What an opening weekend for the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Championship – fast, physical rugby, some fantastic tries, and above all the resounding proof that you never can predict what will happen in Europe’s premier rugby tournament.

WORDS | Ireland winger Simon Zebo takes the plaudits after scoring on his Six Nations debut. (Image | The Sun)

Green giant | Ireland winger Simon Zebo takes the plaudits after scoring on his 6 Nations debut. (Image | The Sun)

Wales 22 Ireland 30

Cardiff played host to the opening game, with Wales hoping to get off to a winning start after a disappointing summer and autumn in 2012.

This did not exactly go according to plan, as a sublime pass from Brian O’Driscoll on his 121st appearance sent Simon Zebo over for a try after just ten minutes.

It then went from bad to worse, with Cian Healy bludgeoning over for a second, following a jaw-dropping piece of footballing skill from Zebo to keep a pass alive that was heading behind him.

Fly-half Jonathan Sexton added a couple of penalties to Leigh Halfpenny’s one to see the Irish to a 23-3 half time lead. O’Driscoll then effectively sealed the game shortly after the break with pick-and-go try.

By this point, Wales had nothing to lose and their game picked up accordingly. Young winger Alex Cuthbert scored from close range before Halfpenny took advantage of an overlap to go over in the corner.

With Ireland’s defence crumbling in front of the frantic Welsh running game, Exeter Chiefs prop Craig Mitchell forced his way over with four minutes to go but it proved to be too little, too late for the Welsh.

Despite the most thrilling of comebacks in the second half, Wales simply did not seem to have the desire to win. However, there were glimpses of last year’s Grand Slam-winning side, especially in the pace and commitment showed by George North and replacement flanker Justin Tipuric.

Ireland were lethal in the first period but panicked when the Welsh increased their pressure, which could be a worrying trend when faced with more clinical opposition.

That said, the back three of Zebo, Rob Kearney and Craig Gilroy has the potential to become the best in the northern hemisphere.

England 38 Scotland 18

Following the earlier theatrics in Cardiff, Scotland’s visit to Twickenham was a rather more straightforward affair, with the hosts overturning an early deficit to cruise past Scott Johnson’s side.

WORD | Debutant Billy Twelvetrees scores a try against Scotland. (Image | Metro)

Fearless | Debutant Billy Twelvetrees scores his first try against Scotland at Twickenham. (Image | Metro)

England fly-half Owen Farrell got his team off to a solid start with a penalty after three minutes, but this was soon cancelled out by a try out wide from New Zealand-born Sean Maitland.

Farrell and Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw traded penalties until the 30th minute, when Saracens winger Chris Ashton went over after a good kick chase from Joe Launchbury. Another penalty goal apiece meant that the hosts led 19-11 at half time.

Tries for Billy Twelvetrees and Geoff Parling put the game to bed after the break, despite the best try of the opening round coming from the Scots, a length-of-the-field effort from full-back Stuart Hogg.

Replacement England scrum-half Danny Care later went over under the posts after 80 minutes to ensure a convincing victory.

England were impressive, playing with an uncharacteristic flair that should be a sign of things to come from this new, athletic generation of players.

Farrell’s pinpoint kicking saw him named as man of the match, while Twelvetrees looks to be a good prospect for the future. However, the side as a whole is yet to show their full potential.

Scotland, who had played the old-fashioned forwards game for too long into the new millennium, finally showed signs that they can be inventive on the ball, playing to the pace of wingers Maitland and Tim Visser and the ball-carrying skill of number eight Dave Denton. Despite this, the Scots still look weak in defence and had their second-half tiredness exploited by the hosts.

Italy 23 France 18

By far the biggest upset of the weekend came at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, as an underwhelming France side saw their impressive 2012 form come to nothing in the face of a skilful Italian attack.

Luciano Orquera‘s cutting run set up his captain Sergio Parisse for a try to open the scoring, but the French equalised shortly afterwards through Parisse’s opposite number Louis Picamoles.

A penalty and a drop goal from Orquera saw the Italians open up a lead, but France bounced back through a Frédéric Michalak penalty and a long-range try from winger Benjamin Fall to lead by two points at the break.

Once Michalak had added another penalty shortly after half time, the French appeared to be pulling away, but they failed to put the game to bed due to the resolute Italian defence.

French scrum-half Maxime Machenaud ran deep into opposition territory but saw his pass intercepted. Moments later, the hosts had installed themselves on the France goal line, with giant prop Martin Castrogiovanni facing little opposition to score.

WORD | Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni scores the Azzurri's winning try against France in a surprise win. (Image | The Times)

Mamma mia! | Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni scores the Azzurri’s winning try against France in a surprise victory. (Image | The Times)

The Italians added another penalty through Kris Burton, and although Les Bleus looked to be in a good position to win it at the death, it was not to be.

It was only Italy’s 10th win since joining the tournament in 2000, but it hinted that there could be more on the way soon.

Parisse captained his side majestically, Tobias Botes seemed more comfortable at scrum-half than in his shaky display at fly-half last year, and Orquera was the best all-round player of the weekend, showing vision and pace to set up several significant moments.

France, meanwhile, will have to face up to all of the usual hot-and-cold claims. While Wales at least sped up after half-time, Philippe Saint-André’s side showed little enthusiasm throughout.

Michalak’s kicking was far too casual as he missed what could have been a crucial penalty and saw a kick drift infield to deny his team a good line-out position when it mattered. Fall and Wesley Fofana were rapid on the wings but not precise enough to make their strong running count.

Round one confirmed that the 6 Nations is more open now than ever before. Perennial wooden spoon contenders Italy outplayed the pre-tournament favourites, Scotland showed some inspiration in the face of adversity, France and Wales slumped to defeats but will look to bounce back, while both England and Ireland got off to winning starts but are not yet perfect.

As for which side will go on to win from here, the tournament is wide open. Until next week, that is.

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