Competitive, cagey and compelling, the first weekend of the 2016 RBS Six Nations may have only brought us three tries, but the first round drama and intrigue was in no short supply. With crucial late kicks determining the outcomes in Paris, Edinburgh and Dublin alike, the stage is now set for the second round of fixtures; but what kind of sporting theatre awaits this weekend? We’ve taken a quick glimpse behind the curtain, as France prepare to host Ireland, Wales get set to welcome Scotland and Italy gear up to entertain early pacesetters England.
Erratic French eye up second home success
The most predictable aspect of each Six Nations tournament might well be the unpredictability of the French and despite the change of coach from Philippe Saint-André to Guy Novès, this proved to be the case one more on Saturday, as the favoured home side laboured to an eventual 23-21 win over Italy in Paris. Making six changes for this Saturday’s home game, France may not have entered a championship-calibre performance last weekend, but critically put the points in the bag and a win over Ireland would serve to keep the French in the championship mix, while leaving Irish title hopes hanging by a thread. France’s recent record against the men in green could negate their home advantage. However, as the tournament has already demonstrated, Les Bleus have the tools to win vital points at crucial moments; with few more crucial in 2016 than this potentially-pivotal fixture.
Italian heartbreak, Valentine’s vengeance?
The closing minutes of their Six Nations opener may have critically altered Italy’s tournament trajectory, as the Azzurri crashed to heartbreak at the feet of France’s Jules Plisson. Having led the annual Giuseppe Garibaldi Cup match for an extended period, the Italians will be demoralised at leaving the French capital empty-handed and now confront the prospect of welcoming an upbeat England to the Stadio Olimpico, having lost all 21 of their previous test meetings. Nevertheless, the old adage argues that precedents are there to be broken and, having come so close to securing a first-ever win in Europe’s romance capital last weekend, Italy will hope to prove that every rose does indeed have its thorn as they tackle the Red Rose of England this Valentine’s Day.
Cardiff clash Taylor-made for Scotland centre
Faced with a similar scenario to that of their Italian counterparts, Scotland have another tough task on their hands this weekend, in the wake of their own opening day defeat. The Scots travel to Wales on Saturday having failed to win in Cardiff since 2002 and will be haunted by the memory of their 51-3 trouncing two years ago; not to mention a 2010 meeting which saw Scotland amass a 21-9 second half lead, only for a brace of late Welsh tries to thrillingly turn the tables. Scotland have shored up their defensive line in the tournaments since, but coach Verne Cotter will be much aware of the need to transfer their progress into points. Making only a single change from the loss to England, Cotter will give a start to Saracens centre Duncan Taylor, who featured in the final stretch of Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash. Whether the powerful Taylor’s stout running game can be the key to unlock the Welsh defence remains to be seen. However, with the 26-year old helping steer his club side to Premiership honours last season, Taylor appears a choice addition to the Scottish starting XV.
One down, five to go for revived England
Prevailing in the mutual must-win at Murrayfield on Saturday, England began their competitive life under Eddie Jones on the right foot; banishing their World Cup woes with a hard-fought 15-9 Calcutta Cup success against Scotland. With Anglo-Scottish silverware safely secured, the next obstacle on England’s Six Nations journey is an Italian XV who hold a poor head-to-head record, but will still provide a spirited and physical threat. While a fresh coaching approach and some unconventional training may have lifted English morale, the road to the Six Nations title remains a long and demanding one; particularly in light of a number of injury issues that have spilled over into the current campaign. Nevertheless, should the 2015 World Cup hosts bypass the weekend’s Italian roadblock, their record will read a satisfying ‘Played 2, Won 2’; setting the table nicely for the games with Ireland, Wales and France; a trio likely to put any English championship credentials to the test.
Champions held but Irish eyes still smiling?
On the surface, it was a disheartening outcome to what had been a promising afternoon. Having run up a 13-0 half-time lead (highlighted by Conor Murray’s 26th minute try), Ireland were left reliant on the boot of Jonny Sexton to salvage a draw with Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. It was far from the ideal result for either Celtic nation, who, having contested their first draw in a quarter of a century, took each other out of contention for the Grand Slam and Triple Crown accolades. However, all is far from lost for the reigning Six Nations champions, ahead of this weekend’s rugby rendezvous at the Stade de France. Ireland were 24-9 winners over the French at the World Cup in October and success in Paris on Saturday could set up a salivating trip to Twickenham later this month. An unprecedented third consecutive Six Nations title remains glistening in the distance.
Biggar, faster, stronger Wales head home
Habitually strong in their post-World Cup campaigns, Wales were rocked on Sunday afternoon by the loss of 2015 World Cup star Dan Biggar in their high-intensity draw with the Irish. Picking up an ankle injury early in the match, Biggar left the Aviva Stadium on crutches and was still making use of a protective boot until as late as Wednesday. However, the Ospreys fly-half appears to have made quite the recovery, passed fit for the match with the Scots on Saturday to complete an unchanged Welsh starting line-up. With a capacity 72,000 crowd set to fill the Millennium Stadium, a healthy win over a vulnerable Scotland could be just the tonic to spur on Wales’ Six Nations challenge.
As the Six Nations rolls on, which teams are you backing to make the biggest impact on the competition’s second weekend? Let us know via @KitbagUK. Kitbag.com is your online home for Six Nations 2016 team wear and fan apparel, with products available for supporters of all six sides.