Six Nations wrap - Wales’ display eye-catching
Campbell Burnes - allblacks.com 05 Feb 2018 Getty Images
It mattered not that they were missing senior loosies Taulupe Faletau and Sam Warburton. Up stepped Josh Navidi, all over the breakdown, and man of the match Aaron Shingler.
The Welsh regions are Anglo-Welsh Cup cellar-dwellers and, with the notable exception of Scarlets, faring little better in the Guinness PRO14. Gatland simply selected 10 Scarlets and ran with the Llanelli momentum. It worked a treat.
Former Blues player Hadleigh Parkes was solid as a rock in the Wales midfield, while Gareth Anscombe made an impact off the pine.
Scotland looked good with the ball in hand early, but was stymied by staunch Wales defence and its lineout started to creak.
Wales secured the bonus point after an intercept try to halfback Gareth Davies, two tries to fullback Leigh Halfpenny and a brilliant finish by left wing Steff Evans.
Captain Alun Wyn Jones said the win was borne out of respect for Scotland, which has made big strides in the last 18 months. But there is clearly much to tighten up for coach Gregor Townsend.
Ireland’s 15-13 win in Paris – just its second in the French capital since 2000 – can be attributed to an extraordinary 41 patient phases which led to the 83rd minute match-winning pot by pivot Johnny Sexton. It was the clear high point of a dour struggle, which featured controversy over whether apparent knee injuries to the French halves actually merited HIA protocols. That saga was not resolved as of Monday, but France can only blame itself for ill-discipline from its pack and an unwillingness to use more of its strike wings Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Thomas. The latter scored a marvellous solo try. But the box kicking tactics did not pay dividends.
Ireland will head back to the Aviva keen to flaunt its attacking panache and dispatch the Azzurri this weekend.
And yet, while the form would suggest that is a fait accompli, those who closely watched England’s 46-15 defeat of Italy in Rome might beg to differ.
Eddie Jones’ charges finished with consummate ease, scoring four tries in the final 12 minutes, but La Squadra Azzurra were more than competitive in many facets of the clash, scored two tries and generally showed more offensive wherewithal than is typical. Conor O’Shea’s vision may be starting to take shape.
England’s high points were doubles to wing Anthony Watson and No 8 Sam Simmonds, on Six Nations starting debut. While the visitors had the edge in the scrums, they took some time to fully subdue the home team and had the misfortune of losing halfback Ben Youngs with what looked a nasty leg injury. Still, this was a pleasing starting point for England and we will know more after this weekend’s marquee Twickenham clash with Wales.
In all, while there was no real surprise at the round one results, Wales’ display was eye-catching, while France kicked off the Jacques Brunel era with plenty of passion and commitment. Now we await the polish. The acid goes on Scotland, which hosts Les Bleus in round two.
15 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
14 Anthony Watson (England)
13 Tommaso Boni (Italy)
12 Hadleigh Parkes (Wales)
11 Steff Evans (Wales)
10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
9 Conor Murray (Ireland)
8 Sam Simmonds (England)
7 Josh Navidi (Wales)
6 Aaron Shingler (Wales)
5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
4 Iain Henderson (Ireland)
3 Dan Cole (England)
2 Dylan Hartley (England)
1 Jefferson Poirot (France)