Six Nations 2015: Power Ranking Teams After Matchday 1

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2015

Six Nations 2015: Power Ranking Teams After Matchday 1

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    The 2015 Six Nations is under way, and Matchday 1 didn't fail to impress, as Europe's giants began their international calendars with varying success.

    However, while reigning champions Ireland may be top of the table as things stand, that doesn't necessarily mean Joe Schmidt's men are in the best form or even competition favourites at this stage.

    Taking into account opposition faced and the standard of each team's Round 1 performance, we provide a power ranking of each team ahead of Week 2, in which victory alone isn't enough to earn first place.

    In kind, a side can still impress in the face of defeat, meaning even a team without points to their name is capable of moving up in our rankings.

6. Italy

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    It was much the same old story for Italy in light of their 26-3 defeat to Ireland in Rome, where frustration and an ability to inflict any presence in attack once again proved to be their downfall.

    It was so disappointing for Jacques Brunel's men, too, as up until Leonardo Ghiraldini's yellow card in the second half, there was an underlying current that the Azzurri may actually be capable of causing an upset.

    However, two tries conceded in quick succession while down to 14 men ended their hopes, and a measly three points was all they had to show for their efforts despite Kelly Haimona's late chance at a consolation try.

    Kicking away possession when it was better to hold on, sloppy tackling and an overall gulf in talent between the two sides once again puts Italy in prime position for this year's Wooden Spoon.

5. Wales

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    Were these rankings based on first-half performances alone, Wales may find themselves top of the pile.

    However, a scoreless second half in front of a roaring Millennium Stadium crowd was almost criminal on their part, with Warren Gatland's men outwitted in every sense during the latter 40 minutes of their 21-16 loss to England.

    Heading in with a 16-8 lead at the break, the Welsh looked every bit the capable, mobile attacking unit they've been attempting to be for months now, having failed to show the same fervour when carrying the ball throughout their autumn.

    It was all for nought, though, as a failure to maintain rhythm in the second half let them down, BBC Sport's Jeremy Guscott writing of the centres' frustrations:

    Jamie Roberts has been criticised but he needs to play behind a pack going forward, and he has been one of Wales' best players over the past couple of years.

    Similarly, Jonathan Davies didn't get much ball to run, George North only had one decent run, there was nothing from Alex Cuthbert, and the main thing I remember from Leigh Halfpenny was him missing a relatively simple kick. 

    Warren Gatland set out his team to play the way they are built. They are big powerful guys, particularly in the back line, and they are not about to zip the ball down the line and do intricate 'smoke and mirrors' moves.

    George North finds himself at the centre of a heated concussion row at present, but both he and Alex Cuthbert were unimpressive for large patches, restrained with relative ease by their English counterparts.

    Wales now find themselves in a fragile position heading to Murrayfield next Sunday, where they'll face a team whose prospects are looking better than they have for some years.

4. Scotland

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    Which leads us nicely into fourth-placed Scotland, who despite dropping, 15-8, to France in Paris on Saturday, can hold their heads high in terms of the improvement they continue to display under Vern Cotter.

    Dougie Fife managed to score the only try of the match at the Stade de France, which in itself serves as vindication for those with faith in the attacking belief Cotter has injected into this Scottish lineup.

    One could see in the assured standing of Glasgow Warriors playmaker Finn Russell that despite a lack of superstars, there's a very alluring sense of team loyalty among the Scots, and they're looking to alter how they're perhaps currently perceived.

    The trip to Paris didn't come without its threats, of course, and Les Bleus may have put away more chances on another day, but Scotland played with the hands they were dealt and recovered brilliantly to evade some tough situations.

    Stuart Hogg is a player who can take this side up a gear with individual brilliance, but in making sure Camille Lopez was the only Frenchman to score anything this weekend, the Scots showed they're not to be trifled with.

3. France

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    Deciding who should be higher in the rankings between France and Scotland was a tough call, but despite Philippe Saint-Andre's men lacking a clinical touch in attack, the win keeps them above Saturday's opponents in the order.

    Les Bleus won 18 of their 20 line-out throws and were a huge threat in the scrum, but there were some shaky moments in midfield between Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud.

    Even when off their best, however, France did show glimmers of brilliance and were assuredly unfortunate not to get a try on the scoreboard, particularly Yoann Huget, who saw an effort on the line just go astray.

    All in all, though, their beating of Scotland was no easy task, and there's a certain amount to be said of any team being able to win dirty, which this victory most certainly was.

2. Ireland

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    Some may argue that a tired 26-3 win over Italy should put Ireland lower down in our rankings, given that Schmidt's side looked so far from their usual standards at the Stadio Olimpico.

    After all, the 23-point margin does disguise just how poor Ireland were, but that's compared to the Ireland we've grown to expect, the Ireland who only three months ago beat South Africa and Australia.

    It would be unfair to compare the team by those parameters at all times, and one must take into account that Ian Keatley was filling in as a green Jonny Sexton replacement, while Sean O'Brien was disappointingly ruled out following a warm-up injury.

    However, how highly does it speak of the team's depth that the flanker's replacement, Tommy O'Donnell, scored such a fantastic try in the second period? Conor Murray's was just typically sharp.

    The head coach has even admitted just how far off the pace Ireland were in Rome, per Michael Aylwin of the Guardian, saying: “I don’t think we would have lived with England on last night’s form. I’d say we were 30 to 40 per cent off. We’re going to have to up our game.”

    It was slow and difficult to watch at times, but being able to win playing badly is often seen as the mark of a great squad.

1. England

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    Stuart Lancaster is without doubt the coach with the biggest smile on his face after Week 1 of this year's Six Nations after a comeback defeat of Wales on their own turf.

    Even with all the injuries suffered of late, England impressed across the board, disrupting the Welsh scrum, scrambling for dominance at the line-out and finding further evidence of George Ford's power as the long-term No. 10.

    And it's a testament to this squad's mentality that even in keeping Wales from scoring a single second-half point, flanker James Haskell says the team will undergo a relentless debriefing, per Chris Foy of the Daily Mail:

    Come the Monday review we will be hard on ourselves. The mark of a good side is being tough on yourselves in victory—go away, learn, prepare for a big week and it all starts again next Saturday. Oh, 100 per cent, 100 per cent. If you’ve got any ambitions to be a world-class side, you have to be really tough on yourselves.

    The coaches will do a big presentation then the boys will do one-on-one feedback. I’ll have to go through my game rigorously and I’m sure there are lots of things I can improve on. To get a win like we did is very special, so I think we’ll allow ourselves a few hours to smile, then the job will start again.

    A win in Wales is always a big achievement, but this turned out to be no tight, ground-out victory. In the end, England were assured going about their work and relied upon a stream of admirable performances from the bench.

    At present, one would find it difficult not to see Lancaster's side as favourites for the title, considering they'll be welcoming certain players back and undoubtedly improve as the competition progresses.

    However, it will in all likelihood still come down to the Week 3 clash in Dublin, where their fight against the defending champions promises to set this silverware hunt alight.

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