The biggest annual international rugby championship in rugby history returned to our screens on a perfect Friday night in Marseille.
Reigning champions Ireland started the tournament well, ousting the hosts with a record 38-17 win. While Les Bleus still appear to be thinking about that cold October night in Paris, there is a clear signal that the men in green have turned the chapter on their heartbreaking Rugby World Cup quarter-final exit. It was sent.
Building on the foundations laid the night before, England traveled to Rome to face a much improved Italian team. In a close-knit situation, Steve Borthwick's attack kept their unbeaten record against the Azzurri alive by a narrow margin and won 27-24. In fact, England stalemate the match, but the late try and resulting bonus point for Italy was just reward for Italy's effort, which saw them score three truly sublime tries.
The weekend's fixtures concluded with a hard-fought battle in Cardiff as Scotland looked to have sealed the result with a last-43 lead.rd Warren Gatland's side can never be blamed for complacent defeat, and in a broader sense the Welshman can't be written off. Instead, a 26-point unanswered charge put the Dragons on the brink of their greatest comeback of all time. In the end, it was Scotland who persevered and finished as the stronger of the two teams, with Duan van der Merwe stranded and almost denied a third try.
As all eyes turn to the second round of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations, here are five key takeaways from the first round.
Ireland's journey is far from complete
For all the talk of failure at the World Cup, this Irish team looks more like a team on a journey than one that peaked too soon. There's no getting away from the fact that they lost by four points to the All Blacks in the quarter-finals of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, but looking back over the past three years, Farrell's side are just the beginning for Andy. Mirroring the All Blacks of 2007, who only promised to collapse in the quarter-finals, this team is built around a squad of players young enough to peak in 2027. They are a group of players who have the ability to build on their previous achievements, even though they have achieved an important milestone today. Front and center are the backbone of the team, Dan Sheehan (25), Ronan Kelleher (26), Andrew Porter (28), Tom O'Toole (25), Joe McCarthy (22) and James Ryan (27). , Kaelen Doris (25 years old), Jack Crowley (24 years old), Mack Hansen (25 years old), and Hugo Keenan (27 years old) are just a few players who will reach their prime in four years. . Some veteran players (Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Balin, Garry Ringrose, etc.) and some out-of-this-world young talent coming up (Sam Prendergast, Brian Gleeson, Ruadhan). Throw the likes of Quinn, Edwin Edogbo and Paddy McCarthy into the mix and this is what Ireland should look like. This is a team that can support the physical and mental strain of rugby's biggest tournament.
France's trauma runs deep
French rugby, which lagged behind Ireland, is still clearly reeling from a quarter-final exit at the hands of eventual champions South Africa. Emulating their rivals in the Six Nations, France came very close to reaching the semi-finals, but everything turned into a heated affair against the seasoned knockout specialist Springboks. After Friday night's bombardment, all conversation turned to the void left by Antoine Dupont, who left after putting his XV career on hold in pursuit of an Olympic medal with the sevens team. But the basic thing of the situation is that the national team should not rely on only one player, even if they are the best players in the world. It didn't help that we lost Paul Willemse to a mental breakdown and received two yellow cards, but the truth is that Les Bleus were so off the mark that even with a full squad, the result was nothing. It shouldn't have changed. At the forefront of their problems was a lack of control in the halfback axis of Maxime Luuk and Mathieu Jalibert. The Bordeaux duo are both classy players but proved underpowered in front of the unforgiving green wall of Irish defenders. Ruku in particular struggled as the Irish forwards wreaked havoc with ruck balls, while Jalibert was unable to regain enough control to mount a meaningful backline attack. To compound their problems, head coach Fabien Galthie's press conference was embarrassing as he looked completely disappointed and refused to provide any analysis. While his press conference was concerning from an optical standpoint, the bigger concern for French fans may be that Galthie is the man to turn this team's fortunes around. Unlike Farrell, the Irishman who spoke at the World Cup, serious questions must be asked whether Galthie would have done the same. Les Bleus have no choice but to adapt as they prepare for a trip to Edinburgh, but they will face a Scottish team that has become even more honed by the second-half onslaught they received in Cardiff.
