Six Nations 2021: six things we learned from the opening round

It was a historic opening round of the Six Nations, as the usual bitter rivalries continued to be just that despite the lack of fans, and the quality of rugby on show has set this tournament up very nicely.

After a thrilling first weekend, here’s six things we learned from Scotland’s humbling of England, Wales’ narrow win over Ireland and France’s demolition of Italy.

Scotland show they can dominate teams and entertain the neutrals

Scotland have transformed from a team of mavericks to a team of test players.

Gregor Townsend’s men came out on top in almost every position on the field on Saturday, as they beat England 11-6. 

With the exception of Maro Itoje, very few England players would have even scraped into that Scotland side based on the weekend’s showing.

Despite a close scoreline, Scotland spent 13 minutes and 55 seconds in England’s half compared to England’s six minutes and 11 seconds. 

Scotland are no longer a side looking to play well, lose amicably and then smash Italy the week after. 

Now they look perfectly capable of suffocating teams. 

Now, they mean business.

England’s Saracens players are not yet up to speed

Eddie Jones’s errors in judgement led to England’s first defeat to Scotland at Twickenham for 38 years.

Jones selected five Saracens players to start who had played just 80 minutes of rugby between them in three months, resulting in a stale England performance filled with individual errors.

Picking Owen Farrell at fly-half over George Ford epitomised England’s lack of inventiveness, as Farrell failed to match Finn Russell’s control and influence.

Jones’s final error was leaving it until the 65th minute to bring on Dan Robson and Ben Earl when England clearly lacked penetration.

Wayne Pivac is happy to return to basics

Wales coach Pivac’s return to basics is paying off, as his experienced starting side triumphed over Ireland 21-16.

Pivac was wise to start seasoned veterans such as captain Alun Wyn Jones, George North, who scored a try, and Leigh Halfpenny, who scored 11 points.

Time will tell whether this tactic of sticking to experience will continue to work going forward, when Wales do not have the advantage of an early sending off, as they did against Ireland.

But for now, Pivac’s side are already in a better position than they were in last year’s tournament, where their only win came against Italy.

Ireland prove they have the fight to come back from defeat

The biggest thing we learnt about this Irish side this weekend is they’re not going to roll over for any side, no matter the scenario.

Ireland could have easily allowed Wales to put them on the back foot after losing Peter O’Mahony to a 14th-minute red card.

Instead, they decided to stand up and be counted and in doing so took the game all the way to the 83rd minute.

What happened in that minute certainly does not detract from an Irish attacking performance as Andy Farrell’s side comfortably outperformed their Welsh counterparts despite being a man down, particularly at centre.

Italy have evolved their attacking strategy

Despite the scoreline in a 10-50 demolition by France, there was one positive to take away for Italy.

Their attacking strategy looked fundamentally sound, and they earned significant yardage against a well-drilled French defence.

Italy advanced by sending multiple runners at consecutive gaps and passing late so that the likes of Sebastian Negri could attack flat-footed defenders.

It’s the first time we’ve seen Italy use a truly modern strategy in phase play and it bodes well for their future.

France’s attack is still firing without Vakatawa and Ntamack

Beyond the obvious fact that Antoine Dupont is the most dangerous attacking player in the tournament, we learned that without Virimi Vakatawa and Romain Ntamack the French attack can still frighten the opposition.

The well-timed and incisive running lines of Gael Fickou and youngster Arthur Vincent opened up opportunities for their wingers to exploit, as they rolled in seven tries against the Italians.

With Brice Dulin leading their counter-attack, dare I say France look like an even more formidable scoring threat.

You can check out all of SWL’s Six Nations content here.

Featured image credit: Ettore Griffoni via Shutterstock

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