Wales top the Six Nations table in their pursuit of an unprecedented third consecutive title. After Saturday’s fixtures, Warren Gatland’s side lead France on points difference after both teams triumphed in their opening ties.
In truth, Welsh supporters will feel a little disheartened at their team’s opening game, which saw them overcome minnows Italy in unconvincing fashion. By comparison, France played out a thriller against England in Paris and have established an excellent foundation in place for a strong tournament.
Here’s your full standings after Saturday’s matches, with Ireland and Scotland set to do battle in Dublin at 3 p.m. GMT on Sunday (Jan. 2nd):
Wales 23-15 Italy
Perennial whipping boys Italy put in an encouraging performance in Cardiff despite falling to an eight-point defeat against a strong Welsh outfit.
Welsh head coach Gatland was happy with a win, but insisted they must improve ahead of next week’s key clash against Ireland in Dublin, per BBC Sport:
We're pretty satisfied. There were some positives in our game and things to work on in terms of finishing and being clinical.
It's a reasonable start for us and, the way Italy performed, I wouldn't be surprised if they won a few games in this competition. They won a couple last year and I think they'll do so again.
Wales led 17-3 at half-time, but the Italians rallied to make it 20-15 midway through the second half—debutant Michele Campagnaro running in a brace of tries to stun the Millennium Stadium crowd. The Italians sensed a major upset and only their second away win in the Six Nations looked as though it might be attainable.
But a late Leigh Halfpenny penalty helped quell Welsh nerves and whilst they’ll be delighted to get off to a winning start, they know big improvements will be required when they take on a much stronger Ireland side in front of a raucous Dublin crowd next weekend.
France 26-24 England
After the first quarter of this game, you would have done well to predict just how much of a tight contest this would become. France got off to the best possible start when Yoann Huget went over after just 32 seconds, and that galvanized the home side and stunned the visitors in equal measure.
England hit back when Owen Farrell slotted a penalty, but France were relentless in their play and had Stuart Lancaster’s young England side on the rack. Jean-Marc Doussain slotted a penalty to make it 8-3 before Huget bagged his second try not long after.
Doussain failed to convert, but he made amends with another penalty before the break, putting the hosts 16-3 up in the process.
But England responded with vigour. Mike Brown made it 16-8 just before the break and Farrell kicked over another three points to reduce the deficit to just five. A converted try from debutant Luther Burrell put England in front, and they looked set for the win when Danny Care added an audacious drop goal and extended the visitors' lead to five points at 21-16.
Both sides added penalties to make the score 24-19 in England’s favour before France snatched it at the death. Gael Fickou—just 19 years old—finished calmly before touching down in front of the posts and Maxime Machenaud didn't miss with what was a very simple conversion.
Heartbreak for England, and whilst they can take plenty of positives from their fight back, head coach Lancaster insisted they must do better, per BBC Sport:
The positives outweigh the negatives, but we know we must improve to win the big games.
I thought the boys showed incredible character, resilience and a lot of skill to put ourselves in a position to win it.
But a bit of French flair at the end and they got the win. We're very disappointed to lose like that.
Next up for England is a trip to Edinburgh to face Scotland, whilst France will take on Italy.