With tries galore, games that went down to the wire and some star-studded performances, Round 2 of the Guinness Six Nations had everybody talking.
Whether it was Wales getting back to winning ways in front of a packed Principality Stadium, France triumphing in a titanic battle against Ireland or England bouncing back in style in Rome, there were plenty of takeaways for pundits across the board.
And it is hard to start anywhere other than in Paris, where France saw off Ireland in the clash of unbeaten sides in the Stade de France, eventually getting over the line 30-24.
For former France captain Thierry Dusautoir, skipper of the last French team to win the Championship back in 2010, this success was more revealing even than France’s 40-25 win over New Zealand in the Autumn Nations Series.
Speaking of Les Bleus’ fifth straight win in his L’Équipe column, Dusautoir said: “For me, this win against Ireland was more interesting than the one against New Zealand in November. Three months ago we could ask the question of whether the All Blacks were tired at the end of the season. Here, there was no possible doubt because Ireland have been excellent this season and showed it again last week against Wales.
“It was not as attractive as France have been, and they conceded 14 points too easily which could have cost them the game when they were stronger than their opponent. But I appreciated the manner. I’m a pragmatist so I appreciate when a team keeps its cool, controls a game and punishes the opposition by taking points when they are on offer, which they managed to do.
“Ireland’s strength is to be able to impose a rhythm which causes the opponent to explode physically and they stopped them from doing that. They did it by slowing down the ball in the rucks and tackling on the ball, sometimes keeping the ball-carrier upright, as well as shooting up aggressively in the midfield.”
While France came out on top against Ireland, they were made to fight all the way as Andy Farrell’s team fought back from 22-7 down to get within a point.
That was particularly impressive considering the absence of skipper Johnny Sexton. Joey Carbery was handed a first Guinness Six Nations start in place of Sexton, with former Ireland flanker Alan Quinlan generally impressed at the way he stepped up.
Speaking on Virgin Media Sport, Quinlan said: “There was a lot of pressure on Joey Carbery. I thought he played well. There were times when he was a little bit deep but again that’s understandable. In the second half in particular, he started running with the ball when he maybe could have given a wider pass so he was probably a little bit hesitant. He didn’t want to be the one who made a mistake that cost Ireland a try.
“But overall he played really well and we’re going to have to deal without Johnny Sexton in the not too distant future. But Sexton is a different level, he’s so confident in getting up to the contact area and give those passes. So there were a lot of positives in Joey Carbery’s performance.”
There was another fly-half who caught the eye in Rome on Sunday, with Marcus Smith named Guinness Six Nations Player of the Match for his display in England’s 33-0 win against Italy.
Eddie Jones said the sky is the limit for Smith, and former England scrum-half Matt Dawson likened him to one of the all-time greats in his BBC column.
He said: “Marcus Smith played brilliantly against Italy. It was not a fancy performance, it was more in the style of New Zealand great Dan Carter, where you thought he was just better than everyone else.
“It was a bit like France scrum-half Antoine Dupont. He just does it every single time. That is how he plays the game and England are lucky they have got someone at fly-half to do that.
“Smith made a try out of nothing, just using his brain, his skills and his footwork.”
The first game of the weekend saw Wales produce a stirring performance to see off Scotland and get their campaign back on track, with Dan Biggar excelling in his 100th Test.
He was joined on that landmark by Jonathan Davies, the centre making an immediate impact off the bench. So much so that former Wales centre Tom Shanklin backed Davies to start against England in a fortnight’s time.
On the BBC Rugby Union Daily podcast, Shanklin said: “He probably doesn’t deserve to start at the moment if you’re talking about club form.
“Yeah, there’d be loads of credit in the bank but there’s probably players in the United Rugby Championship that are playing better than him, but it just shows what experience he has.
“He comes on, he takes the ball off (Duhan) Van Der Merwe straight away but it’s also the stuff he does without the ball. There was a clear difference in line speed when he came on, in those outside channels, something that Wales lacked.
“Owen Watkin, Nick Tompkins – maybe they just don’t have the confidence to rush up out of the line and get into players’ eyelines because they think they’re going to expose themselves. He did it and he forced Finn Russell, he forced Blair Kinghorn back inside to where the heavy traffic was that was clear.
“In that small space of time, he’s probably done enough to start against England, because that’s something that Wales lack.”
Scotland, meanwhile, missed the chance to win their first two games of the Championship for the first time in the Guinness Six Nations era, and former coach Sir Ian McGeechan felt that they had seen Wales reverse the roles of the Calcutta Cup, with the Scots put into England’s shoes this time around.
In his Telegraph column, McGeechan said: “In many ways Wales did to Scotland what the Scots did to England last week – they hit them hard on the gainline and then slowed down their breakdown ball, forcing them to play in the narrow channels off slower ball. It didn’t help that Scotland played wet weather one-out rugby and seemed reluctant to follow Wales’ example and play in the wide channels. I think they suffered from wet ball psychology.
“Since 2002 there have been plenty of salutary lessons handed out to Scotland in Wales, but few have been more disappointing than this one for Scottish supporters. It’s always the hope that kills you.”