Wins for France, Scotland and Wales have launched the 2021 Guinness Six Nations in eventful fashion.
Here, the PA news agency examines five things we learned from the round-one fixtures.
Points could mean prizes
A first victory at Twickenham since 1983 will propel Scottish confidence into the stratosphere and they will enter their round-two match against Wales with a swagger. In Finn Russell they have a proven match-winner, even if at times his genius morphs into madness, Stuart Hogg is an electrifying full-back and up front they field a pack that bossed England. But they must cash in their dominance for points if they are to mount a serious challenge for the title as Eddie Jones’ team should have been routed.
The one that got away
As if seeing Scotland strut around Twickenham was not bad enough, England were forced to endure the sight of Cameron Redpath making a stellar debut. Picked in red rose squads but never capped, the 21-year-old centre nailed his colours to the Scottish mast while Jones persisted with the now discarded Piers Francis. As Redpath attacked fearlessly and with skill, a stark deficiency in England was highlighted.
Eddie’s selection dilemma
Even though Jones is so heavily invested in Owen Farrell as captain and playmaker, he must see the team’s talisman is operating below his best. While the Lions fly-half had no platform to play off against Scotland and selflessly accepts moving to his less productive position of inside centre when George Ford is being accommodated, he is clearly misfiring. The Calcutta Cup debacle was a collective failing, but Jones still needs to induce a resurgence from Farrell at a time when former England full-back Mike Brown is calling for him to be dropped.
Azzurri blues continue
There was a weary predictability to events in Rome as France, inspired by scrum-half Antoine Dupont, overwhelmed Italy 50-10. Les Bleus are a high-class side who have rightly replaced England as Six Nations favourites, but Italy’s shortcomings are the tournament’s open wound. Franco Smith has invested in youth after fielding a starting XV containing only 124 caps, but there appears no end in sight to the search for a first Championship win since 2015.
Welcome relief for Wayne Pivac’s Wales
Wales endured a miserable first year under head coach Wayne Pivac and benefited from a major helping hand as they ended a run of four successive Six Nations defeats. The Welsh, whose only wins in 2020 were two successes against Italy and one over Georgia, had an additional man for 66 minutes of their 21-16 defeat of Ireland following Peter O’Mahony’s red card for a high challenge on Tomas Francis. Despite the early dismissal, the result was far from a formality. Andy Farrell’s dogged visitors led 13-6 at the interval in Cardiff and pushed hard during a dramatic and chaotic end to the game, which would no doubt have left Pivac breathing a significant sigh of relief.