monstrous second row prospect, while the excellent David Denton, who turned 22 yesterday, carried ball with great power and aggression. It’s the young blood that coach Andy Robinson should be encouraging if Scotland are to break their cycle of mediocrity.
Ireland can take positives from defeat
With Leinster, Munster and Ulster all competing for a place in the Heineken Cup semi-finals, much of the Ireland squad were supposedly in form heading into their opener against Wales. Declan Kidney’s side failed to withstand a late Welsh charge, losing 23-21 but the Irish head coach still has reason to be positive moving forward. Full-back Rob Kearney impressed – the 25-year-old looked assured as Ireland’s last line of defence and his presence spread confidence throughout the Irish side. At one point, the Leinster star sailed through the sky to collect a kick, prompting roars of approval from the Aviva Stadium crowd. The Irish line-out also enjoyed great success, with Paul O’Connell’s reading of the visitor’s line-out truly superb.
Wales convert dominance into victory
Wales were the underdogs ahead of their opening Six Nations clash in Dublin – but the visitors comfortably dominated the possession stakes and Warren Gatland’s side spent over two-thirds of the game camped in the Irish half. With Bradley Davies sin-binned in the 65th minute, Tommy Bowe’s try to extend Ireland’s lead to 21-15 appeared to be the decisive score. But after George North’s try narrowed the gap, the away side showed remarkable patience and grit to slowly edge their way closer to the Irish 22, eventually forcing Stephen Ferris into an error and allowing Leigh Halfpenny to kick the winning penalty and inject Gatland’s side full of confidence.