It was a relatively low-scoring start to the 2016 RBS Six Nations in Round 1 with all three games proving to be close, hard-fought contests, but there's plenty of potential for excitement when the teams kick off Round 2 on Saturday.
Following their 23-21 win over Italy, France are at home once again as they host Ireland, who will be coming into the game on the back of a 16-16 draw with Wales—the first time the pair have produced a stalemate in over 40 years.
The Welsh will welcome Scotland to the Principality Stadium on Saturday with both looking for their first win of the campaign, and England will line up in Rome the following day hoping to consolidate their lead at the top of the standings.
Here is the schedule for Round 2, complete with predictions for each fixture as well as the table following the conclusion of the first round:
|Saturday, Feb. 13||2:25 p.m.||France vs. Ireland||13-21|
|Saturday, Feb. 13||4:50 p.m.||Wales vs. Scotland||27-17|
|Sunday, Feb. 14||2 p.m.||Italy vs. England||18-23|
England Hoping to Build on Calcutta Cup Win
England got their campaign off to a strong start as they came out on top in arguably their most difficult away game, triumphing over Scotland 15-9 at Murrayfield.
Former England star Matt Dawson hailed their defence as they limited the hosts to just three Greig Laidlaw penalties:
Well done @EnglandRugby and Eddie Jones for a hard fought win. Great teams are built on defence and that was solid for sure...💪🏼— Matt Dawson (@matt9dawson) February 6, 2016
Fellow alumni Will Carling and Will Greenwood noted the importance of the win and singled out Billy Vunipola for special praise, with the former also picking out captain Dylan Hartley and James Haskell:
England head coach Eddie Jones reiterated Greenwood's sentiment on Vunipola, who made more carries than any other player at Murrayfield with 19, according to BBC Sport.
Per the report, he said:
I have read all the articles about him being too slow to play number eight. He's doing a pretty good job as a slow number eight.
I thought he was outstanding with his carrying and defence work. He can be the best number eight in the world, I've no doubt about that.
The No. 8, who earned a man-of-the-match award for his performance, will need to produce another strong outing against an Italy side who ran France surprisingly close in Paris.
Bath star Dave Atwood hailed their attacking prowess:
Some great endeavour from France in this game. But Italy look like the team in control. How well are their forward pack playing!?— Dave Attwood (@Dmjattwood) February 6, 2016
Fly-half Carlo Canna stood out with an all-action performance, as he tucked away a drop goal and a penalty, as well as converting his own try.
With Ireland and Wales awaiting in Rounds 3 and 4—at Twickenham, admittedly—it's vital for England to grab another two points on Valentine's Day.
It certainly won't be an easy game for England, although if their defence can keep Canna and Sergio Parisse quiet, they should be able to edge out the Italians.
Meanwhile, Wales will be looking to get their campaign back on track following their draw. As Opta Jonny revealed, there was not only nothing in it on the scoreboard, but also in the stats at the Aviva Stadium:
92% - Ireland & Wales had the same tackle (92%), lineout (89%) and scrum (100%) success rates. Inseparable. pic.twitter.com/DWR3xgLtbb— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 7, 2016
Warren Gatland's side were 13-0 down in the first half, though, so they'll take great encouragement from their comeback to earn a point against a side looking to win the competition for a record third consecutive time.
Greenwood praised their composure:
Exemplifying their calm under pressure was Rhys Priestland, who came on for Dan Biggar and filled in marvellously, making four out of four kicks, per ITV Rugby:
ESPN's Tom Hamilton was among many to praise his performance, and he feels Priestland's form hasn't been reflected in game time at club level:
We already knew it - but the game today is further proof that Bath are woefully under using Priestland— Tom Hamilton (@tomESPNscrum) February 7, 2016
With Biggar an injury doubt thanks to a "high ankle sprain," according to WalesOnline rugby correspondent Simon Thomas, Priestland is likely to keep his place against Scotland on Saturday.
If given the opportunity, he can make a real difference by piling on the points, and that could just put Wales out of sight on home turf.