Six Nations Round 1 Notes, How Experts Fared

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Six_Nations_Championship.svgLOS ANGELES, CA – The 2016 RBS Six Nations Championship started it’s 133rd edition this past weekend with three cracking fixtures that set the northern hemisphere’s top six countries pitted against each other. It has been a period of revitalisation for these six nations since their disappointments at the Rugby World Cup last summer, and the introduction of new coaches and players has made this tournament all the more unpredictable. See how our Expert Panelists faired in the 6 Nations Picks Panel and look back at last weekend’s action as France took on the Italians in Paris, the Welsh travelled to Dublin to face Ireland, and the Scottish played host to England in the Calcutta Cup.

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Expert Picks Panel: Just as our European Rugby Champions Cup Picks started off, our 6 Nations Panel Picks has started with a mixed basket of results. At the top of the table lie Mr. WB and Mr. Harrington, both displaying a fine 2–1 record having chosen England to topple Scotland (although JWB has a slight leg up over Mr. Harrington after a correct Pick of the Week). As for the rest of the panel, there is a four way tie for second place between Mr. Nelson, Mr. Yeats, Mr. Blaber, and Mr. Frechette, with all four panellists sitting at 1–2 overall. Nobody anticipated a tie between Ireland and Wales, and the Scotland vs. England Calcutta Cup turned out to be the crucial game in splitting our pool this week.
France 23 vs. Italy 21
Saturday, February 6, 2015
Stade de France, Paris

Hugo Bonneval

France often switched between sustained periods of lacklustre and short lived moments of brilliance.

In their first fixture under the leadership of new head coach, Guy Noves, France squeezed out a last-minute victory over the visiting Italians, a beginning of tenure that, albeit the score line, has settled the nerves of many French critics.

The Italians got the scoreboard rolling after eight minutes through a perfectly placed drop goal from fly half Carlo Canna. France had the opportunity to put themselves in front of the Italians on three separate penalty occasions, but scrum-half Sebastian Bezy managed to squander his chances before being replaced by Jules Plisson.

The first major French involvement in the match, though, came in the late 15th minute when French winger Virama Vakatawa sliced through hapless Italian fringe defenders before sidestepping past Italian winger Leonardo Sato to cross the white wash.

The French lead was rather short lived as the Italians fought back with brutally efficient rolling mauls, eventually confounding the French defence and sending Sergio Parisse over the line to give the Italians and 8–5 lead.

Having played most of the half in their own territory, France somehow managed to go into the break two points ahead after Gael Fickou managed a quick tap and go penalty that squeaked through what had been a resilient Italian defence thus far.

Italy started out the second half ferociously and in under a minute had a try and successful conversion all through Carlo Canna to bring the score to 18 – 10 in favour of the visitors.

From here, though, the experience of Guy Noves began to take over as he expertly substituted France’s way to victory. His substitutes ground on the tired Italian defence, eventually giving fly off Plisson the opportunity to kick a 60th minute penalty and subsequently the winning penalty goal from 50 m out with five minutes to go.

Parisse and his Italian side did their best to march down the field with the remaining time, but Parisse went on a glory hunt and shanked a drop goal that could have given the Italians their first victory in France in nine years.

Scotland 9 vs. England 15
Saturday, February 6, 2015
BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh

England captain Dylan Hartley and his team pose with the Calcutta Cup following their victory over Scotland

Hooray…our 9th Calcutta Cup in a row (notice Danny Care’s excitement on the left)

If any of this weekend’s action didn’t live up to the pregame hype, it was the Calcutta Cup clash between Scotland and England at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. For the first time in a long time, Scotland had to deal with a quantity they hadn’t felt, expectation. That’s not to be rude, but after their brilliant performance against Australia in the World Cup, fans around the globe anticipated Vern Cotter’s side to be hypercharged for the challenge.

After a rather cagey opening 10 minutes, newly included English winger, Jack Nowell, proved his worth in front of Eddie Jones by chip kicking the ball over an offguard Scottish backline and sprinted 35 m to the try zone only to be beaten out by Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg. In the frenzy of safely securing the ball from Nowell, though, Hogg brought the ball back into his own try zone, giving away a 5 m scrum at the beginning of the 13th minute.

