The second round of NatWest 6 Nations continued the trend of exciting action.
Ireland let loose against an Italian side barely treading water, while England banded together in defence to shut down a defiant Welsh attack.
On Sunday, Scotland took advantage of home comforts with a win against a weary French side, which was desperately needed after an abrupt introduction to 6 Nations rugby for Gregor Townsend.
Here, we look each nation’s coach and the effect they had on last weekend’s round of games.
Ireland – Attacking ambition all well and good when it’s a foregone conclusion
At the Aviva Stadium against the Azzurri, Ireland let loose.
Head coach Joe Schmidt emphasised Ireland’s need to delegate attacking responsibility throughout the squad, rather than relying on entirely on Jonathan Sexton.
With this in mind, Ireland’s game incorporated Conor Murray’s play-making skills into their attack, with the Munster scrum-half almost acting as the petite général for Joe Schmidt’s side.
Murray stood in to run numerous loop plays and offered a different element to Ireland’s renowned wrap-around move.
Despite Ireland running in eight scores against Conor O’Shea’s side, the ambitions shown at the Aviva Stadium means nothing if it isn’t brought with them for Ireland’s next game.
If previous fixtures are anything to go by, this fixture will do nothing to alter the mindset of Ireland’s Joe Schmidt.
It’s unrealistic to ask this Irish side to play as such against the stronger options in the tournament and the Irish management know this, citing Scotland’s woeful performance against Wales in the opening round as proof.
The annual fixture against the Azzurri is nothing more than a token to be cashed in once the critics begin to lament Ireland’s structured approach.
Yet, you can only play what’s in front of you. The return of Devin Toner saw the Irish lineout return to the peak of its powers.
The Leinster second row is a master in this area and proved his worth with a dominant display come line
Schmidt and co. evidently gave Bundee Aki more room to express his natural self against Italy and the Connacht centre flourished with the added freedom.
Schmidt’s ability to implement such different approaches in such short periods of time is what makes him one of the most proficient coaches in world rugby.
One thing for sure is that the Irish management won’t get carried away by the exciting performance, knowing themselves there is comfort in the foregone conclusion of facing Italy.
Expect Ireland to return to their usual approach in the next round.
Italy – Mike Catt’s influence comes to the fore
Yes, this Italy team is poor but their place in the tournament is still secure and while their flaws are forever under scrutiny, there are aspects that O’Shea can build on.
For a back line to spread the ball, although inconsistently, as well as they did on the back of poor platform is quite impressive.
Under Giampiero de Carli, who retained his position as forwards coach under Conor O’Shea, the Italian pack has taken significant steps in the wrong direction.
The combination of two flankers in the second row is a Test away from being a closed case.
The Azzurri scrum was once a force to fear in international rugby but under de Carli, it has waned measurably.
Under Mike Catt, through Tommaso Allan, Italy have a play-maker who can spread the ball to Italy’s danger men on the wings but if the Italian pack can’t secure any kind of solid ball, then Italy’s back line will continue to start on the back foot.
Although defensively clueless, Tommaso Boni is ever so close to clicking in attack.
Against Ireland, the centre does all the hard work before making errors such as poor passes, over-running lines and in his decision making.
Conor O’Shea seems to be putting his faith in the youngster due to his attacking ambition and it’s close to coming to fruition but if Boni fails to repay the faith in his coach then he will be left with serious questions to answer.
In order to benefit from Mike Catt’s approach, de Carli’s forwards need to increase their intensity.
England – Eddie Jones war of words works
Ahead of England’s game against the Welsh, Eddie Jones addressed the fact that Wales were travelling to Twickenham with their most inexperienced fly-half starting the game.
Against England, Rhys Patchell looked just that, inexperienced. The England coach ensured the Welsh number 10 felt as such, with Ford, Robshaw and Farrell all putting significant pressure on the Scarlets fly-half.
The Grand Slam winning coach backs his gut instincts and the continued selection of Mike Brown appears to be one of those gut decisions.
Watson is electric at full-back and with Brown having a quiet season many were calling for the Bath player to take the 15 jersey but Brown’s performance against Wales repaid his coach’s faith two times over.
There are few teams in world rugby who could have done better to prevent England’s first score.
A terrific grubber kick coupled with Jonny May’s blistering pace resulted in a score that for all intents and purposes should never have been possible.
Under Jones, Farrell is given licence to take advantage of May’s incredible pace.
Once again, Paul Gustard’s credentials as one of the best defensive coaches in the world have been backed up by a superb effort from England.
At times, Wales played with pace and ambition but ultimately intense pressure from England forced Warren Gatland’s side into mistakes.
Wales – Evolution still underway
As forwards coach, Robin McBryde is working with a new lease of life under Wales’ new gameplan.
Injuries have offered certain players such as Aaron Shingler an opportunity that otherwise may never have arisen.
The handling skills within Wales’ forward pack is incredible with deft touches and offloads becoming the norm.
Alun Wyn-Jones is just one player revelling in the new approach, with Warren Gatland showing a new level of confidence in his players.
The fact that Wales lost means the evolution is still underway.
Gatland will be left ruing a TMO decision that would have given his side the injection of confidence they needed to eradicate their error count.
Scott Williams’ chance in the corner could have made the final result a different story but ultimately, Warren Gatland’s side were nullified by an aggressive English line speed that was obviously coming.
Howley and Gatland’s inability to formulate a strategy to combat that aggression will be worrying, with Gregor Townsend’s Scotland perhaps flattering Wales with the amount of space they gifted them.
Scotland – A weary French side buys Townsend time
Scotland’s win was vital after a deflating performance against Wales.
Against France, Townsend implemented a far more direct running game, with Huw Jones looking dangerous in his natural 13 jersey.
Last weekend’s selection appeared to be far more complimentary than the team that ran out at the Principality Stadium.
Horne provided confidence to Finn Russell and Grant Gilchrist looks like twice the player of Ben Toolis.
The former Scottish captain couples the basics of a second-rower with a level of agility rarely seen of a man his size.
Townsend’s introduction to 6 Nations rugby was brutal but the Scottish coach was determined not to suffer the same fate twice and ensured his players ran the ball with far more intensity.
The decision to remove Russell in the final quarter was the right decision with the 25-year-old making unforgivable mistakes.
The differences in Laidlaw and Ali Price’s game are obvious but the decision to back Laidlaw, who brings such solidity, could be the missing piece in Townsend’s overall philosophy.
France, who showed the effects of their heroic display against Ireland, gifted the game to Scotland with a string of silly penalties.
However, Scotland played at a level of pace that accelerated Frances demise and the belief they showed in their approach will be positive for Townsend going forward.
France – Brunel leaves it too late to make changes
After such an attritional game against Ireland, perhaps some changes should have been made the team.
However, Brunel’s desire to avoid the failings of previous coaches who made wholesale changes resulted in him favouring continuity.
Initially, the familiarity paid dividends with the French looking dangerous in the first half.
Lionel Beauxis looked comfortable in the No.10 jersey, with a strong passing display and solid defence.
However, Brunel and his coaching team left it too late in the second half to introduce their bench.
By the time the replacements made it on to the field, France has already lost their foothold in the game and the replacements were introduced to a team going backwards.
In the first half, France continued on from their performance against Ireland, with the players looking far more aware and competent but as the legs began to tire, so too did their concentration levels.
For the first time in France’s history, Brunel will have control over his squad for the week’s break in games, allowing him further time to work with his players while also allowing them to rest.
Despite two disappointing results, Brunel’s side can re-enter the championship with a new lease of life.
Billy Keenan, Pundit Arena