It seems a long time ago that this year’s Guinness Six Nations fixtures were announced way back in June 2020. However, for supporters of the Home Nations and those of France and Italy, the wait for the first round is nearly over.
Italy and France have the honour of kicking off this year’s Championship in the first of the two Six Nations fixtures to be held on Saturday, 6 February.
Following on from the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy encounter is the always eagerly-awaited Calcutta Cup meeting between England and Scotland at Twickenham.
And on Sunday, 7 February, Wales and Ireland complete the opening set of Six Nations fixtures in the 22nd edition of the championship at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
A Grand Slam is a special achievement and something that has been achieved 11 times in the Guinness Six Nations. @WelshRugbyUnion— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 13, 2021
🏆 2018 pic.twitter.com/9Y5D91hW6i
Little margin for error
Momentum is normally everything in a championship played over a relatively short time frame.
Squeezed into a six-week schedule, the Six Nations is an unforgiving competition and defeat on the opening weekend leaves teams facing an uphill task in the pursuit of silverware.
But last year England defied tradition by putting their opening day 24-17 defeat to France behind them and going on to lift the trophy. Not since Wales in 2013 had a team achieved such a turnaround.
That loss in Paris was only England’s fourth on the opening weekend of the Six Nations, the others coming in 2014, against Les Bleus again, and in 2005 and 2008 when Wales got the better of them.
Calcutta Cup on the line
This will be the fourth time in 10 years that the Calcutta Cup has been decided on the opening weekend.
The last time the Calcutta Cup took place in round one was at Murrayfield in 2016. On that occasion, George Kruis’ try proved the difference as England marked Eddie Jones’ first game in charge with a scrappy 15-9 win.
Three years earlier, at Twickenham, England beat Scotland 38-18 to win rugby’s oldest trophy, thanks to a man-of-the-match performance from Owen Farrell, while Stuart Lancaster’s new-look side celebrated a hard-fought 13-6 win in 2012.
In contrast to England, Scotland have managed just three wins out of 21 in round one. The last of those victories was in 2019 when a brilliant Blair Kinghorn hat-trick helped them to a 33-20 victory against Italy.
Within the first four years of their involvement in the Six Nations, Italy’s win/loss record on the opening weekend was split, 50:50. However, since then they have managed just one win at that stage of the competition, in 2013, when they recorded a famous 23-18 win over France.
Looking at Ireland and France’s record in the opening round of Six Nations fixtures, both teams have 14 wins to their name. But Ireland have lost one game fewer courtesy of their 16-16 draw with Wales in 2016 – the only round one match in the history of the championship that has ended all-square.
Wales warm to the task
Wales have improved their opening day record over the last decade, winning six and drawing one of their last 10 opening day Six Nations fixtures. Before that, it was just four wins from 11 despite the Grand Slam years of 2005 and 2008 falling within that period.
Last year’s 42-0 win over Italy on the first weekend of February – the only Six Nations fixture on the opening weekend where a team has failed to score – extended Wales’ unbeaten round one record to five matches dating back to a 21-16 home defeat to an injury-hit England.
How Wayne Pivac and the whole of Wales would love that run to continue against Ireland in three weeks’ time.
Ireland prevailed 19-12 against Scotland in their first hit-out of 2020, Johnny Sexton leading from the front with all of his side’s points, but have not enjoyed consecutive opening day wins since 2014 and 2015.
It was against Wales, however, that Ireland recorded the biggest win on the opening weekend of the Six Nations – 54-10 in 2002, giving Eddie O’Sullivan the perfect start to his reign as head coach.
Six Nations opening round records