5 things we learned from round two of the Six Nations

Ireland against France lived up to its billing, Finn Russell starred for Scotland and England secured a first win.

Duncan Bech
Monday 13 February 2023 14:02 GMT
Andy Farrell’s Ireland sit at the top of the Six Nations table after two rounds (Brian Lawless/PA)
Andy Farrell’s Ireland sit at the top of the Six Nations table after two rounds (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Wire)

The 2023 Guinness Six Nations enters the first break week with plenty of talking points after a trio of thematic encounters in round two.

Here, the PA news agency examines five talking points arising from the games.

Two tier tournament

After two rounds, a clear division has emerged between the title contenders and the chasing pack. Ireland and France are the heavyweights, with their classic encounter in Dublin producing a remarkable 46 minutes of ball in play, closely followed by a Scotland side who have been a joy to watch. A step below are England, Wales and Italy, teams starting from the ground up after changing their coaches or, in Italy’s case, attempting to reverse years of Six Nations failure. Having dispatched champions France with such class, it is Ireland’s tournament to lose.

Russell is box office

Scotland’s buccaneering victories over England and Wales have propelled them into title contention, with their genius fly-half Finn Russell steering the ship. “I’m just doing my job out there, making other boys look good!” Russell said after orchestrating a first Scottish win against Warren Gatland, but make no mistake – he is the star of the show. Antoine Dupont is rightly regarded as the sport’s finest player, but much more of this and Russell will be snapping at his heels. In a game dominated by structure, the Racing 92 ringmaster is a rare free spirit whose exuberance brings a smile to the face.

England off the mark

While fireworks went off in Dublin and Edinburgh, the first fallow week was ushered in by a more pedestrian afternoon at Twickenham. But as well as the welcome sight of Steve Borthwick securing his first win in charge, there were tentative signs of an England team finding an identity from the wreckage of the Eddie Jones era. It was ugly at times with too much ball kicked away, but a strong scrum and line-out maul, as well as Ollie Lawrence making muscular runs at inside centre, were evidence of progress as Borthwick rebuilds from the ground up.

Setback for Italy

Italy arrived at Twickenham amid high expectations but their revival fell flat on its face as they failed to show up until the second half. They won the second half 14-12 after Marco Riccioni and Alessandro Fusco ran in fine tries, but they were surprisingly passive in a one-sided forward battle. After taking France to the wire in round one, as well as toppling Wales and Australia last year, they must regroup quickly or risk seeing the optimism that had gathered over Italian rugby being cast as a false dawn.

Wales between a rock and a hard place

Gatland’s ‘second coming’ with Wales has seen Murrayfield continue a theme evident in the defeat by Ireland – that the team’s malaise is deep-rooted. Life will not get any easier, with games against England and France sandwiching an appointment with Italy in Rome that could be a wooden spoon decider, and the question now is what direction does Gatland take in selection? Does he give more of the younger generation a chance or go with the old guard seven months out from the World Cup? It is tough times for Welsh rugby and even Gatland’s nous might not be able to save them from long-term decline.

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