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Six Nations Week 1 Recap: Weekly Graded 2, Electric Boogaloo

The Six Nations is back with a bang and so is graded. See what I thought of the opening weekend.

Guess who’s back baby! Yes after 12 months and 3 jabs the Six Nations is back and this time, with fans! The stadiums were full once again after last year’s tournament and the home fans got to see three fairly dominant home victories. There were highs, lows, and questionable officiating in an opening weekend absolutely packed with action. But as well as the return of the Six Nations, it’s the return of graded! It did pretty well last year and in the spirit of most American TV shows when it does well in it’s first season why not run a sequel. It would be a historic weekend as well, with Scotland-England being the last game that Brian Moore would commentate on as a BBC pundit. He is one of the iconic voices of rugby for me. Growing up I would always associate rugby commentary with Brian, Eddie Butler, and Jiffy, so not hearing him on commentary anymore after he’s been on for as long as I can remember will be super strange. Anyhow, the first weekend is now in the rear view and it’s time to get into the grading!

Ireland

Win against a top Southern hemisphere team in the Autumn Series? Check. Absolutely embarrass an opposition team in their opening Six Nations game after said win? Check. It must be 18 months away from a World Cup. This is all setting up perfectly for Ireland to go crashing out of the Quarter Finals to either France or New Zealand at the 2023 World Cup. Jokes aside, very good performance from the boys in green. From the first whistle it was completely one sided as the Irish ran rings around Wales for 80 minutes. Bundee Aki, Gary Ringrose, and Andrew Conway would end up with the tries for Ireland in what was a flawless 29-7 win. In all honesty it should’ve been more, the conditions didn’t really help Johnny Sexton’s kicking and I thought Mack Hansen was going to end up scoring a few times. The attack looked so dangerous and in the opening 20 minutes it looked as if they would end up scoring every time they got into the Welsh half. Whenever they needed to be called to defend they did that brilliantly, with Jack Conan, Tadhg Beirne, and Andrew Porter making themselves nuisances for Wales in the ruck and managing to turn the ball over cleanly. The pack remained disciplined without conceding a penalty in the first half and didn’t until the 50th minute. If I can be a bit nit-picky then I would say that they did waste a few opportunities, the missed kicks were what they were but they definitely should’ve scored more in that opening 20, the fact that it was only 10-0 at half time was a shock to many, myself included. Dominant stuff from Ireland as they get their campaign off to a great start.

Grade: A+. Star of the week! Keep it up.

Wales

What can be said other than yikes? Granted the team is injury ridden with Taulupe Faletau, Leigh Halfpenny, Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi, and George North to name but a few all side-lined and Louis Rees-Zammit’s ankle looked like it was taped fairly heavily in the warm up, but even still it wasn’t the best performance. The opening 20 minutes were incredibly poor, there didn’t seem to be much sense of urgency and the defence struggled with wave after wave of Irish pressure. The discipline was even worse and it’s a miracle it wasn’t more than just one yellow card. I wasn’t alive to witness the Welsh teams of the mid to late nineties but this gave me a taste of what it must’ve been like. The fact it was only 10 down at half time is a near miracle, but the second half started just as well as the first. To take any positives from it is pretty tough but there are a few glimmers of hope. I thought the scrum and front row (pre and post substitutions) held itself well against an Irish front 3 that is so quality and Taine Basham looked fairly decent. Up next is Scotland and Wales need to be so much better. Even if it’s at the Principality/Millennium/whatever sponsor has it today Stadium, Scotland will be on cloud nine after retaining the Calcutta Cup and won’t let as many chances go to waste. Room for improvement is there (such as not starting Josh Adams at centre, he’s a quality player but he’s not a centre) and my god do Wales need it.

There won’t be an appearance from our friend Irritating Welsh Rugby Fanas he’s being held in a cell after inciting a riot in the Temple Bar in Dublin. But extenuating circumstances of Irish police not wanting to listen to drunk ramblings of why Gareth Edwards should be the First Minister and how Wales are still going to win the grand slam despite losing, it means he’ll be back out in time for Scotland.

Grade: F. Extremely disappointing, see me after class.

