Rugby 6 Nations games

March 18, 2017
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Italy’s Edoardo Gori in action against England in the Six Nations.

1) Back-row balance will be key for Wales

Related: Jamie Roberts remains the pounding heart of stone in Wales midfield

Warren Gatland broke up his established back row of Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau at the start of the championship. He brought in Justin Tipuric, with Lydiate and Warburton lacking match fitness. He kept Lydiate on the bench for Scotland but with France next up before England, he will probably return to the established trio. While Faletau has continued regardless, carrying and tackling with such vigour that it is hard to figure out how he never seems to get injured, Warburton is less effective on the blind-side than on the open. Wales conceded a try against Ireland from the base of a ruck and Greig Laidlaw twice made breaks from a breakdown, getting past Warburton on the second occasion. Having two open-sides has compensated for the loss of Gethin Jenkins in the loose and Tipuric has the hands of a three-quarter but three tries conceded in two matches will have vexed the defence coach, Shaun Edwards. Having sorted out their set pieces, the back-row balance will be key in the next two rounds. Paul Rees

• Match report: Wales 27-23 Scotland
• Warburton admits decision not to kick was a ‘risky move’
• Warburton warns ‘we can only get better’ after Wales beat Scotland

2) Scotland road and hope of win leads to Rome

The Wasps back Ruaridh Jackson has made an agonising plea in an attempt to persuade the Scotland squad to lift up their heads. “We can’t get too disheartened. We’ve got to stick together, ” Jackson said. “We’re tired of repeating ourselves but we do want to push on. We’re sick of this feeling.” Somehow, the Scots have to take that plea to heart. Losing to Italy in Rome in a fortnight’s time would mean the Dark Blues going 10 matches without a win in the Six Nations. Scotland entered this year’s championship on a high after their exploits at the 2015 World Cup, having come within a controversial refereeing decision of a place in the last four – only to be denied by Craig Joubert and the kicking of Australia’s Bernard Foley. However, they are second from bottom in the 2016 Six Nations table. Jackson wishes the Scots were still playing with the same abandon that resulted in them pushing the Wallabies to the limit. “But we can’t keep looking back at that. We’ve got to live in the present.” There is no doubting he’s right … and perhaps the solution is closer to hand than many believe. They lost in Cardiff only after another controversial refereeing call, which allowed the opening try by Gareth Davies. As Jackson says, the Scots did “front up” against the Welsh. A decisive defeat of Italy could surely come their way in a fortnight and enable an honourable flourish to the tournament. Chris Corrigan

• Cotter admits ‘it doesn’t get any easier’ after Scotland’s narrow defeat
• Andy Bull: losing isn’t everything but it’s still the only thing for poor Scotland

3) England’s Jones has best of both worlds

The question is a familiar one: are England coming good or are they simply beating opponents who are making them look better than they actually are? They have been far from perfect in their first two games but one thing is undeniable: they are an increasingly difficult team to score tries against, particularly in the second half when their bench rumbles on. So far neither Scotland nor Italy have managed to cross their try-line, with two home games against Ireland and Wales now looming. At some stage the debate about the starting merits of England’s highly promising young reserves – Maro Itoje, Jack Clifford, Jamie George, Paul Hill – will intensify but, for now, Eddie Jones has the best of both worlds: a clutch of experienced forwards capable of standing firm against their opponents’ early onslaught and plenty of youthful dash in reserve. England’s match-day squad for Ireland is unlikely to change much; by next autumn, their starting lineup could be appreciably different. Robert Kitson

• Match report: Italy 9-40 England
• Dean Ryan: pressure and intensity serve England and Jones well • Jones lauds brutal England finish and preferred-option Joseph

4) Italy show some potential for next coach

Italy’s Edoardo Gori in action against England in the Six Nations. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Two defeats in the opening two rounds is potential wooden-spoon form but, for a while, Italy had England rattled – just as they did against France the previous week. On this occasion they were undone by injuries that deprived them of the influential Ornel Gega, Marco Fuser, Alessandro Zanni and Gonzalo García. None of them reappeared for the second half, which they lost 29-0. The good news is that Carlo Canna continues to show promise at fly-half and Exeter’s Michele Campagnaro was a persistent menace in the centre. There is some potential for the next Italian head coach to work with; if that man turns out to be Conor O’Shea, he will also have the services of a very decent scrum-half in Edoardo Gori. Next up for the Azzurri are Scotland at home; given their away record, it is a game they badly need to win to avoid a whitewash. Robert Kitson

• As it happened: Italy versus England

5) France selection eccentricities continue

Related: Relentless pressure and intensity serve England and Eddie Jones well

We all thought Philippe Saint-André was prone to the inexplicable decision on the selection front but Guy Novès’s early moves are proving just as eccentric. Maybe it’s a French thing. It is a French thing. By no rational measure are Jefferson Poirot and Uini Atonio better props than Eddy Ben Arous and Rabah Slimani. That fact was borne out by the latter pair’s introduction in the second half, which turned a game for France they had never looked like winning. It was a strategic decision to keep them on the bench and save them for the end game but any strategy that advises one to start a game with a weaker team is one to be wary of. Novès got away with it here but it is clearly preferable not to have to chase a match. While we’re at it, Maxime Machenaud is very obviously France’s best scrum-half as well. Michael Aylwin

• Eddie Butler: France’s rediscovered snide side helps seal win
• Match report: France 10-9 Ireland
Source: www.theguardian.com
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