Wow! What an explosive start to the 2013 RBS 6 Nations. No wonder the pundits were calling it the greatest first round in championship history.
There were 149 points and 16 tries in the opening three matches as the six arch-rivals tore into each other. In the end, a Brian O’Driscoll inspired Ireland picked up an away win in Cardiff, while England and Italy made home advantage tell in beating Scotland and France respectively.
British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland was at the Millennium Stadium running the rule over likely candidates to take to Hong Kong and Australia this summer. He saw Ireland come out on top 30-22 in a game of ‘two halves’.
Tries from Simon Zebo and Cian Healy helped the Irish take a 23-3 lead into the interval before O’Driscoll extended his 6 Nations record to 26 tries with a third touchdown four minutes after the break.
Wales, last season’s Grand Slam champions, were looking a bit sick trailing 30-3, but they rallied from there to score tries from Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Craig Mitchell and completely dominate the final 25 minutes.
But it was a case of too little, too late for the home side, who slumped to their eighth successive defeat and a record fifth game in a row at the Millennium Stadium. O’Driscoll picked up yet another Man of the Match award and led a long list of impressive displays from the men in green.
Zebo, Rory Best and Sean O’Brien stood out for the visitors, while Halfpenny was the pick of the Welsh players. Ireland now host England at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, while Wales have to travel to Paris to meet France on Saturday.
Scotland headed to Twickenham in Round 1 having not won at the home of English rugby for 30 years. Kelly Brown’s men grabbed two long range tries, the first from debutant wing Sean Maitland and full back Stuart Hogg.
But Chris Robshaw’s England were able to pick up where they left off in the Autumn with that stunning win over the world champion All Blacks as they plundered four tries. Wing Chris Ashton got the first, debutant centre Billy Twelvetrees got the next and lock Geoff Parling and replacement scrum half Danny Care got the others.
Outside half Owen Farrell picked up the Man of the Match award for his 18 point contribution as he thrust himself into contention for the Lions No 10 jersey. Twelvetrees also impressed on his first Test outing and lock pairing of Joe Launchbury and Parling once again shone.
Scotland were brave in defence, hut found themselves overpowered by the English eight. The big question ahead of Sunday’s second round in Dublin is can the Irish side cope with England’s forward power?
Gatland and Lions tour manager Andy Irvine move on to Murrayfield on Saturday to see Scotland face Italy, who beat France 23-18 in a magnificent game at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico last Sunday, before heading to Dublin for the second leg of this season’s Triple Crown assault by both Ireland and England.
The first act of the 6 Nations brought plenty of drama. It also dented a few reputations ahead of the Lions squad announcement at the end of April and proved there are plenty of talented young men desperate to throw their hat into the ring for the tour of a life-time.
Who do you think will be lining-up in the famous red shirt when the Lions kick-off their 125th anniversary tour against the Barbarians at the Hong Kong Stadium on Saturday, 1 June?