Six Nations 2014: Keys to Success for Every Side

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Six Nations 2014: Keys to Success for Every Side
Thibault Camus/Associated Press
Yoann Huget scored twice against England and is part of a strong French back three.

The Six Nations made a thrilling and fascinating return last weekend, and the story of the first-round was England's narrow loss to France after Gael Fickou's dramatic late try in Paris.

Scotland were well beaten in Dublin, while Wales saw off a fighting performance by Italy, who threatened to win only their second away match in championship history. So what now is the key for each team as the next battle approaches?

 

England

The major concern coming into the Six Nations was England's back division. Injuries to Marland Yarde and Christian Wade had left Stuart Lancaster light on the wings and a solid centre-partnership was never established during the Autumn internationals, with mixed performances from Billy Twelvetrees in particular.

But the head coach can feel vindicated in fielding a young and inexperienced back line against France after an impressive second-half that showed a mental toughness to recover as much as their quality with ball in hand.

As Gavin Mairs noted in The Telegraph, the average age from positions nine to 15 in Paris was just over 24, each averaging 13 caps. The performance was by no means perfect—debutant wing Jack Nowell's first touch was a knock on—but if Lancaster can bring that second-half momentum into the Calcutta Cup and beyond then his side will have a genuine shot at winning the championship, despite their losing start. 

 

France

More than anything, France now need consistency. Their disastrous 2013 Six Nations culminated in the wooden spoon but no such indignity appears due this time around after a roller-coaster victory over England in Paris was sealed with a fabulous try that started in their own half.

Two scores from right-winger Yoann Huget, coupled with the sheer pace of diminutive full-back Brice Dulin, illustrate the qualities of a back-three bettered only by Wales. If France can settle into a rhythm with victory over Italy on Sunday then their visit to Cardiff in round three could prove the decisive match in this year's championship.

 

Ireland

Ireland have become the perennial middle-men and it is hard to know precisely whether they are teetering towards a challenge for the title or the wooden spoon.

The sensational Autumn battle with New Zealand that ultimately ended in defeat showed huge promise, but the Six Nations performances that preceded it were largely wretched as Ireland finished fifth, above France only on points difference.

According to rte.ie, despite victory new head coach Joe Schmidt was unimpressed with his players' performance against Scotland in round one.

There is no blistering pace in an ageing back-line, led for the final time by Brian O'Driscoll, and so as Paul Rees of The Guardian writes: "Form against the top teams when added to the injury to Sean O'Brien does not suggest O'Driscoll will be collecting another Six Nations winners' medal. Their campaign will hinge on how they cope with the forward intensity of Wales and England."

 

Italy

The Azzurri entered the tournament as underdogs, as Matt Dawson wrote in the Daily Mirror: "Easy to forget that they beat France and Ireland last year. Decent at home, poor away – and they go to Wales, France and Ireland. You write them off at your peril, but I’m doing so."

However, Italy put up genuine resistance in Cardiff and can take some momentum from a second-half display that included two tries from 20-year-old centre Michele Campagnaro.

They pose a serious threat of upset against title challengers but a round three match against Scotland in Rome remains their most winnable tie. With Gonzalo Canale injured, more than ever Italy need the quality and experience of Mirco Bergamasco and Sergio Parisse to shine if they are to make an impact on the tournament. 

 

Scotland

When the Six Nations was first conceived, Italy quickly established themselves as the whipping boys of the group, France's mate that came along to make up the numbers.

But Scotland have made a good fist of challenging Italy for the wooden spoon in recent years and although this Six Nations championship had the look of being closer than ever, Scotland's performance in Dublin suggests they are the favourites to finish sixth this time around.

The side clearly has a lack of match-winning quality but what Scotland need right now is to gain some control at the set-piece. According to tournament's official website, Scotland lost five of 15 line-outs, and two of six scrums. Scotland need no more motivation than the Calcutta Cup on Saturday to improve. 

 

Wales

The pick of the round two fixtures is undoubtedly Wales' trip to Ireland and it will prove a true yardstick of where this Welsh side are.

The fulcrum of the British and Irish Lions success in Australia was the array of qualities Wales possess, but Wales themselves could not manage to take that next vital step in their development by beating a southern hemisphere side during the Autumn internationals.

The match-winning qualities of Leigh Halfpenny and George North combined with the know-how of Warren Gatland make the Six Nations holders the team to beat but, after a hard-fought victory against Italy, Wales simply need any manner of win against Ireland to ensure their grand slam challenge is still alive when France visit Cardiff in round three.

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