Sports pundit David Flatman gives his verdict on the opening round of the 2021 Six Nations
On England v Scotland
“It’s always high risk to bank on people with a heap of credit in the bank, as we saw with the Lions in New Zealand in 2005, but that’s what Eddie Jones did with the Sarries guys and it backfired, spectacularly.
“The Sarries contingent, with the exception of Itoje, were entirely off the pace.
“England have not suddenly become a poor team but an injection of ambition and outright scariness wouldn’t hurt. The sad thing is, the Gallagher Premiership has the players to offer that.
“You can’t always pick on form, of course, as the side would be different every week, but England’s refusal to consider the likes of Sam and Joe Simmonds, and Marcus Smith, feels like a massive missed trick.
“Nobody minds ‘kick, chase, repeat’ when England win, but this approach is inhibiting the great attacking players England have, who would make the team far less predictable and therefore harder to defend against.
“Scotland were utterly magnificent. They unleashed hell on England. Name any facet of the game and they dominated it, with a capital D.
“They proved a point that has been true in rugby forever: if you physically rip into your opposition and give them no time to think, battering them into submission, they will find it very hard to create anything meaningful. Just look at the 2019 World Cup Final.
“What matters now is how Scotland play next time out. Will this performance at Twickenham prove a flash in the pan, as we have seen so many times over the years, or the start of something truly special?
“I for one hope that we see this Scotland again. On Saturday’s showing, and assuming the tour goes ahead, there will be a lot of blue representation in the Lions Test team.
On Wales v Ireland
“Wales just about managed to hang on against 14 men. If they hadn’t, the call for heads to roll across the Severn Bridge would have been heard from Bath.
“While every win feels good, the elation for this Wales team will have been significantly diluted by the fact that they were outplayed by a depleted team for most of the match and ought to be delivering far more.
“The few positive take-aways are that George North needs to stay at 13. He’s such a weapon that the massively increased number of ball-in-hand involvements at centre makes his physical threat so much more potent.
“After that finish, Louis Rees-Zammit needs to be picked for the next 20 games straight. Absolute class.
“Ireland’s big test comes next weekend. France haven’t looked as good as this in generations, ever since Blanco, Sella and Jean-Pierre Rives were in full swing.
“The big question will be whether Ireland can physically match the French in terms of repeated brutal collisions and pace. Most of all, though, they’ll need Antoine Dupont to be off the pace as when he’s on it, France win. It really is that simple.”
On Italy v France
“That was one hell of an opening weekend for the 2021 Six Nations, with hell, as ever, being the operative word for Italy.
“Yes, France are playing like the great French teams of the eighties, when Blanco was in his pomp, but Italy were bad. Very bad. It was boys against men stuff and Sam Warburton is bang on to say they’re not good enough for the tournament.
“As things stand, the Six Nations, as much as we all love it, is just a closed league and a review of that format is now long overdue.
“Sport relies on brilliance but it also relies on jeopardy. But what’s at stake for Italy beyond mere pride?
“Since 2000, Italy have made zero progress, despite more than two decades of exposure to top level rugby.
“This proves two things: that exposure alone doesn’t guarantee a thing, and that other teams now deserve it. It’s high time promotion and relegation were introduced as for too long it’s been a Five and a half Nations, not Six.”