What we’ve learned

Five lessons from the past weekend's pre-season and Six Nations matches, according to SIMON BORCHARDT.

The Du Preez twins are ready for Super Rugby
The performances of Jean-Luc and Daniel, who started at blindside flank and No 8 respectively, were the biggest positives of the Sharks' 29-21 win against Toulon on Friday night. The 20-year-olds carried the ball strongly, scoring a try apiece, and defended well when the hosts dominated for large parts of the second half. Their father, former Springbok scrumhalf and now Sharks assistant coach Robert du Preez, has always insisted that Daniel is a No 8, and should not be competing with Jean-Luc for the No 7 jersey. And at the Stade Mayol the twins showed exactly what they can do when playing together in their preferred positions.

CJ Stander is big enough to be a Test flanker
When Stander was at the Bulls he was told by Heyneke Meyer that he was too short to play Test rugby as a loose forward and should consider moving to hooker. That contributed to the former SA U20 captain's decision to leave Pretoria for Munster, and three years and four months later he made his Test debut for his adopted nation, as a blindside flanker. And what a debut it was. Stander came out firing against Wales in Dublin on Sunday, making 23 ball carries, including six in the first 12 minutes. He came close to scoring a first-half try, when he was held up over the line, defended well when Wales were in the ascendency and forced two turnovers at the breakdown. It came as no surprise when Stander was named Man of the Match and he's sure to play a vital role for Ireland in the rest of the Six Nations.

Dylan Hartley strengthens England's scrum
England's scrum, a traditional strength, was a major weakness at last year's World Cup with the Wallabies smashing them up front during the pool game the hosts had to win to stay in the tournament. In the build-up to Saturday's Six Nations match at Murrayfield, new England coach Eddie Jones spoke of the importance of regaining that set-piece dominance. And the scrum went well for the visitors, with the presence of Hartley, a strong scrummaging hooker who wasn't selected for the World Cup, making all the difference. With Hartley on his inside, Dan Coles was able to stand his ground at tighthead prop and provide his side with a solid platform from which to attack.

Forwards should not attempt match-winning drop goals
With time up and France leading 23-21 in Paris, Italy won a scrum close to halfway and patiently worked their way up towards the opposition 22. Having failed to milk a penalty, the Azzurri focused on getting someone into a position to kick a drop goal. They did, but instead of replacement flyhalf Kelly Haimona having a go, the ball came back to No 8 Sergio Parisse, whose attempt went well wide of the posts. It was a moment of madness from the Italy captain, who had played superbly until then, and the look on his face when the final whistle blew said it all.

'French flair' is still missing
It was a case of new coach, same old story for France on Saturday. Guy Novès's men showed good attacking intent early on, only to revert to a conservative approach when they realised they could lose the game. Yes, Les Bleus outscored their opponents three tries to two, but they made just five clean breaks (the same as Italy) and gained 398m with ball in hand compared to the Azzurri's 420. 'I didn't think France could be any worse after the World Cup,' said former France flyhalf Thomas Castaignède after the match. 'I think I was wrong.'

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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Simon Borchardt