10 things we learned from ... the opening Six Nations matches
February 4, 2013
Did Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll produce the best individual performance of the weekend? © PA Photos
After a thrilling opening weekend of Six Nations action, we reflect on what it taught us.
A fit BOD will lead the Lions to Australia
Brian O'Driscoll delivered a timely reminder of his class against Wales in Cardiff that may even have had Warren Gatland applauding in the stands. The veteran centre does not need the captaincy to lead by example and did just that with his exceptional industry, sublime handling, game-breaking vision and bone-crunching tackles sure to give Australians a few sleepless nights in the coming months. And just when you think you've seen it all from O'Driscoll - who also cemented his status as the Championship's all-time leading try-scorer with his 26th five-pointer - he does a stint at scrum-half following Conor Murray's sin-binning. Coming soon - O'Driscoll the hooker.
Owen Farrell is one of the world's top players
Many queried Owen Farrell's inclusion on the shortlist for last year's IRB Player of the Year honour insisting that others clearly warranted recognition ahead of the England fly-half. While the omission Argentina's Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe still baffles, it appears Farrell may have been a little stung by those who doubted his ability because in his two appearances since he has produced outstanding performances blending near-faultless kicking with precision play-making that were worthy of the eventual winner of the IRB award - New Zealand No.10 Dan Carter.
If you didn't know Simon Zebo before, you do now
Ireland's Simon Zebo is a relative newcomer to the international stage with just four caps to his name so you could be forgiven for not being able to put a face to a name - that is until now. The 22-year-old is now an internet sensation thanks to an outrageous piece of skill during his side's enthralling victory over Wales in Cardiff. A Rory Best charge-down had the Welsh stretched but Jamie Heaslip's pass to Zebo appeared to have gone behind the man only for the winger to flick the ball up with his foot before re-gathering the ball. The hosts scrambled back but the ball was recycled to enable Cian Healey to notch what looks destined to be the most memorable score of the Six Nations.
The Super Bowl does not have a monopoly on razzmatazz
The Six Nations is the most thrilling rugby showcase in the world and engages the wider public like no other competition with the opening round of matches underlining its enviable status. With Italy's upset of France, the fancy footwork of Ireland's Simon Zebo and the crowd-pleasing 15 tries - to name just three of many highlights - we have already been spoilt and to think we have 12 games still to come.
Italy are more than a match for any of their rivals
Long gone are the days when Italy just made up the numbers in the Six Nations. The Azzurri's upset of France underlined the fact that on their day they are more than a match for any of their Six Nations rivals. The complete performance that they produced - mixing physicality with precision and flair - would have accounted all but the very best on the planet and with two more games at home who is to say they will not challenge for the title? There may have been empty seats at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday - rest assured there will not be any when Wales and Ireland come to town.
England are the real deal
England shocked the rugby world with the manner of their victory over world champions New Zealand in December and it was widely expected they would fail to reach those same standards in their Six Nations opener against Scotland. But there was no significant drop off in their standard of performance with their ambition and hunger to move the ball quickly and keep it alive arguably a step up from that which was evident during the historic success against the All Blacks. Coach Stuart Lancaster may target consistency, but he will be aware that there is still more to come from his side.
Warren Gatland will be reaching for the ibuprofen
This year's Six Nations is a key battle ground for those hoping to earn selection for the British & Irish Lions' tour of Australia later this year and hopes are set to rise and fall as head-to-heads play out throughout the championship. Not so long ago Wales were expected to provide a bulk of the tourists but their on-going woes - they slipped to their eighth straight defeat against Ireland - are sure to be troubling Lions boss Warren Gatland. In contrast, England now look set to provide a host of Lions just a few short months after it appeared they may only provide a couple. But there is plenty of time for a few more twists and turns.
Declan Kidney will guide Ireland to the 2015 Rugby World Cup
Ireland boss Declan Kidney is out of contract at the end of the season and coming into this year's Six Nations was under increasing pressure to prove his worth - not that the coach himself was worried about it given his recent "If you want to make God laugh, tell him what you're doing tomorrow" comment. His decision to appoint Jamie Heaslip as his captain and not a fit-again Brian O'Driscoll as his captain invited yet more criticism and speculation over his future. But that appeared to be an inspired gamble by Kidney with O'Driscoll rolling back the years in Cardiff with a vintage display that set the tone for a superb Irish showing. The Irish look like a force to be reckoned with and that promise should assure Kidney of a new deal from the Irish Rugby Football Union.
Sean O'Brien is a tackling machine
Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien racked up an incredible 23 tackles and missed just one during his side's thrilling victory over Wales in Cardiff with many of them no doubt coming as the Irish attempted to quell the hosts' brave second half comeback. But O'Brien's awe-inspiring feat was just one of many interesting stats to emerge from the opening weekend with France conceding an incredible 20 turnovers and everyone of England's players except prop Joe Marler making gains with ball in hand in their win at Twickenham. Scotland boss Scott Johnson might be right when he says: "Statistics are like a bikinis, they show a lot but not the whole thing." but we like them all the same.
Woodward will wade in whatever
As predicted, former England coach Sir Clive Woodward has embraced his first love once again having finished his Olympic duties. A recent addition to BBC Sport's TV coverage of the Six Nations, you can also read his thoughts on all aspect of the Championship in a national newspaper while he is also no stranger to the radio airwaves. Sadly for those who have dug deep to secure his services, England are playing remarkably well and there is little call for the World Cup winner to tell us all how he would do it. Instead we are left with less hard-hitting analysis regarding body hair - no-one with a beard would get into a side coached by him apparently. Well worth the money?
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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