10 things we learned from ... the latest Six Nations matches
February 24, 2013
A bruised and battered Manu Tuilagi savours England's victory over France at Twickenham © Getty Images
The Six Nations served up a thrilling blend of blood, guts and glory at the weekend but what did we learn from the latest championship clashes?
Manu is a real man
Manu Tuilagi's blood-stained shirt hinted at the brutal nature of England's victory over France at Twickenham but only told half the story. The wrecking ball of a centre suffered an horrific injury in the first of many tackles he was involved in with the elbow of France's Louis Picamoles managing to rip his left ear away from his head. Any normal player would have probably heeded the medical advice he was given but Tuilagi dismissed the need for stitches and demanded that they just 'tape up' his injury. They did just that with Tuilagi immediately returning to the fray where he played a central role in his side's 23-13 victory - after which he received 20 stitches to fix his face. Ouch.
It's enough to make you sick
Viewers of the BBC's coverage of Wales' clash with Italy in Rome got a little more Jonathan Davies than they bargained for after the former international and now respected pundit was forced to take the commentator's microphone. Davies earned an unexpected promotion after regular commentator Andrew Cotter was struck down with the winter vomiting bug just moments into the Stadio Olimpico clash. Former Wales wing Shane Williams also showed he still has a good turn of pace to go from pitchside to press box to offer a bit of help. Both men - and BBC Wales' Huw Llewelyn-Davies who took charge of the mic for the second half - deserve much praise but it is clear Jiffy is a better analyst than he is a commentator.
Scott Johnson has all but secured himself a full-time job
Scotland made history against Ireland at Murrayfield and it is set to earn their interim coach Scott Johnson a full-time appointment. His side's 12-8 success may not have been pretty but the record books note only results and Scotland have back-to-back wins in the Six Nations for the first time since 2001 - and even then they spanned two seasons due to the foot and mouth crisis. They have two Championship victories to their name for the first time since 2006 and boast more wins than they have accrued in the last three Six Nations combined. Regardless of what happens against Wales and France in their remaining fixtures, Johnson has some pretty powerful evidence at his disposal when he comes to sit down to discuss his future following their summer tour.
England remain unbeaten - and an unfinished article
England made it three wins in-a-row with yet another assured performance against France at Twickenham. They once again showcased their physical prowess, abundant talent and ability to roll with the punches in overcoming a resurgent French side. But their remains room for improvement - most notably in defence - which should serve as a warning to Italy who visit Twickenham in two weeks' time and Wales who await in Cardiff on the final weekend of the Championship. England may be the only side left in the running for the Grand Slam but Wales and Scotland still harbour title hopes with the Celtic rivals set to meet at Murrayfield. An improving Wales will be favourites for that game but can they raise their game sufficiently and in time to derail England's campaign?
Ashton is on thin ice
The ball thrown at France's Benjamin Fall in the dying moments of his side's hard-won victory at Twickenham suggested a lot about England winger Chris Ashton's state of mind. Starved of ball and embarrassed in defence - twice - by the speed and dancing feet of France's Wesley Fofana, his frustration had boiled over. His side's success offered no consolation with his reckless act and his defensive frailties leaving him exposed ahead of their next clash with Italy. Coach Stuart Lancaster demands high standards in terms of performance and discipline and having fallen some way short of in a very public manner he may well find himself on the sidelines in a fortnight's time with the likes of Wasps' Christian Wade and Saracens' David Strettle, neither short of confidence or tries, pushing hard for inclusion.
Stats are like bikinis
"Statistics are like a bikini, they show a lot but not the whole thing," commented interim Scotland coach Scott Johnson earlier this month and how right he is. Ireland claimed 74% of possession and 71% of territory in their clash with Scotland at Murrayfield, the likes of Luke Marshall and Keith Earls produced four linebreaks to their hosts' none and the visitors were called on to make only 44 tackles as opposed to the Scots' 128 - but they still ended up on the wrong side of a 12-8 scoreline.
Robshaw's Lions stock continues to rise
Another England win and another stand-out performance from captain Chris Robshaw. Earlier in the season his chances of touring with the British & Irish Lions this summer looked remote with coach Warren Gatland having questioned his credentials. Fast forward a couple of months and Robshaw is celebrating back-to-back Man of the Match performances that have not only boosted his chances of boarding the plane Down Under but also propelled him into the running for the captaincy. Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll may still be the bookies' favourite but Robshaw is commanding increasing attention and respect.
Parisse leaves gaping void
Italy did their best to play down the significance of the 30-day ban that robbed them of captain Sergio Parisse for their game with Wales but we were not fooled. "We can't think this team is dependent on one player," was Italy coach Jacques Brunel's honest assessment before the game but there is no denying they are a significantly less fearsome prospect without Parisse in their ranks. His dynamism so often sets the tempo for the side as a whole and his leadership is equally influential. You sense Wales' dominance at scrum time would have only been temporary had Parisse been present to rally his troops while giving the visitors something to think about with ball in hand.
Ronan O'Gara's days could be numbered
Ireland fly-half Ronan O'Gara has won 129 Test caps in a distinguished international career that has included Six Nations Grand Slam glory and three tours with the British & Irish Lions - but it may well be drawing to a close. With first-choice playmaker Jonathan Sexton injured, O'Gara was over-looked for his side's clash against Scotland with youngster Paddy Jackson handed the No.10 shirt. O'Gara had to make do with a place on the bench but was offered a chance to remind his coach and us of his class when he was introduced as a second half replacement with the game in the balance. However, his most telling contribution was a baffling cross-kick on his own 22 into a packed midfield that put his side under immense pressure and ultimately ended with a crucial Scotland penalty that took the game beyond Ireland. With Sexton on the mend and Jackson's contribution sufficient for him to warrant another opportunity, that may have been the last time we see O'Gara in the emerald green.
Peerless Parra can rescue France
France entered this year's Six Nations as title favourites but following their third straight defeat - that means they have lost five and drawn one of their last six Championship games - they find themselves bottom of the table and on course for what would be their first wooden spoon since 1999, first win-less campaign since 1969 and first whitewash since 1957. But there is hope with the return of Morgan Parra to their starting line-up. With the ludicrously talented scrum-half pulling the strings, France returned to something resembling their best form against England at Twickenham - only for some questionable tactical decisions, including the withdrawal of their imperious No.9, handing the initiative and victory to England. Redemption of sorts is on offer against Ireland in Dublin in two weeks' time and versus Scotland on home soil in their final encounter.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton