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Six Nations delivers strong message

Date

Paul Cully

There a couple of ways of looking at the opening weekend of the Six Nations. First, you can pick out some individual performances, and there were several that elevated themselves above the crowd. Second, you can evaluate the quality of the rugby as a whole. There was ambition, pace and width. This was a good weekend for Six Nations rugby and, by extension, the British and Irish Lions. Coach Warren Gatland sleeps a little easier.

Gatland was in the crowd for the Wales-Ireland game in Cardiff, and he would have liked much of what he saw, even if more wounds were inflicted on the side he helped to build. The stagnation of some of Wales' big names continues. Halfback Mike Phillips, now playing in the set-piece dominated French league, simply does not look fit enough.

Of the men in green, three auditions for the Lions were put forward most forcefully. They might play in vastly different positions, but outside-centre Brian O'Driscoll, loose-head prop Cian Healy and openside Sean O'Brien have something crucial in common: superb body position.

All built naturally low to the ground, they use this gift to outstanding effect: O'Driscoll to move swiftly over the ground and bewilder defenders with the mere threat of being able to change direction quickly; O'Brien to chop down attackers and bounce back up to meet the next challenge, and; Healy to give power to the scrum and carry the ball with bruising regularity around the fringes.

Healy is working under the set-piece tutelage of Greg Feek, the former All Blacks prop who played under Robbie Deans at the Crusaders and now coaches the Irish scrum. At times Deans must wonder ruefully if he passed on a little too much knowledge to his former players.

There can be no better selling point for this trio than that they are exactly the sort of players the Wallabies have recently struggled against: aggressive, relentless and direct. O'Brien must get tired of being told he is not a natural openside but Richie McCaw showed last year there is more to the role than foraging.

Besides, O'Brien is no mug on the ground, being strong over the ball. It is just that his other attributes overshadow this part of the game. In recent outings for provincial side Leinster, it appeared he was being paid on commission, such was the frequency with which he carried the ball. He repeated that against Wales. He gives Gatland another option to the struggling Sam Warburton and England captain Chris Robshaw.

It was interesting to note an observation from Fairfax colleague Matt Burke last week on the importance of combinations for the Lions. Put O'Brien together with Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip and the destructive Ulster blindside Stephen Ferris – who is not far off a comeback following a serious ankle injury – and you have a potential Lions back row bristling with menace and knowledge of each other's games.

England were highly admirable against a surprisingly timid Scots team, whose back three – with New Zealander Sean Maitland scoring on debut – provided the only highlights.

England five-eighth Owen Farrell played the conductor's role with aplomb, albeit behind a completely dominant pack. Farrell has the reputation of maturity beyond his years, although critics have held reservations about his ability to play attacking rugby. He put at least some of that to one side with a wonderful, looping, right-to-left 20-metre pass to second-rower Geoff Parling to set up a try in the 54th minute. Farrell was playing with his head up, and that is not as easy as it sounds in the Test arena.

"They [England] used the ball a lot like a southern hemisphere team," Maitland said afterwards, in a message that will be heard in Sydney.

The adventure England showed against New Zealand last year – and Ireland against South Africa and Argentina – has clearly continued, and the Wallabies must take note.

CULLY'S LIONS XI

Each week of the Six Nations Championship, Paul Cully will select the best-performing team of 15 players from Lions-eligible nations.

ROUND ONE

1. Cian Healy (Ireland)

2. Rory Best (Ireland)

3. Dan Cole (England)

4. Joe Launchbury (England)

5. Donnacha Ryan (Ireland)

6. Tom Wood (England)

7. Sean O'Brien (Ireland)

8. Jamie Heaslip (Ireland)

9. Ben Youngs (England)

10. Owen Farrell (England)

11. Simon Zebo (Ireland)

12. Billy Twelvetrees (England)

13. Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland)

14. Chris Ashton (England)

15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)

