1. Ordinary England
England have an odour of the ordinary about them. The team was ranked third in the world (before the weekend) but rarely troubled the Scottish defence and had little to show for all their territorial dominance and possession in the first half. Where are the pantomime bullies we all loved to hiss at from the sidelines?
Yes, Eddie Jones is missing some players but he has plenty enough to pick from and still his selection remains hopelessly muddled. Alex Dombrandt and Jack Nowell should start against Italy. Elliot Daly and Ellis Genge should not. Joe Marchant should wear his lucky 13 shirt. And who on earth thought it a good idea to take a line-out without a hooker on the field to throw the ball when you are five metres from your own goal line?
Oh, and why on earth is “Fast Eddie” Jones still coaching England?
2. Could do better
Scotland have much to do. Yes, they won the match and the silverware but that was about that. Coaches always talk about performance (when they lose) and results (when they win) but Scotland can’t afford the same slow start in Cardiff or anywhere else for that matter. Scotland lost the territory battle (38/62), possession (46/54) and they spent just 54 seconds inside the English 22 (according to the official clock counters) compared with 2 mins 37 seconds that England spent in Scotland’s red zone. The Scots also conceded 13 penalties, seven of which came at the breakdown. Scotland must do better and they almost certainly can and hopefully will next weekend, especially if the weather is a little kinder in Cardiff because this team’s threats are mostly behind the scrum.
3. Round Two Decider
The Six Nations will be decided next weekend … probably. It may appear a tad too early to pay out on all the bets, and yes, Scotland may yet crash the party, but on the evidence we have at our disposal France and Ireland are a class above anyone else and they meet in Paris on Saturday.
Even if they triumph on Saturday, Ireland must still travel to Twickenham and France appear at Murrayfield in round three but I would back Andy Farrell to triumph over his alma mater and Les Blues have exactly the sort of power game that Scotland have historically found tricky to contain.
4. Woe is Italy
Italy’s woes will continue for a while yet. It’s not that they didn’t play well against France, they did better than most people expected, but it was the utter predictability of the shape of the game that is so depressing. Even when they took a first half lead no one inside or outside the Stade de France imagined for a moment that we would see an upset. Italy were cast as the plucky defenders who would eventually run out of steam and that’s what happened. Italy’s game used to rest on their scrummaging unit (Andrea Lo Cicero and Martin Castrogiovanni) now even that redoubt has fallen and instead the Azzurri’s best players are at fly-half, full-back and wing with all the adjustments to the game plan that that entails. We wish them well, Scotland’s own struggles are a very recent memory, but don’t expect a water-into-Chianti miracle anytime soon.
5. Basham by name …
We all think of Hamish Watson as a pretty industrious sort of player and so it proved on Saturday with 14 tackles to his name on the opening weekend. Wales number seven, the well named Taine Basham, managed a lung-busting 22 in all, a lone defensive rock upon which numerous Irish attacks were broken. He also snaffled one turnover and scored Wales’ only try. Whatever the reason Wales lost in Dublin it wasn’t his fault.
6. New Faces Shine
Basham wasn’t the only new(ish) face to make their mark. French winger Gabin Villiere is only keeping the jersey warm for Teddy Thomas, according to some pundits, but the former sevens specialist managed a hat-trick of tries against Italy on Sunday. Furthermore Ireland’s latest Aussie recruit Mack Hansen carried for a whopping 149 metres on Saturday, more than anyone else. Hansen also earned himself a try-assist and Scotland’s own debutant Ben White scored within minutes of taking the field while Ali Price got his head examined. Meanwhile, Italy’s 19-year-old newbie Tommaso Menoncello became the youngest try scorer in the Championship since Keith Jarrett scored for Wales in 1967. There seems to be a changing of a guard just in time for the new boys to bed in before RWC’23.
7. Mikey says “cheese”
Mike Adamson smiled on the field, while refereeing a big game. No, really, the cameras caught it. Adamson sometimes referees as though he is due at the dentist’s surgery immediately after the 80 is up but the little Scot actually looked like he was enjoying himself on Sunday in Paris, and why not? He did a pretty good job of whistling it too.
8. Less is more pre-match
Scottish Rugby has done away with the ‘entertainment’ ahead of a game with the exception of the old fashioned pipe band that used to play ahead of games way back in the amateur era. It is a big improvement, at least to my old-school brain. If you need anything other than a set of bagpipes to get your juices flowing ahead of a big match at Murrayfield then you are probably dead already.
9. French favourites?
France look properly good with power up front, skilful halfbacks and plenty of pace out wide, but I am not convinced they should be installed as favourites for their own World Cup just yet. When Les Blues run hot they are unstoppable but they lack the relentless excellence of, say, the All Blacks at their indomitable best. Even if they can string five performances on the bounce to lift this trophy, France may be peaking too early. Still, a Grand Chelem would go a long way towards proving me wrong.
10. Where did all the drop goals go?
None were recorded last season and none were chalked up on the opening weekend of 2022. Remember Jannie de Beer once kicked five against England in RWC’99 … FIVE! Drop goals are like flared trousers, they will come back into fashion, it just needs someone to get one and soon every fly-half worth the name will be jumping on the bandwagon.