Drama of the highest order as second round of Six Nations begins

Getty Images

James Mortimer     10 Feb 2013     Getty Images

Certainly the 23-18 scoreboard didn’t indicate a riot, but there were other factors that raised many a brow.

Few Italian halfbacks have sliced open the field like Tobias Botes did for the hosts, while Alberto Sgrabi at second five-eighth was running creative angles and lines in support of backline general Luciano Orquera – and while these names may not be familiar to some now, this new breed under the continued influence of Sergio Parisse will now host Scotland looking for their second straight win in the Six Nations of 2013.

Scotland came up against an England whose form looks to have continued on from their remarkable victory over the All Blacks at Twickenham last season with a 38-18 win, and while their principal battering ram in big Manu was replaced by the beautifully named Billy Twelvetrees, the Red Rose backline seemed no less formidable, led with aplomb by wonderkid Owen Farrell.

Not only does the youngster possess a boot that would make Jonny Wilkinson proud, but thanks to the quick ball the aggressive English pack is providing, the rear division of the team is being given time and freedom to set up their own strategies.

The English backline is growing with each outing, but will be tested against Ireland this weekend.

The Scots will lick their wounds, unable to stop the clinical style in which England were able to mount points, often a sign of a multi-faceted team, but heartening for those wearing the Thistle, there were signs that perhaps Scotland can take that much needed step up in attacking might to be a world power.

Their success against the Wallabies and English in recent years have come off masterful defensive efforts mixed with a monstrous amount of guts, much reminisce of the ballads sung of Scottish warriors, yet their inability to rack tries at consistent rates have hurt.

However under the Australian Scott Johnson, a lover of new ideas and principles, Scotland did show some spark, encapsulated with some booming breaks by the forwards, who clearly are being given reign to roam, even if at times it allowed the English frontal assault to gain some dominance in the set piece.

The Irish joined this weekend’s opponents England and the Azzurri as first round winners, and if one had to pick the most precise half of last weekend, it would have been credited to the men in green, whose comprehensive opening against the reigning Six Nations champions in Cardiff was a sight to behold.

The Irish forwards and the boot of Jonny Sexton seemed to work in tandem, pinning the Welsh back, while the guile of Brian O’Driscoll was the forefront of the efforts, with his hands even more delicate, enhanced with the wisdom of over a century of Tests, and while his mystical feet may not dance as much, he – ironically like All Blacks captain Richie McCaw – more eager with age to charge into a defensive blockade and use power on the burst or on the fringes to cause chaos.

However the fascinating facet to the Irish 30-22 victory was that a 30-3 advantage to the visitors led to the stunned Millennium Stadium crowd jumping on their seats as Wales roared back with a 19 point unanswered second half, showing much of that precision, slicing attack and almost rushing defence that has won them more than their share of Grand Slams in recent years.

A Slam, at this point, would be a huge achievement.

Scotland host Italy, and know they have the ability to beat the visitors which is reflected by the bookmakers, but Parisse will guide his men into town with the same confidence that was generated when hundreds of test caps were handed out in Rome before last week’s match.

However emotion, always evidence when the team barrels out their anthem, often doesn’t equate to good performance, but the key mark-up for the men from Italy was that they seemed to be looking for the win, rather than revert to their famous damage control style game that has caused many teams, including the All Blacks, uncharacteristically to fall off their routine.

The same day eyes then turn to the Stade de France as Les Bleus look to rediscover the form that saw them unbeaten to close 2012, but all of that confidence, including a statement making win against the Wallabies, looked absent against the charge of the Azzurri.

Les Bleus, as always, have the personal, but Wales will be looking at ending their horror pair of eights.

Eight years with a loss in Paris, and eight Tests without a win.

Finally a ‘pre, pre, pre’ title decider comes to us from Dublin, with the Irish looking at building on what was a good two-test campaign from them in the European autumn, pushing the Springboks 16-12, while beating a powerful Argentina 46-24.

The Irish team across the fifteen looks strong enough to beat many pundits’ tournament favourites England, but some may ask if the question needs to be asked upstairs, as to why they switched off after having Wales last week completely down and out at the end of the first half.

Meanwhile English coach Stuart Lancaster will expect more of the same from his team, a growing outfit that was runner up last year in the Six Nations, apparently a vastly transformed operation that left New Zealand after the Rugby World Cup.

Lancaster’s mantra is towards discipline and structure, but other members of the England coaching staff, along with a number of names that are becoming high profile in the English sporting scene, are leading the Red Rose towards the next Rugby World Cup, but will be wary of the Irish.

After all, in the Six Nations, never did Ireland lose to the English while they held the global crown between 2004 and 2007.

Ancient history perhaps, but even with back to back wins over Ireland, England will not take for grant an Irish team that has grown plenty of arms and legs on home patch to defeat the invading English.

Once again, as it was with some of the tomes etched into their history books, but regardless of this, another chapter of the Six Nations will be written again this weekend.