NEWS

Nick Mallett and the Accenture Analysis Team look ahead to this weekend's fixtures

RBS 6 Nations

It should come as no surprise that this year's opening round of fixtures was the closest weekend in the history of the RBS 6 Nations, with a combined winning margin across the three games of just eight points.

As the Championship kicks off there is much to lose and so the games were largely cagey affairs. It felt more like knockout rugby.

I had said as many as five teams could win the Championship, but I would reduce that to four in the wake of Scotland's dour defeat.

Ahead of the second round of matches, England, France, Ireland and Wales all still have their destinies in their own hands.

France vs Ireland

Despite Guy Novès' talk of an exciting new era for French rugby, they were incredibly disappointing in their narrow victory over Italy.

Let's be honest, France should be winning a game like this at home by something approaching 20 points, not a mere two.

While the French made 22 offloads against Italy, they did nothing with them. They really didn't go anywhere at all.

You need to create line breaks, but France were far too lateral with their offloads. To be frank, it looked pretty shambolic.

The insights provided by the Accenture Analysis Team over the weekend show that France's offloading did not always pay off. From their 20 offloads almost 50% resulted in a turnover, a penalty conceded, a handling error or being carried into touch. There is a saying in the game, 'never pass to a player in a worse position,' but France were doing that all the time against Italy.

This result has to act as a significant wake-up call for the French, who will have to be so much better against Ireland.

The Irish are a disciplined and brilliantly coached team under Joe Schmidt. They really are so well drilled that every player knows their role in each and every phase.

Despite having to accommodate several new faces, Ireland played some wonderfully positive rugby against Wales; they played to win.

The French looked tired at the weekend; their forwards spent far too much time on the ground, and I expect the driven and disciplined Irish to take advantage of that at the weekend.

Wales vs Scotland

Scotland have now lost eight straight games in the RBS 6 Nations, and that won't change against Wales in Cardiff this weekend.

I can actually see the Welsh winning this by at least 10 points.

While Scotland have a good coach, a good pack, and often good plans, the truth is they just don't have the personnel or firepower.

I have to ask where are Scotland's ball-carrying forwards? They just don't have enough players smashing through and capable of gaining those crucial two or three extra yards.

Scotland had a huge chance to beat England last weekend, but came up against a very structured English defence which they were unable to unlock. Scotland's attack was not effective and they will need to create and take more chances if they want to trouble the Welsh.

Remember, this is a Wales side coming off a great performance against Ireland, where they scored 16 unanswered points to come back from being 13-0 down, and so very nearly won.

It perfectly showcased the inherent quality in Warren Gatland's squad, which I think will once more prove to be too much for the Scots.

I enjoyed seeing Wales attempt to play with more width, and they need to continue that, allowing their backs to advance down the field more, where the likes of Jonathan Davies and George North can finish.

Italy vs England

The Italians surprised me at the weekend and now against England we will learn if they really are a vastly improved side, or if it was simply a case of the French being particularly poor.

In Paris, Italy had a proper structure and played with real rugby intellect; their driving maul was effective, they carried the ball well, and I liked their use of grubber kicks.

Of course in Sergio Parisse the Italians boast a real leader, and a player who can win games, as he so nearly did against France.

England will be well aware they are in for a difficult game in Rome, but I don't expect them to make the same mistakes as France and so they should overcome the Italians by around 15 points.

The Eddie Jones era started with a pragmatic, almost ugly, win against Scotland but a win will build momentum.

England got ahead and stayed there, content to simply protect their lead with some brilliant defending.

The England defence won the game at Murrayfield, but Rome is the perfect stage for them to now open up and begin to use talents like Jonathan Joseph and Mike Brown more.

However, the way to beat Italy is not to go for tries too early, but rather to build a lead and when you are nine points in front, then you can start looking to execute your more attacking plays.

In this situation, against a defence which takes time to breakdown and may start a game giving away few penalties, I would look to build a score through drop goals.

Interestingly, the Accenture Analysis Team discovered that the six drop goal attempts during the first round of this year's Championship is the same number as across the whole of the 2015 RBS 6 Nations. The number of drop goal attempts throughout the RBS 6 Nations has declined in recent years, but as teams become more pragmatic I expect we will see more drop goal attempts as a way of keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

There are always chances to score against Italy on the counter attack and from turnovers, but you have to put them under pressure and be patient.

Jones will be tempted to stick with a winning team, but I expect him to make one or two changes, possibly bringing in Jack Clifford at flanker.

Nick Mallett is part of the Accenture Analysis Team during the RBS 6 Nations, providing fans with insight and analysis to #Seebeyond standard match data. Follow @AccentureRugby or visit accenture-rugby.com

More News