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Six Nations 2023: Talking points after wins for Scotland, Ireland and France

France extend their winning run, Ireland spoil Warren Gatland’s return and Scotland complete the Calcutta Cup hat-trick against their oldest rivals England.

The opening weekend of the 2023 Six Nations had everything from stunning solo tries to thrilling comebacks.

So what are the key talking points from the opening round of the competition?

Will Scotland back up stunning win over England?

Scotland got their campaign off to a stunning start with a third successive win over England in a superb match at Twickenham.

Duhan van der Merwe, having already scored a spectacular solo try in the first half, finished off a multi-phase team move in the 75th minute to take home a deserved 29-23 victory.

The challenge for the Scots, as it was last year, is following up that success with victory over Wales in their next game.

They have not won their first two matches since 1996, when the tournament was the Five Nations, but this time they face Wales at Murrayfield rather than in Cardiff.

“Scotland are different this year, I think they will win” said former Wales captain Sam Warburton on the BBC’s Rugby Union Daily. “They don’t get bullied any more. They will be so disappointed if they don’t win three games this championship but they should be aiming for four.”

John Barclay, former Scotland captain, added: “I am not saying they will win the championship but this group has under-delivered and to go two from two would be a big step in the right direction.

“There’s a growing maturity and all the talk coming out of the camp is that they must win again next weekend.”

Borthwick’s England show signs of recovery but lots to work on

England were booed off at Twickenham after they were comfortably beaten by world champions South Africa in Eddie Jones’ final game in charge in November.

But new head coach Steve Borthwick’s side showed enough hints of better things to come despite the defeat.

Max Malins impressed with his first international tries while Ellie Genge carried, rucked and scrummaged tirelessly before powering over for England’s third.

They perhaps lacked the clinical edge of Van der Merwe, with Finn Russell pulling the strings from midfield, and will need to improve their defence after conceding four tries.

There’s a lot to work on, with perhaps the biggest dilemma for Borthwick being whether to stick with playing both Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell, or to just play one of the two and bring in a ball-carrying centre.

“I don’t think they are the reason England lost,” said former England wing Ugo Monye. “The net potential and the growth when they get connected is astronomical, so I’m trying to look at it in a positive sense.

“Fundamentally they look at the game and play it differently, but how can they get that sense of cohesion to bring out the best in everyone else?

“It is a conundrum. They are two world-class players and you’re not seeing them fulfil their potential.”

Gatland return overshadowed by dominant Ireland

Wales won three Grand Slams in Warren Gatland’s first spell in charge, but the Kiwi could not guide his side to a winning start on his return.

Instead, the hosts suffered their heaviest home defeat in the competition since 2001, against a ruthless Ireland side who arrived in Cardiff as the number one team in the world.

The visitors led by 24 points at half-time as the optimism around Gatland’s return quickly waned.

“I think everyone was hoping for a romantic return,” said Warburton. “I fell into that camp a bit and hoped they would do a smash-and-grab.

“Reality hit home about how good Ireland are. Ireland have been building and this year they aren’t here to mess about. It was a clinical performance.

“It will be an interesting selection for the Scotland game next week – does Gatland give that side a second chance or does he change it and give the youngsters a go?”

Gatland never lost to Scotland during his previous 12-year spell as Wales head coach – but that record must be under threat given the contrasting fortunes of both sides on opening weekend.

Are France ready for potential Grand Slam decider against Ireland?

Saturday, 11 February may have been the date many had pencilled in as the Grand Slam decider with Ireland and France – the best two sides in the world – meeting in Dublin.

There might have been a different build-up, after Tommaso Allan’s penalty handed Italy a two-point lead over defending champions France with 18 minutes to play in Rome.

But Matthieu Jalibert came off the bench to snipe over and claim his side a bonus-point win to extend France’s winning run, which includes last year’s Grand Slam, to 14 games.

French discipline may prove to be their Achilles heal in Ireland as they conceded 18 penalties in Rome – the most ever by a Shaun Edwards-coached side in 20 years.

“I wouldn’t judge France on today’s game,” said Warburton. “In a season you have three or four games where you emotionally peak at the optimal level. France won’t get there against Italy but next week will be one of those games. It will be a titanic battle.”

Monye added: “Ireland always look the best team in round one. They have the cohesion every team desperately wants but other teams come in undercooked and always have things to improve.

“Ireland are effectively taking Leinster’s team and sticking it into an Ireland jersey and playing exactly the same way. With the intricacy of their attack and the understanding they have, I wasn’t surprised they blew Wales away.”

Dynamic Italy to bring their attacking game to Twickenham

Italy may have won the unwanted Wooden Spoon – given to the side that finishes bottom in the tournament – in the last seven years, but their new attacking ambition has to be admired.

Sometimes it is to their detriment, as they tried to move the ball wide from deep inside their own 22 against France and often spilled it forward as they attempted to offload.

But their style led to a first win over Australia last autumn and in back Ange Capuozzo they have a finisher to match their endeavour.

Expect flair rugby at Twickenham on Sunday with both sides wanting to demonstrate their dynamism in attack.

“Italy will fancy their chances wherever they go,” said Monye. “They play with such freedom and have a bounce from 2022. This is a massive step in the right direction.

“They should have won against France.”

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