Barely have we had time to draw breath from the first round of hard hitting action in the 2014 6 Nations and there were several things that caught the expert eyes of our own Lovell Rugby team.
In the first of our regular Monday blogs throughout the competition, each week we will be picking out what we learnt from the weekend’s action. On and off the rugby field, there will be plenty to discuss and as ever we value your opinions so make sure you join the debate in what is sure to be a much talked about competition.
So what exactly grabbed our attention from Round 1 of the action? Read on as we bring our top six spots from the weekend.
Be Alert From the Start
Both England and Italy demonstrated that there is no time to work yourself into a match, having conceded tries before many fans will have even found their seats. With just three minutes on the clock in the Millennium Stadium, Esposito had a debut to forget as he made a complete hash of a grubber from Halfpenny to allow Cuthbert in for the opening score. That was a comparatively slow start compared to France though, who capitalised on a series of England errors for Huget to grab the first of his two tries after just 30 seconds.
Whilst it could be argued that the Wales opening score would have come sooner rather than later anyway, it certainly made the Italian job all that bit tougher despite a much spirited performance which clearly frustrated the reigning 6 Nations champions. Over in France and you could argue that the sluggish start was a defining factor in England’s loss but it also highlighted that you need to concentrate from the first to final whistle as the hosts won the game at each end of the game clock.
Consistency of Refereeing
Refereeing is always under the spotlight and this weekend of opening fixtures cast further doubt onto the consistency, especially around the scrum. Each game demonstrated varying levels of the rules being applied and it was quite apparent that their own interpretation was being followed. This resulted in the length of time varying between when the scrum was being set and the ball actually being placed in.
Although we are certainly not ones to point fingers, considering the amount of incidents that the officials do well to notice among all the action, if the scrum calls are not up to standard at this stage of the competition then who knows what to expect come each match.
Avoid Ireland in the Opening Match
If there is one team you want to avoid your opening fixture against it has to be Ireland. Since 2004 the men in green have only lost once in their first match, which came against Wales in 2012. Despite not having played England during this time and Italy and Wales providing most of the opposition, it is still a rather impressive statistic and always sets the Irish up for a promising campaign.
Whilst it is still too early to make comparisons with the 2009 Grand Slam winning side, a rather more stern test will come in the form of Wales this weekend with the dreams of a Triple Crown ending for one side come the final whistle.
Scotland Don’t Start Well
We are not just talking about the opening minutes of the game here but you have to go as far back as 2006 for the last time Scotland won their opening match of the 6 Nations. Admittedly the fixture calendar has not always been kind as England and France have generally provided the opposition over the years but as the old adage goes, things can only get better and this certainly applies rather fittingly to Scotland.
You have to respect the passion and commitment of the Scottish fans, which will certainly be called upon come the arrival of the auld enemy to Murrayfield this Saturday. Added importance is placed on the match as neither side will relish chalking up two opening losses on the 6 Nations table.
The IRFU Keeping Heaslip
In the absence of captain Paul O’Connell against Scotland on Sunday, Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip more than filled his boots and delivered an all round man-of-the-match performance which was capped off with a try. Unsurprisingly, Heaslip has been linked with a move to Toulon in France but the number eight has recently committed his future to Ireland by signing a three year contract with the IRFU to remain at Leinster.
With the IRFU working hard to retain their top players, Heaslip joins Sean O’Brien and Conor Murray in pledging their futures so there is certainly plenty for Irish fans to get excited about. With over 60 caps and two Tours with the British & Irish Lions, both club and country will benefit from Heaslip’s commitment to Irish rugby.
Baptism of Fire
Stepping up from club to country is a huge step for any player and sometimes the big match nerves can simply get the better of you. Just ask Italy’s Angelo Esposito as things can surely only get better for the winger who gifted the opening try to Wales. Some say he misjudged the bounce but at international level there is no space for sentiment and you could tell by the dejected look on his face that this was going to be a debut to remember for all the wrong reasons.
Over in France and England wing Jack Nowell was hardly faring any better and although he was not entirely to blame for the hosts opening try, it won’t have helped his confidence. Rather than dwell on this though, the Exeter Chiefs youngster got on with the task in hand and showed why he was selected with his defence and carrying gaining praise on his debut. Stade de France is a tough enough place to go to for even the most experienced player and so there were plenty of encouraging signs to help Nowell throughout his promising career.