Whilst France’s 37-10 scoreline over Italy was predictable enough, there was high drama in the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield where Scotland prevailed, just, 20-17, over England to retain the venerable silverware.
In Dublin, the Irish were not at their clinical best, but didn’t have to be against a depleted Wales.
Before kickoff there was a moment’s silence in memory of Tom Kiernan, the man who coached Munster to its famous 1978 victory over the All Blacks. Perhaps fired up by this, Ireland swung onto attack and within two minutes Kiwi-born No 12 Bundee Aki was crossing in the corner. That came from a long pass delivered by left wing Mack Hansen, the Australian-born flier who had replaced the injured James Lowe. Hansen had a blinder on his Test debut.
Ireland never relinquished the initiative, despite Johnny Sexton’s struggles off the tee. The pack, led by the likes of prop Andrew Porter, dominated Wales at set-piece and in the collisions, while the backs operated with more cohesion than a patched-up Wales that had to use wing Josh Adams at centre.
Ireland’s left wing Andrew Conway scored a second half double in the space of just seven minutes, while centre Garry Ringrose broke on the outside to score the bonus point try at the threequarter mark.
It was left to workaholic Wales opensider Taine Basham to score the consolation try for the vanquished visitors. New Zealand-born Wales right wing Johnny McNicholl had few chances to show his attacking wares and had his hands full with Hansen.
The Calcutta Cup clash swing on a controversial incident in the 65th minute, when England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie brainlessly deliberately batted the ball into touch whilst competing for the high ball with Scotland wing Darcy Graham. Kiwi referee Dr Ben O’Keefe, who had a fine match, awarded a penalty try to Scotland and sinbinned Cowan-Dickie.
Aside from that, England will be kicking itself for not closing out a match in which it dominated possession. No 10 Marcus Smith scored all 17 points, but his opposite Finn Russell controlled the tempo in the clutch. England did kick away too much ball. This tactic was not always ineffective, but it must show more breadth to its game if it aims to rise up the Six Nations table.
Scotland missed just six tackles, a number that highlighted its sheer commitment to the task. Replacement halfback Ben White had a debut to remember, scoring the home side’s first try after some clever switch play by Stuart Hogg and Graham.
France coach Fabien Galthie had to watch his team’s match against Italy from his hotel room after contracting Covid-19. He would have been further stressed in the first spell, as France took a long time to crack into gear against a tenacious Italian defensive line.
After 32 straight defeats in the Six Nations, Italy must make itself harder to beat before attempting to rack up the Ws, and coach Kieran Crowley, the former All Blacks fullback, has brought some backbone to the defence.
But other than a spectacular first spell kick-pass try to wing Tommaso Menoncello, Italy offered little on attack, while France lent on a hat-trick to wing Gabin Villiere and an industrious display by captain Gregory Alldritt to pour on the second half points and pressure.
All three games produced crowds that were close to sellouts.
In this weekend’s round two encounters, all eyes will be on Paris where the two conquerors of the All Blacks, France and Ireland, lock horns.
Dublin: Ireland 29 (Andrew Conway 2, Bundee Aki, Garry Ringrose tries; Johnny Sexton 3 con, pen) Wales 7 (Taine Basham try, Callum Sheedy con) HT: 10-0
Edinburgh: Scotland 20 (Ben White try, penalty try; Finn Russell con, 2 pen) England 17 (Marcus Smith try, 4 pen) HT: 10-6
Paris: France 37 (Gabin Villiere 3, Anthony Jelonch, Damian Penaud tries; Melvyn Jaminet 2 con, 2 pen, Romain Ntamack con) Italy 10 (Tommaso Menoncello try; Paulo Garbisi con, pen) HT: 18-10
15 Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
14 Mack Hansen (Ireland)
13 Garry Ringrose (Ireland)
12 Bundee Aki (Ireland)
11 Gabin Villiere (France)
10 Finn Russell (Scotland)
9 Ben Youngs (England)
8 Matt Fagerson (Scotland)
7 Taine Basham (Wales)
6 Anthony Jelonch (France)
5 Tadgh Beirne (Ireland)
4 Cameron Woki (France)
3 Uini Atonio (France)
2 Julien Marchand (France)
1 Andrew Porter (Ireland)
Round two (NZT):
Wales v Scotland, Cardiff, Sunday 3.15am
France v Ireland, Paris, Sunday 5.45am
Italy v England, Rome, Monday 4am