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Smart Ball insights from Round 1 of the Summer Nations Series

Smart Ball insights from Round 1 of the Summer Nations Series

Finn Russell

The first full round of the Summer Nations Series was played by all as one where there was a lot at stake, and once again the insights generated by the Smart Ball and presented by Sage have allowed us a deeper look into how the round of fixtures played out.

With the English squad for the Rugby World Cup named this week – and other nations’ imminent, we saw players battle desperately for a spot on their team’s plane to France.

This is not to dismiss the fact that rivalries between the constituent Six Nations run deep.

One such performance came from the brutal Jac Morgan, who set the tone for Wales’ victory over England with his impressive physicality.

Kicking still king

However, with a World Cup on the horizon, tactical pragmatism was what separated the teams at the weekend.

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Each of the three fixtures was won by the team who accumulated more kicking metres come the final whistle – a feature of competitive tournament rugby.

Scotland were especially impressive here. Led by Finn Russell – another new captain leading by example – Scotland racked up 979 kicking metres in total, 414 courtesy of their talismanic No. 10.

However, Russell is a prime example of the fact that pragmatism isn’t always avoiding risk, but can be about attacking space as effectively as possible.

With his team trailing significantly, Russell inspired teammates and supporters alike with his assist for Darcy Graham. Executing his skill under pressure, Russell needed just 0.7 seconds of reload time to deliver the 24.8 metre kick which delivered the returning Scottish wing over the whitewash.

Costelow and Casey show craft

Another player to deliver a moment of magic was Sam Costelow. A relative newbie at test level – he earned his third cap on Saturday – Costelow was similarly quick thinking, taking just 0.9 seconds to put boot to ball.

His crossfield kick travelled 43.5 metres, giving Aaron Wainwright – a player with plenty to prove having only made two Test appearances last year – 3.15 seconds to get under the ball. Wainwright linked skilfully with Jac Morgan, who fed Gareth Davies over the line with a 1.6 metre pop pass.

For Costelow, Wainwright, and Morgan, their ability to seize control of the match against England could well see them rise in the Welsh pecking order at just the right moment.

In the more conventional style of game management, Craig Casey was another ‘possible’ to put his hand up for selection. Cleverly using his boot, he created several opportunities for Ireland to apply pressure to the Italian team.

The 27-metre box kick that Casey dropped on Paolo Odogwu – making his first appearance for Italy after featuring in a number of England training squads – was in the air for 4.15 seconds, enough to force an Italian error and present Dave Kilcoyne with a try-scoring opportunity.

Plenty of positives for Italy

While they suffered a significant loss – albeit to the top-ranked side in the World – familiar faces in the Italian backline are combining in such a way that could see their attack become disruptive in the Summer Nations Series and beyond.

Paolo Garbisi and Tommaso Allan – a 73-cap international among Italy’s most experienced players – assisted Lorenzo Pani with two sharp passes. Allan’s pass to Garbisi travelled at 48kph, Garbisi’s to Pani, 39kph.

This playmaking axis will likely form the spine of the Italian backline, especially in the absence of Ange Capuozzo.

How they fare as they clock up more minutes together – they have only appeared simultaneously in ten tests over four years – could determine Italy’s success in their remaining 2023 fixtures.

Going into this weekend of games, for the majority of players the selection debate is still a primary concern. Not only will less experienced players feel the weight of the opportunities ahead of them, but with a round of fixtures played, there is the weight of expectation on many returning players.

The established players of England and France who appear this weekend will certainly be looking for redemption after disappointing losses for both sides in Round 1. Will this pressure enhance or inhibit performances this weekend and beyond?

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