Round four of the Guinness Six Nations produced wins for England, Wales and Ireland.
Here the PA news agency examines five things we learned from another fascinating instalment of the Championship.
Red rose shoots of recovery
Lose in Dublin and England will still equal their worst Six Nations performance, so heralding the end of a period of stagnation is premature, but they were magnificent against France. There were welcome shades of the 2019 World Cup as they matched ferocity with ingenuity and in that kind of mood, even Fabien Galthie’s vaunted tournament favourites are left in the slipstream. It was a reminder that England have it within them to be an outstanding side, making their failed title defence all the harder to accept.
‘Le Crunch’ delivers like no other
Eddie Jones sees a thrilling rivalry running throughout the build-up to the 2023 World Cup and he is right. Is there a better match-up than England v France at the moment? Probably not. Wales could storm Paris and be crowned Grand Slam winners and this Six Nations has delivered some enthralling contests, but ‘Le Crunch’ has an intensity all of its own. Since February last year when France tore into their greatest foes, three fascinating meetings have seen the heavyweights go toe-to-toe. Two giant packs and backlines bristling with attacking threats, it is a clash to showcase the sport at its best.
Free-to-air must stay
And as such it is a fixture that must remain on terrestrial TV. The current free-to-air broadcast deal expires with this Championship and Six Nations chiefs are courting pay channels with Amazon Prime, Sky Sports and BT Sport circling. Viewing figures so far in 2021 have been huge, offering a reminder that BBC and ITV provide the best possible platform to project the Championship and the wider game. Restricting access to captivating spectacles like England v France would dent reach at a time when rugby is fighting for relevance against other sports and entertainment. Revenue must be maximised so tournament chiefs face a difficult decision in the coming weeks, with a hybrid model the likely outcome, but the mass audiences seen recently have been well timed.
Louis racing towards Lions selection
Louis Rees-Zammit only turned 20 last month and has played just eight games for Wales, but his startling impact on international rugby shows no sign of slowing up. He has already scored five Test tries – the latest being a balletic leap, catch, turn and 70-metre sprint in Wales’ 48-7 rout of Italy – including four touchdowns during this season’s Six Nations. At the Gloucester wing’s current rate of progress, it would be no surprise to see him scorch straight into Warren Gatland’s Lions Test XV against South Africa this summer.
Another false dawn
The dizzying Calcutta Cup triumph on the opening weekend set the Six Nations alight, but as evidence of a Scottish resurgence it was another false prophet. Followed up with defeats to Wales and Ireland and their title challenge has gone the way of England’s. A roller-coaster 27-24 loss to the Irish exposed shortcomings in discipline and the line-out and, with France to come as one of their two remaining opponents, they could be looking at a lowly finish.