The English scrum put on a dominant first display of forward power, wheeling the scrum ever so slightly to give second rower George Kruis a perfect opportunity to score over the off-balance Richie Gray.

The Scots responded through two successive penalties kicked by scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, but an overwhelming number of errors from both sides rendered any attacking opportunities through the rest of the half helpless. The English rode into the break ahead 6–7.

Scotland retained possession for most of the opening 10 minutes of the second-half, but an untimely turnover saw a massive English counter-attack that, in the end, saw Owen Farrell play through Jack Nowell on the wing to bring the visitors ahead 12–7.

Although criticised for it in pre-match buildup, Eddie Jones’ experienced squad came through brilliantly for England, allowing the English to see off a younger, less experienced Scottish side that desperately tried to find a way back into the match in the final 10 minutes (to no avail).

Ireland 16 vs. Wales 16

Sunday, February 7, 2016
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
In the most enthralling game of the weekend, Ireland and Wales split points for the first time in over 70 years after a 16–16 draw at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Both Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland injected youth into their starting XV’s in an effort to revitalize their national sides, and the mixture between experience and you made for one cracking game.

Johnny Sexton was replaced late on in the game

Johnny Sexton was replaced late on in the game because he was repeatedly targeted. How much can one man take?

It was Ireland who got on the board first through two successive penalties from fly half Johnny Sexton, both on offside infringement calls from referee Jerome Garces. With a 6–0 lead in hand, the Irish confidence surged as they ferociously drove down field and almost scored their first try through debutant CJ Stander before the TMO halted the festivities.

The home side’s first try came through scrum-half Conor Murray after shooting a gap in the fringes before touching the ball down from less than a metre out. Sexton kicked the afters to make it 13–0 just before half an hour.

The rest of the first half, though, tilted in favour of the Welsh. Fly half Rhys Priestland slotted a 31st minute penalty before big number eight Taulupe Faletau scored Wales’ first try after picking the ball up from the base of the scrum and stumbled over the white wash for the score, conversion kicked by Priestland.

Despite a brilliant opening half hour display, the Irish went into the break with only a three point lead and a Welsh team surging in confidence at their performance in the last 10 minutes.

The second half open with an opportunity for Priestland to tie the score after Irish captain Rory Best was pinged for hands at the ruck. The Welshman easily slotted the cake and tied the game at 13 all.

Then, in complete opposite of the attacking prowess of the first half, the last half hour of the second-half turned into one of the most brilliant defensive displays amongst two teams that I’ve seen in several years. Both sides had line breaks from the likes of Simon Zebo and Jonathan Davies, but brilliant cover defence saved the day for their respective teams.

At one point, Wales put together an amazing 25–27 phase push towards the Irish line that was exhausting not only for the players but for the energy of the fans as well. Ireland held resiliently for as long as they possibly could, a period of about three or four minutes.

The Irish defence eventually broke apart and Jamie Heaslip was called for not rolling away. Priestland easily slotted the kick to make the game 16–13 in favour of the visitors, but Sexton would have the last word and easily slotted a kick from range to bring the game to 16–16.

Although both sides’ dreams of a grand slam and/or Triple Crown are gone, both can focus on the positives of an amazing game as they look to both try and win the 6 Nations.

Stay tuned for Friday’s preview of Round 2 of the RBS 6 Nations! Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@RugbyWrapUpJunoir Blaber,James HarringtonJamie WallNick HallDJ EberleJake Frechette, Scheenagh HarringtonJamie LoydCody KuxmannKaren RitterRonan NelsonKaitlin McCabeKyle PhillipsRocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.
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Irish-American Ronan Nelson is from California, is a new UCLA Bruin and is a rugby lifer. Plus he's got two passports. But that's just scratching the surface. He's got more courage and resolve in his thumbnail than most of us combined. Le Wolf of Wheelchairs is a man amongst men. Check him out in this video: https://www.facebook.com/PrayForRonanNelson/videos/vb.377373885627475/995548307143360/?type=2&theater and follow him on Twitter: @ronan_nelson

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