In the wake of 2019 Rugby World Cup, the 2020 Guinness Six Nations kicked off last weekend.
With four new head coaches at the helm, a raft of uncapped starlets emerging into the fold, and rivalries of over 135 years renewed, the world’s oldest international rugby tournament provided an entertaining weekend. Wales will be hopeful of winning another Grand Slam after a resounding victory over the Italians, whilst for England fans it was heartbreak almost as painful as the Rugby World Cup final defeat to South Africa last November. Meanwhile Scotland were left with the usual disappointment after being edged out by Ireland in a close encounter. Here’s a roundup of what happened on the opening weekend.
Adams scores hat-trick as ruthless Wales go full throttle
Wales kicked off the weekend with an emphatic win over Italy, courtesy of Josh Adams’s hat-trick. The match marked Wayne Pivac’s first match in charge after replacing Warren Gatland; the successor has big boots to fill, taking over after 12 trophy-laden era under Gatland.
Pivac is notorious for his entertaining style, which was palpable in Wales’ free-flowing performance. The ball flung wide for Adams’s early opener, before Dan Biggar’s exquisite through-the-legs pass set up Adams for his second try. This was his 11th since the start of 2019 – more than any other player in the world. With the bonus point secured by George North, Nick Tompkins topped his impressive debut with a stunning try as Wales romped to victory. Adams then secured his hat-trick by finishing from close range in the closing stages to cap a perfect performance. Well, not so perfect, according to Pivac: “It was far from the perfect performance, there is definitely more we can do at the breakdown, with and without the ball”.
This remarkable 42-0 victory over Italy will send a statement to the other nations that Wales can defend their Grand Slam crown in some style.
Skipper Sexton shines and Hogg’s howler as Ireland edge Scotland
New skipper Johnny Sexton was instrumental in scoring all 19 points as Ireland survived a late onslaught, edging Scotland 19-12 in a hard-fought encounter on Saturday.
The fly-half led from the front in his first home match as Ireland captain; his try and four penalty kicks proved the difference, as Scotland were left to rue their missed chances. Scotland’s spirited display marked a drastic improvement from their 27-3 defeat to Ireland in Yokohama in the Rugby World Cup last September. A failure to convert their tries paid dividends, including Adam Hastings booting four penalties and a dropped ball by Stuart Hogg when he was about to touch down for a try in the second half.
Andy Farrell’s reign as Ireland head coach has started with a fortunate win, although both he and Scotland coach Gregor Townsend will be wary that more than just fine-tuning will be required over the next week if they are to avoid defeats in their home matches to Wales and England respectively.
May’s masterclass in vain as England fall to France’s fast start
A new look France put in an impressive display to defeat England 24-17 at the Stade de France on Sunday. Coach Eddie Jones had vowed that his team would unleash “brutal physicality” upon a callow France side with just 10 caps apiece. What the Les Bleus lacked in experience they more than made up for with energy and intensity, blitzing England in a one-sided first half. Tries from Vincent Rattez and captain Charles Ollivon, as well as a flawless kicking performance from fly-half Romain Ntamack, saw France steam into a 24-0 lead.
This was the first time England had failed to register in the first half of a championship match since 1988, although the World Cup runners-up did spark into life around the hour mark. Jonny May showed exceptional pace to drag his side back into scoreboard contention with two tries, whilst Owen Farrell’s slotted a last-minute penalty to earn England a consolatory losing bonus point.
A comeback proved insurmountable for England, perhaps affected by the absence of Billy and Mako Vunipola, as well as losing talismanic centre Manu Tuilagi early on to injury. Yet captain Farrell claimed that it was down to aggression:
They were more aggressive from the word go, the second half was a bit better but we left ourselves with too much to do.
The French stood firm to record a 24-17 victory, much to new coach Fabien Galthie’s relief, after France’s second-half collapse in their 24-19 defeat against Wales last year.
France will hope to follow this up with another home victory against Italy on Sunday. For England, this result will make scant difference to the Six Nations unless they drastically improve against Scotland at Murrayfield.