Monday Maul
Don't be fooled by stuttering Welsh
Tom Hamilton
February 3, 2014
Ireland found it easy against Scotland © Getty Images

Welcome back Six Nations, we've missed you. The battle for northern hemisphere supremacy is in full flow after just 240 minutes of rugby. There were no shortage of talking points and Monday Maul provides its take on the weekend's international action.

Come on down Anthony Watson

Jonny May's first Six Nations start was a hugely unfortunate experience. May enjoyed one run with ball in hand and a basketball pass before he was hauled off with his nose unceremoniously spread across his face - if he is fit for purpose then he should get another chance next weekend.

Fantasy team of the weekend

  • Midlife crisis
  • Outside backs: Yoann Huget, Rob Kearney, Alex Cuthbert
  • Centres: Michele Campagnaro, Scott Williams
  • Fly-half: Jonathan Sexton
  • Scrum-half: Danny Care
  • Front-row: Dylan Hartley, Rory Best, Adam Jones
  • Second-row: Joe Launchbury, Pascal Pape
  • Back-row Billy Vunipola, Jamie Heaslip, Justin Tipuric
  • 109 points

But if Jonny May's busted conk keeps him out of next week's Calcutta Cup match then it is time for Stuart Lancaster to continue his bold selection policy and opt for Watson over a recall for Chris Ashton. Jack Nowell grew as a player during his debut - he showed mental strength to recover from dropping the first restart and ended up making more metres with ball in hand than any other England player.

For Watson, his time has come. He has been one of the Premiership's best players this term and rather than looking backwards, England need to look forwards. Watson should start against Scotland, if May is unavailable, rather than opting for Ashton or shifting fullback Mike Brown on to the flank.

Italians showing some teeth

It was a wonderful sight to witness an Italian half-back pairing working well in tandem and a member of the Azzurri's backline playing with wonderful youthful abandon. But there are cautionary tales for the superb Michele Campagnaro. Remember Andrea Marcato? Following his match-winning performance against Scotland in the 2008 Six Nations, he was hailed as the second coming for Italian rugby. His last cap came in 2009 and is currently running out for Calvisano.

Campagnaro should fare better. Italy appear to have some stability at half-back with Tommaso Allen and Edoardo Gori working well and efficiently. And outside the pair is Campagnaro in the centres. He was fantastic against Wales on Saturday and deserves every plaudit. But now comes the hard part, backing up that first taste of Six Nations action with consistency.

Don't be lulled into false sense of security

Wales were average against Italy, but they still won - the mark of a good side. This Wales team will improve over the course of the Six Nations, but they must find some form ahead of their game against Ireland next weekend. On Saturday they failed to find the rhythm we know Wales teams are capable of but they started last year's championship slowly, losing at home to Ireland, but ended up triumphant. Rhys Priestland did well at fly-half and should start ahead of Dan Biggar next week but the key question is just where to fit Jonathan Davies in.

Scott Williams and Jamie Roberts were average as centre partnerships go but Williams has been Wales' form player this season and scored one of their two tries on Saturday. But Davies has 40 minutes under his belt and is likely to be fast-tracked back into the team. It would be harsh on Williams but as Brian O'Driscoll well knows, Gatland ignores sentiment when picking teams.

Talk will be of O'Driscoll v Gatland

And on that note, Gatland's dismissive answer to questions about O'Driscoll seemed more in hope than expectation. Of course the talk this week will be of the match-up between him and the legendary centre he dropped. The incident happened ages ago and yes talk of it is dire, but the way sport now works, any grudge will be hyped to the hills in the week leading up to a match.

What didn't help Gatland's statement that it was over and done with was Priestland telling the press: "Everyone will be out for revenge after what happened to Brian O'Driscoll".

Opportunist French

The French rugby team are a frustrating bunch. For much of Saturday's game they were clinging on by the fingertips but they are an opportunist side, they take chances when they are offered. Yoann Huget is the personification of this with his two tries which, to an extent, were self-inflicted by England. But while there is an element of playing off the cuff, in Yannick Nyanga they have a player who is hugely influential.

Gael Fickou will get the headlines for his breakaway try but it was Nyanga who kept the move alive. Even without the injured Thierry Dusautoir, the French back-row has a nice balance to it with Bernard le Roux and Louis Picamoles doing well.

Ireland had it easy

Scotland had so much possession in the first-half of their game against Ireland - but what did they do with it? Nothing. Ireland gave them a lesson in execution as Jamie Heaslip went close with Andrew Trimble eventually scoring just before half-time. Lack of quick ball at the breakdown harmed Scotland's prospects while their lineout also let them down.

For Ireland, they were brutally efficient. They seldom had to get out of second gear and for Heaslip's score in the second-half, he could be forgiven if he magicked a pipe and slippers such was his easy ride to the try line. Scotland have improved as a side over the last couple of years, but lack a cutting edge.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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