Five things we learned from the opening Six Nations weekend

Warren Gatland falls flat with Wales but late call up Conor Murray rises to the occasion with Ireland

Gatland needs more than just character

Thoughts before Ireland’s game against Wales focused on the influence Warren Gatland would have on a team he knew well. In a sense Gatland picked an ageing side but one that was in his own image. He selected players that he knew from the first time he was in charge. His ability to sprinkle magic dust over a side that had not been performing was the great unknown factor that grew and grew in the build-up to the game. The Warren factor became a piece of the prematch analysis. The former Lions coach, the Grand Slam winner with Wales and the man Welsh rugby had challenged to fix a broken national side that eluded the abilities of Wayne Pivac discovered that it doesn’t work that way. Wales need more than a character and old method to turn them around. Have they time?

Murray proves to be able replacement for Gibson-Park

Conor Murray showed that while he might be out of favour in Munster as a first team starter, his range at international level has not been diminished by an overload of bench hours. When Jamison Gibson-Park didn’t make it to the starting line because of injury, Murray’s short notice appointment in advance of Craig Casey insured the sharpness of his game would come under severe scrutiny. Champagne Corks popping then as the 33-year-old did not box kick the ball to death, leaving coach Andy Farrell secure that the game of the centurion scrumhalf is still robustly intact. If Gibson Park does not make it from sick bay before France arrive to Dublin on Saturday, Murray did plenty enough to know he will be the player facing possibly the best nine in the world, Antoine Dupont.

Solo try by Duhan van der Merwe stuns Twickenham

Duhan van der Merwe shrugged off his stereotypic image of man-mountain winger and pulled on his dancing shoes in Edinburgh. It is over 50 years since Scotland won three in a row against England. But the match will be remembered mostly for the winger’s first stunning solo effort, which saw him carve through the England defence with an incredible run. Van der Merwe collected the ball a few metres inside his own half and kicked forward, beating five England players with a balletic shift of footwork and balance before crossing the line to stun most of Twickenham into silence with one of the all-time great Six Nations tries. The cameo arrived just before the half-hour mark with and is surely an early contender for try of the tournament.

Should Byrne have seen more game time?

Ross Byrne arrived on the pitch at The Principality Stadium for Irish captain Johnny Sexton after 68 minutes and 17 seconds. But the combined wisdoms of television panellists Rob Kearney, Shane Horgan and Matt Williams were wondering what many others might also have been, and that was whether Byrne should have been given more time and not waited until Sexton suffered a dead leg so late in the game. There is little doubt Byrne will be selected next week as replacement outhalf against France but what Williams particularly believed was that Byrne could have been on the pitch 10 minutes sooner. The danger is Byrne may get “Joey Carbery syndrome” and suffer from the same frustrations of having to snatch morsels of matches here and there.


Ireland’s big start silences the Welsh crowd

Ireland knew it anyway. But it was worth reinforcing the point. To go to Cardiff and play in a hostile environment like the Principality Stadium, the first thing any team must try to accomplish is silence the home crowd. It’s easier said than done. But Andy Farrell’s Ireland were able to eliminate an unfavourable atmosphere that could have had a disabling effect had the team fallen behind and into the position of having to chase the match. Instead, Ireland hushed the wall of sound stone dead after two minutes when Caelan Doris muscled over for the first try. After nine minutes the second came from secondrow James Ryan and Wales were wondering where their energy had gone. It doesn’t always work that perfectly but the big start won Ireland a pay day in Wales.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times