Twitter: @whiskeycully

Super Rugby 2015

Round 1
Fri, 13 FebTimes shown AEDT
CRU 10 vs REB 20 Report Stats
BRU 47 vs RED 3 Stats
Sat, 14 FebTimes shown AEDT
LIO 8 vs HUR 22 Stats
BLU 18 vs CHF 23 Report Stats
Sun, 15 FebTimes shown AEDT
SHA 29 vs CHT 35 Stats
BUL 17 vs STO 29 Stats
WAR 13 vs FOR 25 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 20 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHF 19 vs BRU 17 Stats
REB 28 vs WAR 38 Stats
Sat, 21 FebTimes shown AEDT
BUL 13 vs HUR 17 Stats
HIG 20 vs CRU 26 Stats
RED 18 vs FOR 6 Stats
Sun, 22 FebTimes shown AEDT
STO 27 vs BLU 16 Stats
SHA 29 vs LIO 12 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
HIG 20 vs RED 13 Stats
FOR 13 vs HUR 42 Stats
Sat, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 25 vs BLU 24 Stats
CHF 40 vs CRU 16 Stats
REB 15 vs BRU 20 Stats
Sun, 01 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 43 vs SHA 35 Stats
LIO vs STO 04:10Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF vs HIG 17:35WS
BRU vs FOR 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
BLU vs LIO 17:35QBE Stadium
RED vs WAR 19:40SS
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT vs BUL 02:05FSS
STO vs SHA 04:10DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR vs BLU 17:35FMG Stadium
FOR vs REB 22:00nib Stadium
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU vs LIO 14:30AMI
HIG vs WAR 17:35FBS
RED vs BRU 19:40SS
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
STO vs CHF 00:00DHL Newlands
CHT vs SHA 02:05FSS
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG vs HUR 17:35FBS
REB vs LIO 19:40AAMI
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU vs CHT 17:35AMI
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL vs FOR 02:05Loftus Versfeld
SHA vs CHF 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
WAR vs BRU 16:05AS
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR vs REB 17:35WS
RED vs LIO 20:00SS
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF vs CHT 14:30WS
HIG vs STO 17:35FBS
WAR vs BLU 19:40AS
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
SHA vs FOR 02:05Growthpoint Kings Park
BUL vs CRU 04:10Loftus Versfeld
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
HUR vs STO 18:35WS
REB vs RED 20:40AAMI
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
CHF vs BLU 18:35WS
BRU vs CHT 20:40GIO Stadium
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
SHA vs CRU 01:00Growthpoint Kings Park
LIO vs BUL 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BLU vs BRU 18:35EP
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs HIG 18:35AMI
WAR vs STO 20:40AS
FOR vs CHT 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
BUL vs RED 00:00Loftus Versfeld
LIO vs SHA 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs CHF 18:35AMI
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
HUR vs WAR 15:30WS
HIG vs BLU 18:35FBS
BRU vs REB 20:40GIO Stadium
FOR vs STO 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
SHA vs BUL 02:05Growthpoint Kings Park
CHT vs RED 04:10FSS
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF vs FOR 18:35WS
BRU vs HIG 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs BLU 18:35AMI
WAR vs REB 20:40ANZ
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO vs CHT 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
STO vs BUL 04:10DHL Newlands
RED vs HUR 17:05SS
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG vs SHA 18:35FBS
BRU vs WAR 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs FOR 16:30EP
HUR vs CRU 18:35WS
REB vs CHF 20:40AAMI
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT vs STO 02:05FSS
BUL vs LIO 04:10Loftus Versfeld
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU vs RED 18:35AMI
REB vs BLU 20:40AAMI
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR vs SHA 18:35WS
FOR vs WAR 20:40nib Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO vs HIG 00:00Emirates Airlines Park
STO vs BRU 02:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs BUL 18:35EP
RED vs REB 20:40SS
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR vs CHF 18:35WS
WAR vs SHA 20:40AS
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO vs BRU 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
CHT vs HIG 04:10FSS
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
CHF vs BUL 18:35Rotorua International Stadium
RED vs SHA 20:40SS
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs HUR 18:35Emirates Airlines Park
WAR vs CRU 20:40ANZ
FOR vs HIG 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT vs LIO 02:05FSS
STO vs REB 04:10DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU vs HUR 18:35Trafalgar Park
BRU vs BUL 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
SHA vs REB 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
HIG vs CHF 18:35Rugby Park
FOR vs RED 20:40nib Stadium
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
STO vs CHT 02:05DHL Newlands
LIO vs WAR 04:10Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR vs HIG 18:35McLean Park
FOR vs BRU 22:00nib Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
REB vs BUL 16:30AAMI
BLU vs CRU 18:35EP
RED vs CHF 20:40SS
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
CHT vs WAR 00:00FSS
STO vs LIO 02:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
BLU vs HIG 18:35EP
REB vs FOR 20:40AAMI
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
BRU vs CRU 16:30GIO Stadium
CHF vs HUR 18:35Yarrow Stadium
WAR vs RED 20:40AS
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
BUL vs CHT 02:05Loftus Versfeld
SHA vs STO 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Brumbies 3 2 1 0 47 10
Cheetahs 2 2 0 0 7 9
Hurricanes 3 3 0 0 47 13
Chiefs 3 3 0 0 31 13
Rebels 3 1 2 0 -5 6
Stormers 2 2 0 0 23 8
Highlanders 2 1 1 0 1 5
Sharks 3 1 2 0 3 6
View all
 
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