This was one of the most exciting Six Nations tournaments of recent years, with the title going right down to the wire on the last day. After last year’s rather boring tournament, this year we were treated to some top quality rugby, with the weather helping improve the quality of play toward the latter end of the tournament.
This year wasn’t the easiest to predict – few would have fancied Ireland, and at the start of the tournament fourth place would have seemed maybe a tad pessimistic for France even though these are dark days for Les Bleus. But that only added to the excitement. It is probably fair to say that we were treated to the best game at the very end between France and Ireland, but there were several other classics along the way.
Let’s take a look at how each team faired…
A fitting send off for the legend that is BOD. He deserved more than two Six Nations titles, but no one will argue that Brian O’Driscoll finished in style after Ireland won their first title since 2009. Joe Schmidt has managed to turn this Ireland unit’s fortunes around quite a bit after last year’s sub-standard fifth place finish. Even though this side is largely the same as last year’s Schmidt has managed to breed confidence amongst the seasoned veterans. Added to this, Jonny Sexton and Andrew Trimble, who still have many years still to go in the tank, were magnificent throughout, Sexton marshalling the backs with consummate ease whilst Trimble put his poor scoring form of yester-year to bed.
This side is going to need a bit of re-shaping as some of the bigger names head toward the latter end of their career, but right now they are a real European force and deserved champions after holding of a late French onslaught.
This current outfit is really going somewhere. Mike Brown thoroughly deserved Player of the Tournament and epitomises everything that this England team is about – ambition, confidence, and a little bit of fun along the way. Danny Care has made the number 9 shirt his own and Owen Farrell is maturing into the player I never thought he would be. The second-rows of Launchbury and Lawes are immense, Chris Robshaw is the best England captain we’ve seen for years (probably since Martin Johnson, though maybe that is jumping he gun a little bit), and they are finally starting to look decent in the centres. And all this is with a team that looked under-strength at the start of the tournament due to injuries. How Manu Tuilagi, Tom Croft, Brad Barritt and Geoff Parling are going to fit back in I have no real idea, but these are all the kind of selection conundrums that Stuart Lancaster will want.
The only downer is that had they not thrown away the game against France, this really could have (and should have) been England’s Grand Slam. New Zealand this summer will be interesting, but if this young side keep going at his rate, next year’s title should be their’s to lose.
Post-Lions fatigue can definitely be considered as a factor in Wales’ poor tournament when one looks at the wealth of talent they have on paper. But that only tells half the story. Poor decision-making and tactics were as much a part of the Welsh downfall as their summer hangover, as the games against Ireland and England clearly showed. Warren Gatland’s team kicked incredibly poorly in both away matches and they rightly deserved the respective thumpings that they received. One cannot really blame any of this on injuries; Leigh Halfpenny was injured late against England, by which time they were pretty much out of the running for the title.
Make no mistake – this is not a bad side. But they really do need to sort their game plan out. They also need to find a better fly-half, because at the moment Rhys Priestland is poor and Dan Biggar is average at best.
In my tournament review last year I described France as a ‘mess’, and to be honest they still are a complete mess. Phillipe Saint Andre can’t have much time left on the clock after another dismal campaign. Last year I said that he should be sacked, and I still think he should be sacked. Even though the World Cup is a year and a half away, I still think France need to be rid of him. In three Six Nations championships he has failed to finish above fourth. That is sub-standard at best.
France lack passion, creativity, flare, and everything that used to make them world beaters. They were lucky to escape with a win against England, but the performance against Wales in particular highlighted the many reasons why this France side are not up to scratch. When you have big game players like Matthieu Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana in your side, you should really be winning the title, not finishing in the bottom half.
A side that is no where at the moment. Scotland have gone backwards over the last year and are now failing to produce the kind of consistent performances that they looked like they were starting to put together. Knowing that Scott Johnson isn’t going to be around much longer hasn’t helped them, and he is a large factor in their downfall. Quite why you drop your captain Kelly Brown is beyond me.
I don’t really know what the solution is with Scotland. Unfortunately they lack quality, and I can’t see their new head coach sorting them out any time soon, particularly when their domestic game is in the state it is in. Shame they can’t use all those South Africans that play for Edinburgh.
Sadly the monotonous annual Italy-Scotland wooden spoon deadlock that was broken last year (thanks France and Ireland, we appreciated your efforts) has returned. Whilst at the top end the championship was one of the most exciting of recent years, the bottom was rather dull.
With Italy, the same players stepped up again. Once again, Sergio Parisse was far better than the majority of his team put together, whilst Martin Castrogiovanni was his usual industrious self. Quite what Italy will do when these guys retire I have no idea.