Scotland

Strange one. I don’t know if it was a defensive masterclass from the Scots or if England were just that bad with the ball, I’m putting it down to a little from column a and a little from column b. The performance was okay, but maybe that’s a testament of how far Scotland have come over the last decade. 10 years ago this would’ve been celebrated as some kind of masterclass but maybe I’ve just grown to expect more from Scotland now. They managed to weather waves of England pressure and made the most of opportunities when they came. Ben White used his time in the Premier League winter break to switch sport and nationalities to score on his Scotland debut in a move that was completely against the run of play and Finn Russel kept the points coming from his kicks in what was a patient Scotland display. A penalty try in Scotland’s favour ended up sealing the game for them in what was a strange performance. They looked okay but hardly world beaters. Duhan van der Merwe looked pretty handy at times (WHERE WAS THIS FORM IN THE SUMMER IN SOUTH AFRICA? EH?), and Stuart Hogg was as solid as ever. Confidence will be high as they head to Cardiff to play a Welsh team off the back of a poor result, and you can’t help but think that a win there would really throw the cat amongst the pigeons in terms of the title.

Grade: B-. Not bad, not brilliant, but enough in the end. Well done.

England

Seriously? Not as bad as Wales but come on! England should’ve won this fairly comfortably. This isn’t sour lemons from me but you shouldn’t have that much possession for 80 minutes and lose in a one score game. There was no sense of urgency and players just looked slow. Marcus Smith tried to get things going on multiple occasions but to no real avail. It had the makings of an early Eddie Jones type of game in that after the slow start I fully expected England to hit a purple patch and end up running away with it with a flattering score line but it didn’t happen. They just needed to keep the pressure on after the Smith try but they let Scotland back into it. Two moments of madness from Luke Cowan-Dickie and Joe Marler ended up gifting Scotland a penalty try and penalty to give Scotland the win. I’m not putting the loss down to Marler and Cowan-Dickie because that would be unfair, there just needed to be better decisions made with ball in hand and it would’ve been nice if they actually did something with the possession they had. If any positives can be taken from this then it’s Marcus Smith. The man is an absolute genius and is England’s talisman going forward. For god sake Eddie just build the team around this man and play to his strengths. The maturity he shows on the ball is unbelievable and he just makes magic happen. Plus next week is Italy so you’d hope that will be a win.

Grade: D-. Please actually do something with the class supplies if you’re just going to hog them all lesson.

France

Much like Scotland, interesting. But much better. I expected this to be an absolute battering and in some respects it was, just not to the extent I thought it would be. Anthony Jelonch was gifted a try at the 26 minute mark in what was a huge lack of communication from the Italy team, Damian Penaud managed to get onto the scoresheet and Gabin Villiere kept his impressive run in the Les Bleus XV with a hat trick. On paper yes it’s a great performance, you’ll never say no to a bonus point win to start off the tournament, but it was quite scrappy too. It didn’t look like the team that absolutely embarrassed New Zealand last Autumn but then at the same time it didn’t need to be. Italy never really looked too threatening after the first try and despite frustrating France with their tight nit defence I thought their attack struggled a bit with the French ruck at times. They will 100% get better, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack will no doubt be back to their best soon having both been out for a while with covid plus it’s only the first game. All eyes will be on next weekend where they travel to Ireland in what could be an early indicator in which way the title will go. It’s taking every ounce of my self control to say that you’ll never know which France will turn up because it’s quite boring now and rugby hipsters love France to do well, but if they turn up to be at their best then I think it could be an incredible game next Saturday in Dublin.

Grade: B+. Good, but you can do better.

Italy

So it wasn’t great, make no mistake about that, but Italy looked okay in spells. I just wish that they managed to play a bit more than they did. I think if they gave it a proper go and kept their performance levels up then no doubt this game could’ve been closer. They started well with Tommaso Menoncello becoming the youngest try scorer in the competition when it’s been in the six nations era but much like Italy usually do it didn’t last. France basically scored when they could be bothered despite a fairly solid defensive display from the Azzurri. They did manage to frustrate the French XV but there was an obvious difference in quality. In what’s a fairly more grim statistic, it’s now 32 losses on the bounce for Italy in the six nations with their last win coming in 2015 at Murrayfield where they beat Scotland 22-19, a result that seems absolutely barmy 7 years down the line (yes that’s right, 2015 was SEVEN years ago, yuck). I can only hope that this can be a bit of a kick up the backside in the same way it could be a confidence booster for them. It’s not too unlikely that kind of gritty performance could’ve got a result against another team who weren’t quite as good, and as a Welsh fan that worries me. But until that day, Italy remain the punching bags of tier 1 European rugby.

Grade: F. Disappointing because you could’ve done better there, but to perform like that again is nowhere near good enough.

Class clown of the week: Me. For putting Monty Ioane and Joe Marler in my dream team.

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By Tom Taylor

My name is Tom and I'm a huge sports fan from South Wales. I'm looking to create a blog where I will keep up with all the latest sports news giving my reactions and opinions while also creating specific blog posts about subjects within sport. Hope you all enjoy :)

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