Six Nations: talking points from a tournament striving for an outcome | Sport

1) England impress amid last hurrahs for a few

Leaving aside Manu Tuilagi’s red card and Joe Marler’s bizarre piece of handiwork England had reason to be quietly encouraged by their last Six Nations outing for the foreseeable future. They started well, imposed themselves up front and showed the kind of defensive appetite, in the face of a physical Welsh challenge, that distinguishes the best teams. If this was the last Twickenham hurrah for George Kruis and his long-time lineout guru Steve Borthwick, they went out in style; Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Ben Youngs and George Ford all had good games and the absence of Billy and Mako Vunipola was barely noticed. France’s implosion in Scotland also means that a bonus-point victory in Rome at a later date could be enough to deliver this season’s championship title to Twickenham. Robert Kitson

Match report: England 33-30 Wales

2) Wales risk-taking can work only if errors are cut down

Wales have become a hybrid. They are playing with more daring and ambition, prepared to indulge in risky off-loads, but have retained elements of the Warren Gatland era, not least their ability to finish matches strongly. Their main problem is that by opening up they have opened up themselves. Mistakes have led to opposition tries, as again happened at Twickenham when George North’s knock-on after Ross Moriarty had secured a turnover led to England’s opener, and a team that conceded 65 points and seven tries in winning the title last year has leaked 84 and 10 in four matches this year. Their erstwhile defence coach Shaun Edwards said that conceding fewer than 20 points in a match enhanced the chance of victory: 19 was the most they shipped in last year’s championship but the whitewashing of Italy was followed by opposition totals of 24, 27 and 33, which is why Wales have not defended their title. Paul Rees

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3) Defeat of France hands momentum to Scotland

Under pressure after a traumatic World Cup and the dispute which has deprived Scotland of their key playmaker Finn Russell, Gregor Townsend has bought himself time – and very possibly another full season in post – with an accomplished victory over France. A win over Italy was the minimum expectation for the Scotland coach in this Championship and even then would have far from silenced his numerous critics. But Sunday’s 28-17 result at Murrayfield was an undeniable step forward. Whether his team win, lose or draw in Cardiff – presuming, that is, the game goes ahead – Townsend can now point to progress in recent months, albeit from a modest base. Stuart Bathgate

Match report: Scotland 28-17 France

Scotland’s Jamie Ritchie celebrates after the final whistle.

Scotland’s Jamie Ritchie celebrates after the final whistle. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

4) France indiscipline a reality check for Edwards

It appears that even as forceful a character as Shaun Edwards cannot completely transform an entire rugby culture in a matter of months. France’s defence coach rightly won plaudits for his team’s greater self-discipline and pragmatism in their opening three victories but those virtues went out of the window at Murrayfield, to be replaced by indiscipline and impetuosity. Under pressure after the loss of Mohamed Haouas to a red card in the first half, the French offered brief glimpses of brilliance yet failed to address the structural problems posed by being a man down. It is not exactly back to the drawing board but certainly a reality check. SB

Townsend says red card was not decisive in Scotland’s win over France

5) Time for dashing Cooney to step up in Paris

France’s self-destruction at Murrayfield gives Ireland fresh hope they can win the Six Nations. Ireland will not drop their captain, Johnny Sexton, for the meeting with France after his horribly out-of-sorts display against England but his half-back partner, Conor Murray, should give way to John Cooney. The Ulster scrum-half had a series of brilliant displays in the Champions Cup in the autumn and looked sharp when he came on at Twickenham. He deserves to start on Saturday night. Ian Malin

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John Cooney could liven up Ireland’s Six Nations performances.

John Cooney could liven up Ireland’s Six Nations performances. Photograph: Tom Dwyer/Seconds Left/REX/Shutterstock

6) No Roman holiday for Parisse

The Six Nations has to be kept in perspective as Italy suffers because of the coronavirus. We do not know when the Azzurri will play Ireland in Dublin or England in Rome but Franco Smith should resist sentiment to bring the 36-year-old warrior Sergio Parisse back into the fold to face England. Italy’s losing streak in the Six Nations extended to 25 games when they were beaten by Scotland and they need to look to the future. IM

Sports events in Italy go behind closed doors until 3 April

7) Red Roses bloom as opponents wilt

England women’s ambition to win the World Cup in New Zealand next year looks more realistic by the day – or by every game in which they humble their outclassed opponents. So while they should take credit for a 66-7 win over Wales that secured a triple crown, the victory at the Twickenham Stoop seems a little hollow. This is partly due to the fact that the postponement of their game in Italy next weekend delays their inevitable back-to-back grand slam – but mainly because a professionalised side now has no credible challengers in the tournament, bar France. Yes, Zoe Aldcroft has been outstanding in their second row. Yes, Harriet Millar-Mills deserves the praise heaped on her for a stirring comeback after a horrible knee injury. But no to broadcaster Sky whose uncritical presentation of this game was faintly nauseating in its lack of honesty about this one-sided tournament. IM

Match report: England 66-7 Wales

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