Scrum Sevens
First time lucky
Huw Richards
February 11, 2015
England's Anthony Watson scored a try on his Six Nations debut © Getty Images

Firsts were a bit of a theme of the opening weekend of the Six Nations. None of the five try-scorers had previously crossed in a Six Nations match and England's duo of Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph were making their tournament debuts. To salute their achievement, this week's Scrum Sevens looks at other players with try-scoring Six Nations debuts

Ben Cohen, England v Ireland, Twickenham 2000

Ben Cohen goes past Kevin Maggs, England v Ireland, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 5, 2000
Ben Cohen holds the English record for Six Nations tries © Getty Images

Ben Cohen never does anything by halves, so it was typical that he should have marked his Six Nations debut, on the very first day of action after five became Six, by scoring two tries. The powerful Northampton wing claimed the first and last of England's six, beginning in the 18th minute by stepping inside Malcolm O'Kelly and Conor O'Shea, then going round under the posts in injury time. In his early years Cohen looked as though he might be a long-term threat to David Campese and Rory Underwood's scoring tallies, but he was one of the players who found it hard to maintain momentum after winning the World Cup in 2003. Even so his 16 Six Nations tries are an English record for the Six Nations era, third on the all-time list behind Brian O'Driscoll (26) and Shane Williams (22). And post-rugby he's stayed in the public eye as a campaigner on social issues and a contestant on celebrity talent shows. Nor was he England's only debutant scorer that day at Twickenham. Anyone know what happened to Mike Tindall?

Gareth Cooper, Wales v Italy, Rome 2001

An unexpected debutant when Rob Howley was ruled out the day before, Bath scrum-half Gareth Cooper had only risen to the Welsh bench the game before his debut in Rome. But he was off to a fast start, scoring within six minutes of the start of a match Wales won 33-20. The performance put Cooper in pole position when Howley retired a year later and he was Wales's first choice in 2003 and 2004. A tough, combative performer he was always a threat from the base of a scrum, but physicality had its price in a series of injuries, while coaches increasingly preferred first the quick hands of Dwayne Peel then the power of Mike Phillips. Sixteen Six Nations appearances across a decade tell a tale of commitment and durability, but also of a career whose finest moment may well have been its first.

Paul O'Connell, Ireland v Wales, Dublin 2002

Paul O''Connell celebrates his try, Ireland v Wales, Six Nations, Lansdowne Road, 3 February, 2002
Paul O'Connell has only scored two Six Nations tries © Getty Images

Even national monuments were rookies once. Limerick's very own towering inferno may have won just about every prize in the game and be closing in on 100 caps, but the first match remains a significant landmark. The match itself is remembered chiefly for a Welsh disintegration that ended Graham Henry's tenure as national coach, but O'Connell played a significant part in Ireland's 54-10 win. There was an early hint of the redhaired debutant's enduring qualities as he took a 20th minute line-out close to the Welsh line and then emerged triumphant, still clutching the ball, after being driven over by team-mates. O'Connell sadly remembers nothing of it himself, since he was still in a daze from being knocked out by Craig Quinnell's elbow. Forty-seven subsequent Six Nations performances have brought only one more try, against Scotland in 2005.

Francesco Mazzariol, Italy v Wales, Cardiff 2002

Francesco Mazzariol was a valuable member of Italy's supporting cast in the years before and after admission to the championship. As an outside-half he spent much of his time on the bench waiting for Diego Dominguez to be injured, and more than half of his 33 caps were as a replacement. Yet he played five times against South Africa, four times against the All Blacks, in two World Cups and also in the 1997 victory over France's Grand Slammers which added serious credibility to Italy's campaign for inclusion. His Six Nations career consisted of a Warholian 15 minutes in a match already lost, replacing Mirco Bergmasco at centre. Yet it took him only 10 minutes to achieve a feat which eluded Ian McGeechan, Haydn Tanner, Jason Leonard and Martin Johnson - a championship try. It was admittedly more slapstick than masterpiece. His own pass went astray, and was knocked back over the line by a defender, enabling Mazzariol to plunge for the score and come up looking as much embarrassed as triumphant.

Chris Jones, England v Italy, Rome 2004

Chris Jones catches the ball in training, Pennyhill Park, February 18, 2004
Performances for England A earned Chris Jones a senior cap © Getty Images

Chris Jones was once the next big thing in English rugby, with the emphasis on big. The 6ft 6in, 244lb Sale lock with the unfeasibly long arms put in a stellar season with England A in 2003, when most attention was understandably elsewhere, which earned him promotion to the senior side as the single rookie in Clive Woodward's first post World Cup selection. His line-out skills and all-round play impressed as a replacement in England's 50-9 win and Jones capped it with the final minute score that took England to their half century. Jones played in the next three matches, but there would be only more Six Nations appearance - in the opening day defeat by Wales in 2005 - after that. Yet he remained a Sale stalwart for a decade before moving on to Worcester and, this season, Leeds Carnegie.

Thom Evans, Scotland v France, Paris 2009

We knew a little more about Thom Evans than some other Six Nations rookies when he made his championship debut for Scotland. He had already played three times that autumn, was the younger brother of centre Max, had been in a boy band and was formidably quick. It was that last which was most relevant in the 68th minute when he took a pass 10 metres out to reach the line and put Scotland back in with a shout. They lost, and that was as good as it got for Evans. The quickest wings still need service, and Scotland rarely provided it. It was his only try in an international career ended by a horrible neck injury, which came within millimetres of either killing or paralysing him, at Cardiff the following year. It was not, though, the last we would hear of him. He has pursued some high profile relationships, appeared in Strictly Come Dancing and was one of the disappointed contenders for the lead male role in screen bonkbuster Fifty Shades of Grey, due for release on Friday.

Wesley Fofana, France v Italy, Paris 2012

Wesley Fofana takes the ball, France v Italy, Six Nations, Stade de France, February 4, 2012
Wesley Fofana maintains the old French standards © Getty Images

Epitome of that newish and highly productive seam of French talent, Parisians of African descent, Fofana is evidently a man of habit. Clermont's Malian-descended centre got off to a try-scoring start with a superb outside break from close range in the France's opening match of the 2012 season and went on to repeat the trick, showing a superb sense of angles and an ability to hit the defensive line with unstoppable momentum, in France's next three matches. You could hardly expect to him to continue at that rate, but the sight of Fofana with the ball in his hand continues to be one which strikes fear into every opponent. Twickenham has seen no more brilliant solo score than his 70 metre dash, shaking off four would-be tacklers, to the line in 2013, and there have been further tries against both Scotland and Italy. France's last three seasons may have been their worst sequence since the 1920s, but this is one player who maintains their old standards and, at 27, there may be even better still to come.

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