10 things we learned from ... the latest Six Nations matches
February 12, 2013
Scotland's Stuart Hogg is congratulated on scoring a superb try against Italy at Murrayfield © PA Photos
The Six Nations served up another enthralling weekend of action but what did we learn from the latest championship skirmishes?
Plastic pitches may be the future
A year ago the pitch at the Stade de France was making headlines because it was as frozen - this past weekend the groundsman could only dreamed of such consistency as his playing surface concertinaed just like France's title hopes. The turf was simply not up to scratch with each scrum and skirmish scarring the pitch and the Six Nations. Ireland suffered similar embarrassment with Aviva Stadium giving away all too easily. It was alleged that a similarly sub-standard pitch at Wembley Stadium a few years ago was partly responsible for injuries to Wallabies props Matt Dunning and Tatafu Polota-Nau and Six Nations officials are asking for trouble if they do not demands these grounds are brought up to scratch. Perhaps the French Rugby Federation and the Irish Rugby Football Union will be among the many watching and maybe admiring Saracens' artificial pitch in action this weekend.
Rob Howley and Shaun Edwards need to work on their timing
It would appear it's been so long since Wales had something to cheer about that they have forgotten how to carry out the most basic of celebrations - the high-five. As George North went over in the dying moments of Wales' Six Nations clash with France the coaching duo rose to their feet ready to share their mutual delight at ending an eight-Test losing run - but it didn't quite go to plan. Edwards ended up slapping his boss on the chest while Howley was left swinging at thin air - not quite as classy as their charges. May we suggest they get in a little bit of practice and throw in the odd chest bump and fist kiss to mix things up a little.
Cian Healy is jeopardising his Lions chances
Cian Healy has been in outstanding form for Leinster and Ireland this season and has long been seen as favourite to earn selection for the British & Irish Lions' tour of Australia later this year - but a repeat of the wild and sometimes barbaric performance he served up against England in Dublin on Sunday and he may have Lions boss Warren Gatland looking elsewhere for his loose-head prop. The Lions' intense 10-game tour will require cool heads with Australia's Super Rugby sides, the media, the fans and the Wallabies themselves set to do everything they can to unsettle and rock the elite tourists in the lead up to the eagerly-awaited three-Test series. Gatland needs fighters no doubt, but he cannot afford to take ill-disciplined players who will invite trouble and jeopardise the chances of the team. Healy's stamp on the leg of England prop Dan Cole rightfully earned him a citing and should also lead to a ban that will deny him the chance to remind Gatland of his real worth over the coming weeks.
Hogg could roast anyone
Scotland's Stuart Hogg showed he is by no means a one-week wonder by backing up his eye-catching and try-scoring performance against England with another against Italy on Saturday. Once again he sprinkled a little magic on proceedings - most notably pouncing for an interception inside his own 22 before racing the length of the field to score a try. Few would have been able to place him a couple of weeks ago but he is set to use this Six Nations as a stepping stone to stardom and the British & Irish Lions squad.
A week is a long time in rugby
Another player was not so successful in reproducing the form that propelled them into these ranks last week - Italy's Luciano Orquera. The fly-half was a revelation against France with his invention and industry key aspects of a famous triumph. But he was a shadow of that player against Scotland - denied the time and space to he was reduced to bystander and it was his loose pass that led to Hogg's length of the field score. From hero to zero.
France are in a downward spiral
Not so long ago, France were being tipped for the Six Nations title yet now they are second favourites to pick up the wooden spoon. Put simply, they are in trouble. The defeat to Italy in their opener was a shock but their failure to rectify those errors and find any kind of form against Wales at the weekend will send equally troubling tremors throughout French rugby. What has happened to the France side that impressed week in, week out during the autumn? They are stuck in second gear and seemingly unable to harness the ample power and flair in their ranks. They have not lost their first two opening championship games since 1982 when they ended up propping up the table and suddenly with a trip to an in-form England looming next you fear they may not yet have hit rock bottom. Coach Philippe Saint-Andre insists his side 'must not be scared' but with that comment he is perhaps displaying his true emotions that will only have been heightened by England's victory over Ireland. France could easily find themselves needing to beat Scotland on the last day of the championship in a bid to avoid the ignominy of a win-less season.
Scotland can play a bit
Scotland are a side on the move - whether it is from their own 22 to the try line courtesy of a superb individual score from Stuart Hogg or in the IRB world rankings where they have climbed back to 10th following their impressive victory over Italy. The Scots notched four tries against Tier 1 opposition for the first time since they grabbed five against Ireland in a Rugby World Cup warm-up clash in 2007 with the fact that four different backs claimed the scores offering further evidence that they have turned the corner.
Robbie Deans will be sleeping a bit easier
A dazzling opening weekend of the Six Nations action will have troubled Australia coach Robbie Deans whose side will tackle the British & Irish Lions later this year - but tries were not so easy to come by in the second round of match with England and Ireland drawing a blank and Wales leaving it late to notch their one and only try. The Scots had more success and continue to surprise observers both sides of the equator. While the brute force evident throughout the weekend will cause more than a little concern, it is the pace and incision displayed by the Home Nations poses the biggest threat to Australia's chances of claiming a series victory.
England have the bash to go with the flash
England's refreshing ambition may have hogged the headlines of late but they reminded us against Ireland that they also have a hard edge that will serve them just as well in the months and years ahead. Ireland hammered away on a foul day in Dublin but were frustrated at every turn by a committed and rapidly maturing side with captain Chris Robshaw setting the standard.
Wales do remember how to win
Following a woeful run eight straight defeats, many thought Wales had somehow turned into a bad side since their Grand Slam triumph last year - but a rare victory in France proves otherwise. They had just forgotten how to win with a series of near-misses over the last 12 months playing on their insecurities. An unstinting belief and hard graft finally got them over the line but more of the same will be required if they are to maintain that feeling in Rome next time out.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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