Six Nations talking points

Head coach Gregor Townsend played 82 Tests for Scotland between 1993-2003
Head coach Gregor Townsend played 82 Tests for Scotland between 1993-2003 Geoff Caddick POOL/AFP/File
4 min
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London (AFP)

Scotland head into this weekend's second round of the Six Nations buoyed by a historic win at Twickenham, while England face some searching questions as they host Italy.

Meanwhile Ireland, who only lost narrowly to Wales despite playing more than an hour of the match with 14 men, go into Sunday's match with in-form France amid a fresh debate about the health of captain Johnny Sexton.

Below AFP Sport looks at three talking points heading into an intriguing set of fixtures:

Can Scotland back up against Wales?

How they answer this question will tell us a lot about a Scotland side who launched their Six Nations campaign with an 11-6 win over England.

Gregor Townsend's men were full value for their first Twickenham triumph in 38 years, outplaying the champions in all departments.

But they now find themselves in the relatively unusual position of being favourites although the lack of a home crowd at Murrayfield because of coronavirus restrictions makes Saturday's match with Wales more of a 'neutral venue' game.

"We now have an opportunity that we've seldom had in the Six Nations –- to build on a week one victory," said head coach Townsend after what was just Scotland's fifth win at Twickenham in their entire history.

"It's a quick turnaround and we'll be well prepared for Wales."

England style trial

When England captain Owen Farrell squandered a four-man overlap early in the second half against Scotland, many thought it summed up what was wrong with their approach -- an inability to adapt against a team who can stand up to their forward-dominated, kicking game.

But with Farrell being both skipper and fly-half, there are few among his England team-mates with the on-field authority to suggest he change course if 'plan A' isn't working.

It promises to be difficult to assess the worth of England's approach, be it their familiar style or a more expansive game, should Saturday see them continue their all-time unbeaten run against an Italy side who have suffered 28 successive Six Nations defeats.

England coach Eddie Jones was understandably supportive of Farrell, saying: "He's an outstanding player and, like any outstanding player, they can have a game where they're not at their best. Is that a reason to drop the player? I wouldn't think so."

Sexton in the spotlight

Johnny Sexton's fitness is once again a hot topic after the Ireland playmaker suffered a knock to the head during last weekend's 21-16 loss to Wales.

Sexton, who left the field at Cardiff's Principality Stadium, is now going through return to play protocols and could well, as has happened before during his 96-cap Ireland career, play again the following week.

The fly-half, however, was angry with suggestions from Jean-Francois Chermann, a neurologist who recommended he be stood down from rugby for 12 weeks due to repeated brain injuries when playing for Paris-based Racing 92 in 2014, that he might be risking his health by facing France on Sunday.

"I cannot get over the fact that someone thought it appropriate to say things about me that are not even accurate," said Sexton.

In 2011 the then International Rugby Board (IRB), now World Rugby, changed the game's concussion protocol from a mandatory three-week rest period to a graduated return to play at Test level that could be as short as six days.

In 2013, this was supplemented by a five-minute pitchside head injury assessment procedure -- a move that prompted Dr Barry O'Driscoll, a cousin of Ireland great Brian, to resign from the IRB medical committee.

World Rugby, however, insist they are not exposing players to undue risk, with their chief medical officer Eanna Falvey telling AFP "our processes and protocols are regarded as leaders in sport".