Six Nations Guide: ‘Nowell and Vunipola spearhead bright start for Eddie’s England’
- Credit: PA
Easton & Otley College and Norwich RFC coach, Jonny O'Brien, looks ahead to round two of the Six Nations after an exciting start.
The history books show that if you lose your first match in the Six Nations you are unlikely to win the competition, so England winning 15-9 in Scotland was a positive start.
As I mentioned in my previous column, it's too early to judge how this new England team will develop at this stage. There were some very positive individual performances though – mainly from Jack Nowell and Billy Vunipola.
Nowell's try was a breath of fresh air as they played simple heads up rugby to kill the game off. In the past I have felt the players were scared to try things, so this was a positive aspect for me. The position that needs to be resolved is inside centre. We need someone who provides positive momentum going forward and a player who has a sufficient offloading game to spark the exciting backs outside of him.
Scotland do have the ability to challenge but they need to believe in themselves more. It was refreshing to see full-back Stuart Hogg look to run and counter rather than kicking the ball away but naturally, being English, I was happy with the result.
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France beating Italy 23-21 in Paris was closer than I expected. The lead changed hands seven times throughout a thrilling match. Italian captain Sergio Parisse went from hero to villain by playing exceptionally, until missing a drop goal in the last play of the match.
France's performance was disjointed and showed their lack of game time together, but they got the all-important win.
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Italy did, however, show great promise and dominated large spells of the game. Their front five were very competitive and their backs looked more dangerous than previous seasons. I look forward to seeing how they progress.
Ireland and Wales' 16-16 draw was definitely the best game of the opening weekend. Ireland raced ahead to a 13-0 lead and Wales – to their credit – got a foothold back in the game. It didn't look good for Wales as talented fly-half Dan Biggar came off after 20 minutes with injury – his foot being heavily taped from the start.
Rugby's all about momentum and this game showed how quickly the tide can turn. A draw was a fair result in the end, although it could have gone either way. Wales showed exceptional defence with Jamie Roberts at the forefront, a true Test match. The players looked exhausted at the end of the game which showed how much both teams put into a game that was exciting to the end.
Looking ahead, France will definitely have to improve their performance if they want a positive outcome when they host Ireland on Saturday.
Ireland have injury worries with Jonny Sexton. As I mentioned in last week's column he's vital to giving Ireland direction – I predict a much improved performance from France and a home win.
Wales against Scotland should be an exciting game. I predict a home win but if Scotland can be more clinical they could push the hosts all the way. Wales need to work on their creativity in possession.
Finally, there is Italy versus England in Rome on Valentine's Day. England will have to have the right attitude as this will be no pushover. Hopefully a few of the younger players such as Maro Itoje and Elliott Daly will get a call and have something to prove. I'd imagine we will see a close first half with England building a strong lead in the second.
• Try of the week: The France debut of Fiji-born Virimi Vakatawa proved to be an impressive start after the giant winger proved he is more than just muscle. The 6ft 1in tall and 14st 6lb flyer went over in the 15th minute of France's 23-21 win in Paris, benefiting from an excellent offload in the tackle from Paul Jedrasiak and being set free by Maxime Medard, before side-stepping Leonardo Sato to dot down in the corner.
• Match of the week: Wales had already proved their character in an injury-hit World Cup campaign but bouncing back from 13-0 down to draw 16-16 in Dublin proved their class once again. Had Sergio Parisse's late drop goal not drifted wide in the closing stages of Italy pushing France hard, that would have edged it.
• Player of the week: No8 Billy Vunipola was at the heart of most of England's good play as the Eddie Jones era got off to a solid start at Murrayfield. The brute strength and determination of the Saracens forward was clear for all to see and at 23 years old the back rower has huge potential. How different would England's World Cup have been had he not picked up an early injury?
• One to watch of the week: Ireland's clash with France in Paris on Saturday (2.35pm) is intriguing. With Joe Schmidt's team very much in a phase of transition, as was shown against Wales, they could be vulnerable against a France team who look to be as unpredictable as ever. Defeat for France would also leave England as the only possible winners of the Grand Slam.
• Tweet of the week: 'It's a win-win for my sons today (half Scottish, half English) but as far as I'm concerned…COME ON ENGLAND!!' @astro_timpeake tweeted... from space!