new don in town
Italy's new head coach Gonzalo Quesada, dressed like Don Corleone, said the right words in his opening game in charge of the Azzurri. The loss in the first game wasn't the start he wanted, but a change in tactics and mindset was evident from the off. Incorporating the exceptional attacking patterns left behind by his predecessor Kieran Crowley, Quesada made subtle changes to Italy's attack to great effect. Italy utilized a strong center in combination with their back row from an early stage, targeting the center of England's rush defense pattern. Italy were very successful in finding mismatches, trying to wrap around England's defenders in the first three to five phases and then spreading out wide. Their first try was a perfect example of midfield barge as Ignacio Brex dived into England's defensive line and found Lorenzo Cannone who then found Alessandro Garbisi to score the try. Brex was once again at the heart of the second try, smashing through England's midfield and freeing the outside back for Tommy Allan to finish. If you're feeling like you're starting to see a pattern here, that's because you are, with Italy's third try again coming from Brex's initial charge, before Monte Ioane fired in to secure the bonus point. I managed to escape. Complementing this scintillating attacking form was a more rigorous approach to the defensive front. Conceding just two tries against an England team full of game-breakers will be just as good for Quesada as his team's three tries. Apart from the rampaging Tommy Freeman, England's backline struggled to make inroads and will be grateful for George Ford's metronome kicks that kept the scoreboard moving. Overall, Italy feel they are making early progress under Quesada and will be hoping to cause an upset in the remaining matches.
New blood to drive England forward
Saturday's round one will be remembered as a so-so game for Steve Borthwick's side, who appeared to be caught between two stools. Meanwhile, new defensive guru Felix Jones appears to have already made his mark on England's Springbok-style efforts to turn defense into an attacking weapon. But on the other hand, the question will be whether there are enough players to adopt the Boks' style of play. In midfield, Fraser Dingwall and Henry Slade were underpowered in the face of the Italian's direct approach, with the injured duo of Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi more suited to this style of play in this regard. I think it might be suitable. Still only 24 years old, Dingwall is more than capable of making adjustments and is sure to improve the longer he stays in the saddle, having shown his talent at Northampton Saints. Slade, already 30 years old, is a very skilled operator and will need to adapt, but the question will be that he is the player Jones wants to build around. In the Springbok line-up, the two key outside centres, Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am, were hard hitters, cutting off the inside backs' ability to spread the ball wide and forcing opponents to take risks. From the outside looking in, Slade does not seem like a typical fit for this scheme, as he is more of a facilitator rather than a hard-hitting strike-runner like the two South Africans. Only time will tell, but it seems likely that the 24-year-old Lawrence will return to the No. 13 shirt sooner rather than later. Joining the new England team at Bath center will be dynamic back-rower Ethan Roots, smooth playmaker Finn Smith and exhilarating winger Tommy Freeman. These three of his players are exactly what English rugby fans have been craving, while also allowing the traditionally pragmatic Steve to further his plans for the Borthwick game. We start with Exeter's Roots, a former Jiu-Jitsu champion who knows how to make his presence felt. At 6'2'' and weighing 110kg, the flanker has the air of a new-age Richard Hill, stepping forward and wreaking havoc on England's teams. Northampton duo Smith and Freeman are two key Jenga pieces that Borthwick and attack coach Richard Wigglesworth can build around. Of course, Smith will face a challenge from his namesake, Marcus. Marcus is currently in the driver's seat, but he has shown his mettle as a match-winner throughout this season. Finally, Freeman is the power winger that England sorely need, able to shatter defenses in open play while also producing valuable points in the closing quarters. In summary, his game is relatively simple. He's a do-it-all winger looking for work and a good friend of Frailey's.
Daffodils ready to bloom
Across the Severn Bridge, daffodils are beginning to bloom from the game's high-level, poorly managed compost. Despite the region's professional teams hitting record lows, it may seem that elements of Gatland are still very much alive in Welsh rugby. If you had watched the first half of the first match against Scotland, this statement would have seemed rather false. But after Finn Russell converted Duan van der Merwe's second try to extend their lead to 27-0, the famously raucous Welsh crowd fell silent and someone from the Wales team called out. I pressed the bright red panic button. It was fitting that all four of Wales' tries were scored by players at the start of their Test careers. The disturbance was initiated by Botham, who crossed the Scottish lines and forced open a door that had been previously barred shut. As if inviting a bunch of enthusiastic party-goers to a free-for-all bar, Botham's friends Rio Dyer, Alex Mann and Aaron Wainwright rushed in at once, and Warren Gatland – Moved the team to within one point of the latest in a long line of Welsh comebacks. Unfortunately, the result was not to be, as Scotland's early brilliant performances were enough to secure their first Six Nations win in the Welsh capital since 2002. Despite the defeat, there was a much-needed ray of sunshine in Welsh rugby's previously bleak outlook. It will be an interesting journey across the bridge to Twickenham.