Welcome to my Six Nations column for 2014. I hope you were able to watch the opening weekend of what I think is the greatest rugby tournament in the world. How could all those ancient rivalries not whet the appetite?
The match between England and France certainly lived up to my expectations. When France took the lead in the first few seconds, I had a horrible flashback to Cardiff last year. However, the English performance was just what was needed – full of desire, passion and skill that meant they could get themselves back into the game.
Overall, England put in a great performance and showed a massive amount of character. We pundits place a huge emphasis on character; rugby is a game than can brutally expose you when you’re lacking in this. So it made me proud so see the team come from 16-3 down to nearly win the game.
The stadium in Paris is a cauldron that can be intimidating for new caps. I was particularly pleased to see young Jack Nowell (a fellow Cornishman who grew up just 56 miles from where I was born) come out of the game with his pride intact. Fighting his way back from a difficult start, he showed enough potential to keep his place. It will be interesting to see who the coaches select to replace Jonny May on the other wing.
As a part of the front row fraternity, my eye was on the scrum, where England seemed to struggle. Having been on the receiving end of a French scrum, I know they are one of the most powerful teams to scrum against. As some of you who follow the game closely may know, there have been changes in the scrum law to try to prevent so many collapses. Dan Cole struggled slightly with these changes, but I am sure he will work on his technique and get that right with time.
Another player who caught my eye was young Billy Vunipola. He smashed his way up the field and gave nice little offloads and passes. In my day, you only ever had to worry about the first part!
There was some post-match criticism of England’s substitutions. However, with the loss of Jonny May early on and Jack Nowell leaving the pitch with cramp, the coaches had very few options.
As a reserve player, you train differently and require certain skills to come on as a sub. Believe me, it’s incredibly difficult! Fresh legs could have made the difference, and Stuart Lancaster knows those players better than we do. If he felt Danny Care had run himself ragged then it was a fair call to replace him with the experienced Lee Dickson.
Overall, England will be bitterly disappointed. However, from what I have seen, they will deal with it as a group and be prepared to take it out on Scotland next week.
The Scots will, of course, be relishing this. I can hear the sound of bagpipes already!