ESPN's Six Nations rugby review: Player of the weekend, flop & more

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The Six Nations kicked off with a bang over the weekend as England, Ireland and Wales secured opening-round victories.

Scotland's expected championship challenge fell flat, while there was late drama in Paris and a fitting finale in Rome. But who caught the eye and who had a weekend to forget?

Player of the weekend

Johnny Sexton (Ireland). There can be few better examples in the history of international rugby union of a player's ability to manage a situation and get their team over the line. Sexton's wonderful, wobbling, long-range drop-goal rightly hogged the headlines Sunday morning, and again on Monday, but there was more to the fly-half's contribution than his final flourish. Ireland's impressive 41-phase drive would not have made the required yardage had their talisman not backed himself while the attack threatened to become mired around halfway. Sexton produced a wonderful crossfield kick that Keith Earls gathered on the right wing. It took Ireland into French territory and helped give them the field position Sexton would eventually exploit following another round of pick-and-goes.

Flop of the weekend

Scotland. It is the hope that kills Scottish rugby fans. The hordes of dark blue-shirted supporters who descended on Cardiff on Friday night with hopes of a Grand Slam challenge, departed Sunday morning with those dreams strewn in tatters along Westgate Street. In between they had witnessed a fairly meek surrender from their team. While Wales played with cohesion and invention, Scotland's attacks were too lateral, their defence too amenable as they failed to take hold of the game as they had promised was possible.

Coaching call of the weekend

Warren Gatland's decision to base his opening Wales selection on the in-form Scarlets side paid immediate dividends at the Principality Stadium as Scotland were put to the sword. Bar an opening hiccup from Gareth Davies, as the scrum-half booted out on the full as his side received the kick off, the hosts were impeccable as they secured a bonus-point victory. Davies' regional halfback partner Rhys Patchell was superb as the pair helped transport the Scarlets' all-court approach onto the Six Nations stage. Steff Evans, Hadleigh Parkes and Aaron Shingler all shone too, while the decision to start Josh Navidi ahead of Justin Tipuric was vindicated as the Blues flanker made 15 tackles in an uncompromising performance. Victory lifted Wales above Scotland in the world rankings and has their fans dreaming of a win over England at Twickenham Saturday.

Biggest refereeing/TMO call

Nigel Owens (France vs. Ireland). The circumstances that led to first Matthieu Jalibert and later Antoine Dupont depart the Stade de France pitch for head injury assessments (HIA) despite suffering apparent knee injuries have been poured over in the wake of Ireland's dramatic win. Both remain the subject of an investigation, having been referred to World Rugby's HIA review process. However, while the motives of the French medical staff should come into question -- Dupont departing for a HIA rather than a knee injury with time running out allowed Maxime Machenaud to return to the field -- the integrity of Owens should not. The referee was clearly acting on the advice of a medical professional and If he thought there could have been a head injury, he was right to take a safety-first approach to his well-being.

Storyline to keep an eye on

The fallout from Dupont's HIA looks set to rumble on, and if France are reprimanded for failing to follow HIA protocols for a second time in less than a year it would seem likely that a serious reprimand would follow. Especially given the echoes between this case and the 'Bloodgate' scandal that cost Dean Richards his job at Harlequins and a three-year coaching ban in 2009. But what the furore should not be allowed to mask is the fact that France lost two key, young players on a weekend of mounting injuries. England will be without Ben Youngs for four months, while Ireland lost Josh van der Flier for the tournament and Byron McGuigan handed Scotland a fitness blow. It is becoming increasingly difficult for international teams to keep their best players on the pitch.