Six Nations: Scotland ace joins England’s XV among the winners
The start of what’s sure to be a cracking year for international rugby union did not disappoint, as the Six Nations kicked off in Cardiff, Paris and Rome with bruising encounters and no shortage of class.
Before anybody gets too excited about the prospects of a certain country winning the title for the first time since 2010, a newcomer heads our list of who’s up and who’s down following the first-round action.
Bar a missed drop goal late on in the first half, Glasgow’s young fly-half dazzled on his Six Nations debut, despite ending up on the losing side in France’s nervy 15-8 home win over Scotland.
Russell gained more than double the meters in twice as many carries as opposite number Camille Lopez, and was fingertips away from being clean through for a try off his own up-and-under when Scotland were just four points down with little time left on the clock.
Vern Cotter will be desperately disappointed after keeping the French from going over, but with his forwards firing ahead of excellent half-back pairing Russell and Greg Laidlaw, it’s easy to see why they’re as short as 11/8 to beat hapless Wales at home.
England’s first XV
Stuart Lancaster will be under pressure to retain largely the same team against Italy at Twickenham, no matter who returns from injury, after his side’s shock victory at the Millennium Stadium.
After looking lost at 10-0 down within 10 minutes, England went on to win practically every exchange from then on, with the 21-16 final score flattering the hosts no end.
Having been hard to fancy at around 2/1 before the start of the tournament, Lancaster’s men now look reasonably priced at 5/6.
The Tipperary flanker only found out he was in Ireland’s starting line-up minutes before kick-off after Sean O’Brien’s long-awaited international return was delayed by a hamstring strain.
With that in mind, O’Donnell’s superb try, which finished off the scoring at 26-3 in Italy, could hardly have come at a better time for the Munster regular.
Ireland’s performance was hardly vintage, but the fact that Joe Schmidt’s side won away from home with relative ease, despite being shorn of world-class quartet O’Brien, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Jonny Sexton, ought to warm the cockles of their 2/1 championship backers.
“It’s a big loss for Wales, they were totally outplayed. England’s defence dominated their ball carriers. There was nothing for Wales. It’s a big, big win for England. There was no plan B for Wales as usual.”
Nobody put it better than former Dragons fly-half Jonathan Davies, the BBC commentator who, when asked pre-match, tipped up Wales to win by eight points.
Where Gatland goes from here is unclear now that Plan A has failed so comprehensively.
Philippe Saint-Andre has some cause for optimism after new fly-half Lopez’s five successful kicks out of five, but failing to score a try at home to Scotland does not bode well for the trip to Ireland next week, with the holders expected to welcome back Sexton and others at the Aviva.
The stats from the Cardiff clash are fairly comprehensive; Wales lost six of their own scrums/lineouts compared to the visitors’ two, with England out-mauling the hosts by a ratio of nine to four.
To make matters worse, it seems there’s little Gatland can do to remedy the situation, bar stripping away the front row or replacing captain Sam Warburton with Justin Tipuric, two changes he’s highly likely to resist.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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