The Northern Hemisphere’s premium rugby competition began last weekend with a flurry of swashbuckling games that have given this year’s tournament twists that few saw coming. For the first time, there are now bonus points in the 6 Nations, which has added a refreshing aspect to a gruelling series. While it’s far too early to tell what impact that change will have on who wins the competition, many are already pointing at the fact that Wales didn’t pick up one against Italy as a significant factor in how they’ll fare this season. In fact, no team picked up a try-scoring bonus point last weekend. Only France and Ireland managed to take advantage of bonus points, both because they lost by less than 7 points. However, I’d argue that neither team will even see a losing bonus point as a kind of consolation, as both will rue a missed opportunity, for different reasons.
France lost at Twickenham to England, in a game that they should have won, after being completely written off beforehand. Ireland probably deservedly lost to Scotland, but even with the disastrous first half performance, a stormer of a second half display meant that the loss still had a bitter taste in the mouth. This was especially the case given that it was arguably Ireland’s fault that they lost seeing as they were in fact winning until ill-discipline allowed Greg Laidlaw to punish with 2 penalties. In the final game of the weekend, Italy will feel aggrieved that they came away with a 26 point defeat after how well they fought and competed for around 50 minutes against Wales.
Their battered and bruised bodies have the quickest turnaround of the 6 teams, as they take on Ireland in the early game on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how Ireland recover from their defeat in Edinburgh and most would say that Italy are the ideal team to play now, a chance to get 5 more points on the board and restore some momentum. The Italians will be tired and sore from their clash with Wales last Sunday, but if anyone is going to have the inside track on Ireland it’s Italian head coach, Conor O’ Shea. The last thing Ireland need right now is another lethargic first half. They need to kill this game in the first 40 minutes, because a flying first half will demoralise Italy beyond reach. Team selection would most definitely have been a bigger talking point this week if it was Wales, England or France, but still, the likes of Kearney, Heaslip, O’ Brien and Healy need to have big games to shake off the attention they’ve been getting for their performances. All that said, in my opinion only a fool would back the Italians in this one.
As for the other two matches, both will be extremely intriguing affairs. England go to Cardiff in another massive test for Eddie Jones and his side. They disappointed against France, but importantly sneaked out with a win, most fans would probably take a repeat of that this weekend. However, Wales have come into this tournament under the radar and they are extremely difficult to beat in Cardiff. They’ll take heart from their comeback against Italy and I think they could just about swing that one. France against Scotland is also a fascinating prospect, both very much with points to prove and the outcome will very much depend on what kind of team show up for both countries. I expect France to win in Paris. This weekend will be a vital one in the tournament, as the table will start to take shape.