Six Nations: Quickfire Round-up
The first weekend of the 2017 Six Nations provided quite a shake-up of the status quo. Sports Gazette looks ahead to a pivotal set of clashes on the ledger this week.
What happened in round one?
Scotland 27-22 Ireland, England 19-16 France, Italy 7-33 Wales
On the men's side, Ireland were stunned by Scotland whilst England and Wales stuttered to their first victories of the campaign over France and Italy.
Scotland 15-22 Ireland, Italy 8-20 Wales, England 26-13 France
On the women's side, a last-second try gave Ireland a crucial victory over the Scots as Wales and England shook off slow starts to earn wins over Italy and France respectively.
Contenders or pretenders?
France v Scotland, Sunday 15:00
Since the Five Nations became Six with Italy in 2000, no Championship winner has lost their second game of the tournament.
Proving that last weekend wasn't a one-off performance will require Scotland to win in Paris for the first time since 1999 when they won the Five Nations title.
Stuart Hogg put in a vintage performance against Ireland and has laid down a real marker for the Lions 15 jersey in the summer, but he was ably supported by Jonny Gray and Sean Maitland who both made crucial defensive interventions.
France put in an impressive performance at Twickenham last week, disrupting England's set-piece with a stout pack and suffocating them with disciplined defense out wide. Louis Picamoles and Scott Spedding were both hugely influential for Les Bleus, and Guy Noves names a largely unchanged side for this weekend's clash.
The battle at scrum half between livewire Baptiste Serin and the ever-calm Greig Laidlaw will be worth watching as France look to kick-start their title challenge.
The Master and The Apprentice
Wales v England, Saturday 16:50
Since 2005, the record between these two long-time rivals stands at 9-9 and Saturday's fixture will give England the chance to make it three on the bounce against Wales.
Eddie Jones claims he has prepared his side for any Welsh 'shenanigans', but after delaying his call on opening or closing the stadium roof until the last minute he may be accused of such tactics himself. The on-field focus will fall to the back row where the inexperienced trio of Nathan Hughes, Maro Itoje and Jack Clifford will start.
Clifford in particular will find himself in the spotlight, making his first Six Nations start opposite Sam Warburton, one of the best openside operators in the world. The young Harlequins star has impressed Jones with his ethic and workrate but the atmosphere and competition in Cardiff will dwarf any of his previous experiences on the field.
Wales' poor form in 2016 makes England slight favourites for this game, even away from home, but any fixture in Cardiff - roof open or closed - presents a real challenge.
Can't win without discipline
Italy v Ireland, Saturday 14:25
A 16-5 penalty count in favour of Wales doomed Italy last weekend, and Conor O'Shea conceded that his side's ill-discipline precipitated the 30 unanswered points conceded in the second half.
He did, however, complain that his side receives different treatment from referees, emphasising that this was not "the same old Italy".
Ireland, for whom O'Shea was capped 35 times, will be out for revenge after their humbling loss to Scotland.
Line-out struggles, key injuries and even a late bus were blamed for the poor start to the Irish campaign but in truth they looked ill-prepared on defense and - second half siege aside - lacked ideas on attack.
Sexton misses another game with a calf issue but Cian Healy and Donnacha Ryan return to shore up the pack for this crucial tilt in Rome.
Wales v England, Saturday 11:30
France v Scotland, Saturday 20:00
Italy v Ireland, Sunday 13:00
The pick of the weekend will see Wales, currently enjoying a five-game winning streak, face England, who scored 26 unanswered second-half points to see off France. Emily Scarratt scored 16 with her boot and Simon Middleton will be looking for more of the same in a potential title-deciding tilt.
Without a win in the Six Nations in seven years, Scotland may be forced to wait another week as they travel to reigning champions France who will feel aggrieved at their second-half capitulation at Twickenham last weekend. Number eight Jade Konkel is a prodigious talent but this French pack should be strong enough to bring home victory for Les Bleues.
Ireland made a meal of their victory over Scotland last Friday, requiring a last-gasp try to secure all five points. Captain and goal-kicker Niamh Briggs remains absent for the clash with the Italians, who have never beaten Ireland in their Six Nations history.
We look set for another thrilling weekend of rugby in the Six Nations - make sure to tune in!