With the opening weekend of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations complete, there are already a number of fascinating sub-plots emerging as the historic championship kicks off once again.
In the wake of three compelling matches, here’s a look at what we can learn about each team so far:
1. England are still rebuilding.
Despite a strong showing in the autumn series, this young England team are once again entering week two of the Six Nations having lost their opening game.
Whilst the oldest fixture in international rugby history is almost always fought on a knife edge, England had the game within their grasp, only to let it slip due to a combination of poor decision-making, inexperience and some questionable tactical changes.
It’s clear that the new generation of players Eddie Jones has introduced during this World Cup cycle all have immense potential, but the squad is still plagued by the same weaknesses and ill-discipline that has hampered them for years.
2. Scotland are genuine contenders.
Gone are the days where Scotland would pull out one jaw-dropping performance a year amongst a series of average displays.
By no means are they the finished article, but a second successive Calcutta Cup victory over a strong England team will have reminded everyone there are no easy wins at Murrayfield anymore.
Though their away record is still poor, Gregor Townsend’s side will go into every game believing they have more than a chance of winning, and should be right in the mix come the closing weekend.
3. Ireland are back.
After a ruthless, clinical performance in Dublin on Saturday, there can be no doubts that Andy Farrell has got his Ireland side back on track after a couple of disappointing years since the 2019 World Cup.
Was it a performance to set the world alight? No. But this Ireland team rely on relentlessly building pressure and executing set patterns phase after phase until the opposition crumbles, and crumble Wales did.
While France will still be favourites in Paris next weekend, the Irish will fancy the chance to cause an upset at the Stade de France.
Victory would put them in the driving seat for a first title since their Grand Slam in 2018, which was also their last win in Paris.
4. Wales need reinforcements, quickly.
The underdogs tag often favours Wales, and with a host of injuries ravaging their squad on the opening weekend, there was no doubting who were the favourites in Dublin.
But the reigning champions looked utterly out of sorts, turning in a dismal performance that will leave fans desperate to see some of their big names return to the fold.
Wales were missing more than 600 caps worth of experience at the Aviva Stadium, and looked a different side without the leadership of Alun Wyn Jones to steer them through a difficult game.
5. France will always be France.
In typical French fashion, Les Bleus produced a classic Jekyll and Hyde performance in which they were second-best to the Italians for large periods of the first half.
But after the break, their undoubted class shone through and we saw glimpses of the side which dismantled the All Blacks in November.
It wasn’t a complete performance, but there was certainly enough in the second half to remind the other nations that France will be the team to beat this year.
6. Italy deserve their place.
The chat around promotion and relegation in Europe’s premier international competition is certainly not going away, but Italy’s performance on Sunday should encourage their fans.
The Azzurri have rebuilt their entire elite player development structure in recent years, and progress is taking time, but they conceded fewer points in Paris than a full-strength New Zealand side.
The young squad are still a way off where they need to be, but the movement appears to be in a positive direction, albeit at a pace they would like to increase.
(Feature image credit: unsplash.com. Photographer: Thomas Serer, Lyon, France, published June 22, 2018)