O'Driscoll, Twelvetrees and Italy: Six Nations Makes Thrilling Start
By Nick Howson | February 5, 2013 5:26 AM EST
Labelled the finest opening stanza of any Six Nations championship, any critics of the rigid format of the northern-hemisphere tournament were truly banished as Ireland, England and Italy inflicted substantial damage on the opening weekend.
At the Millenium Stadium it was all about the contrasting sides of Brian O'Driscoll. Replaced as captain of Ireland by Jamie Heaslip, O'Driscoll's sense of responsibility failed to waver. First he weaved between the Wales defence and finding Simon Zebo for the opening try. In the second half, he scored his 46th international try from close range, a decisive score amid a frightening Welsh revival.
Despite a belated second half comeback, questions continue to be asked over a Welsh side who are now eight without a win under interim coach Rob Howley, with the form of Adam Jones, George North and captain Sam Warburton reasons for concern going forward.
Scotland failed to avenge 30 years of hurt against England at Twickenham as Billy Twelvetrees handed coach Stuart Lancaster a selection headache ahead of the remainder of the tournament, with Manu Tuilagi fit for the second match against Ireland.
The pressure remains on England to repeat the heroics of their win against New Zealand in this championship, while for Scotland, who showed threat on the counter in the form of Stuart Hogg and Sean Maitland, interim coach Scott Johnson will fear a whitewash after Italy's win in France.
The Azzuri have set the cat amongst the pigeons with their thrilling win over a France side who started as joint-favourites for the championship. Frédéric Michalak's indifferent display was a case of déjà vu for the French, who produced a display in stark contract to their destruction of Australia in the autumn.
Italy could make it two wins from two when they travel to Murrayfield to face Scotland, and they should dispose of Saturday's hosts, they'll be dreaming of a record third win a fortnight later against holders Wales.
France take on Wales, and while both sides are reflecting upon defeats, it could be a case of damage limitation for the 2012 grand slam winners whose hopeless run doesn't look like letting up.
No doubt the game of the weekend comes on Sunday however, as the two big winners from Saturday, Ireland and England face-off in Dublin. Many are already suggesting the encounter could be the championship decider, but given the surprises, and even contests on the opening weekend making a grand slam unlikely, nothing will be decided at the Aviva Stadium.
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