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The big talking points from Round One of Six Nations

SPOTLIGHT: Ireland launched their bid for successive Grand Slams with an impressive triumph away to France, sparking an exciting first round of Six Nations action as England edged out Italy and Scotland survived a thrilling fightback by Wales to end along wait for a win in Cardiff.

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AFP Sport looks at some of the key talking points that emerged from the opening weekend and their implications for the rest of the Championship.

Crowley a worthy successor to Sexton

Ireland were unable to rely on Johnny Sexton to dictate play following the veteran flyhalf’s international retirement, but a hostile atmosphere in Marseille did not faze his heir to the No.10 green shirt, Jack Crowley.

Crowley had a relatively easy ride behind a dominant pack, who benefitted from the 32nd-minute sending-off of France lock Paul Willemse but displayed a coolness that bodes well for Ireland’s prospects.

The Munster flyhalf converted all five tries, and kicked a penalty, as Ireland won 38-17 in a match billed as the World Cup Final that should have been, after both teams suffered agonising elimination at the quarterfinal stage.

“It wasn’t all singing, all dancing. But we were pretty ruthless when we needed to be,” said Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

England a work in progress

England boss Steve Borthwick said his side have plenty to work on for their upcoming clash with Wales at Twickenham after being taken all the way by Italy in Saturday’s tight 27-24 win in Rome.

Three points is England’s narrowest margin of victory in their 31 consecutive wins over Italy. An inexperienced team with a host of new faces were left with food for thought as they try to win the Six Nations for the first time since 2020.

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England, with Jamie George making his debut as captain in the absence of the influential Owen Farrell, were at times sloppy in defence and exposed by some flamboyant Italian ball handling.

Italy now have the daunting task of playing Ireland in Dublin, but their performance against England suggested they could end their miserable run of eight consecutive wooden spoons in the Six Nations.

Paying the penalty

Red cards arising from World Rugby’s crackdown on head-high contact have sparked much debate within the game. But Scotland’s stunning 27-26 win over Wales – their first victory in Cardiff in 22 years – was a reminder of how lesser infringements can change the course of a match.

Scotland were cruising at 27-0 ahead early in the second half before they were left floundering by the yellow cards for George Turner and Sione Tuipulotu.

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The penalty conceded by Wales wing Josh Adams when he threw the ball away to prevent a quick Scotland line-out, which Dark Blues skipper Finn Russell punished, was a needless offence.

“The Josh Adams one [penalty] was dumb,” fumed Wales coach Warren Gatland.

“What’s the difference in the game? It’s Josh Adams throwing the ball over the touchline and being penalised for three points.”

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