Six Nations 2014: Power Rankings Following First Weekend of Rugby Tournament

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2014

Six Nations 2014: Power Rankings Following First Weekend of Rugby Tournament

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    From pain in Paris to a demolition in Dublin; the first weekend of the Six Nations threw up plenty of talking points.

    Wales edged past Italy without impressing while England will wonder how they contrived to lose a game in the French capital they largely dominated.

    In Dublin, Ireland took a half to find their feet before taking Scotland to the cleaners.

    Round 2 is set up beautifully as Wales head to Dublin, England to Murrayfield and Italy to France. Here are the Week 1 power rankings.

6. Scotland

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    Scotland were in contention until Andrew Trimble’s try at the end of the first half but, in reality, they hardly looked like scoring a try on Sunday.

    The power game of Dave Denton from the base of the scrum gave them a little forward momentum but that’s almost all they can take as a positive from this game.

    Scotland’s scrum was shaky, their lineout abysmal and, when their backs did have the ball, they looked incapable of working out how to use it.

5. Italy

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    There were some positives to take away from Cardiff for the Azzurri despite their 23-15 defeat.

    Most notable was the performance of centre Michele Campagnaro. The youngster scored twice and looked dangerous every time he had the ball.

    The performance of Tommy Allan was also encouraging. Italy have struggled for a commanding fly-half since the retirement of Diego Dominguez and the young Allan is the next to try to solve the problem.

    Allan did miss a couple of moderately hard shots at goal which would have made this game even tighter, but overall he looked promising.

    Italy travel to France next, with the odds on a first win of the tournament in Paris not in their favour.

4. England

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    It’s hard to pinpoint which element of their defeat England will rue most after a raw-boned night in Paris.

    The two bounces of the ball that gift-wrapped a brace of tries for Yoann Huget, the extra inch in length required on Danny Care’s arms that would have produced a try or the cruel missed tackle by the otherwise excellent Mike Brown that let Yannick Nyanga escape to start the move leading to Gael Fickou’s winning try.

    They will all ache as Chris Robshaw and his players rake over the embers of the match that saw their Grand Slam hopes burned to a cinder on Matchday 1.

    But there were plenty of positives, not least the fact that England showed guts and character to overhaul a 16-3 deficit to lead 24-19 with six minutes left.

    Their scrum sorted itself out after initially struggling to withstand the French power. Billy Vunipola out-carried the thunderous Louis Picamoles.

    Luther Burrell did more in the No. 13 jersey in one game that Joel Tomkins managed in three in the autumn, and Owen Farrell looked dangerous standing flatter to the line. Lots of positives.

3. France

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    France may have had England’s scrum and lineout under a bit of pressure at times but they still look like a side struggling for form.

    If it hadn't been for two fortuitous bounces of the ball, England would have been out of sight by the time France scored that late winner.

    But they now have Italy at home to make it two wins to open their campaign and will grow with the confidence that comes with winning.

    What will have pleased Philippe Saint-Andre most will be the assured performance of Jules Plisson at fly-half. The young Stade Francais pivot looked comfortable at this level and will doubtless have a chance in the coming weeks to set Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud free.

    The centre pairing were well-shackled by England. In the pack, the French scrum looks good, while Bernard Le Roux and Yannick Nyanga were a pair of pests at the breakdown, meaning France coped well without injured skipper Thierry Dusautoir.

2. Wales

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    Wales were well below par against Italy.

    They showed glimpses of their coruscating back play but looked flat for large parts of the contest.

    It was all in stark contrast to the pre-match suggestions that they would look to rack up a massive score against the underdogs, with one eye on points difference being crucial as they go in search of a third straight title.

    If anything, it seemed as though the players had allowed their minds to drift toward that lofty ambition and they failed to focus on breaking down an obdurate Italian side who had not come to Cardiff to roll over and have their bellies tickled.

    Wales tried to have a go with their backs far too early, without enough effort put into breaking Italian spirits first.

    They never managed to put their foot on the Azzurri’s throat for long enough to extinguish their life in the game, and twice they wriggled free to keep themselves in touch.

    Warren Gatland declared himself happy with the tough workout his side had been given but in truth he knows it was a chance missed to rack up the points.

    A trip to Dublin will be a tougher assignment altogether next week, and Gatland will be hoping the rust has been shaken off.

1. Ireland

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    Ireland put in the most accomplished performance of the opening weekend.

    While they never touched the heady heights of their thrilling display against New Zealand in the autumn, Joe Schmidt’s side got into their groove in the second half.

    Against a poor Scottish side, their back line showed signs of beginning to purr under Jonny Sexton’s command. Up front, the Irish pack dominated their opponents, wrecking their lineout, producing a number of strong rolling mauls and enjoying the ascendancy at scrum time.

    The Irish were missing the ball-carrying prowess of Sean O’Brien, but in captain Jamie Heaslip and loose head prop Cian Healy they had players who willingly took on the workload.