So now that the dust has settled on the annual Northern Hemisphere meeting of the Six Nations, I’m going to take a look back at each of the sides, how their tournament went and what lies ahead for them in the summer.
England ultimately silenced their critics. Being the first host nation to ever duck out of your own World Cup at the pool stages is not something to be proud of, which caused the RFU to do away with Stuart Lancaster and replace him with the coach who took on England in the Rugby World Cup final 2003 and led Japan to their famous victory against South Africa at last year’s Rugby World Cup, Eddie Jones. In the first games of the Jones era England looked flat on quite a few occasions. However, on others they looked an exciting side to watch, unfortunately they struggled at times to finish off their moves to get over the line.
The main difference to the Lancaster era, is that after finishing second on a number of occasions in the past, they finally won and did so with a grand slam. As many have highlighted, this is just the start. England are a young team, who have experienced a lot already and Jones could potentially make England into World beaters once again. That’s one thing to say and another thing to do though, but Jones has some young, quality players at his disposal and has made a dream start.
This summer they tour Australia and will be keen to make up for their pool stage loss to the Aussies. With Australia making the World Cup final, I can see Australia taking the tour, 2-1.
Not a bad showing from the Welsh. Other than a defeat to the revitalised England and a draw to Ireland in round one they overcame a French side chasing the title, a resurgent Scotland and latterly a tired Italian side. In the final ten against England at Twickenham, with Dan Cole in the sin bin, they showed signs that they have more than the single dimension of Warren ball.
My biggest concern for Wales, is that although they have good depth and a mix of experience and youth, they are a settled side. Other than for injuries, Gatland, his coaching staff and his team have been settled as one of the top in Europe, who struggle against Southern Hemisphere sides. At this stage they should be demanding to push on to beating the giants of the south.
This summer, they embark on an ambitious tour of New Zealand. The World Champions are in a transitional phase, with a number of key names retiring, but I struggle to see this phasing the All Blacks too much. Unfortunately, I can’t see Wales recording a victory there (It’s hard to imagine many sides doing that..)
Following a round one draw with Wales, Ireland went on to lose by a solitary point to France and then succumbed to England at Twickenham, too. However, when the Italians visited, they were in no mood to dwell on their fall from Champions status last year, scoring some excellent tries and recording a rousing victory. They then had the task of stopping the high flying Scots, which they duly did, as Scotland slowed a little, Ireland kept their foot on the pedal.
They struggled initially with injury, but this led to the discovery of Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier and Stuart McCloskey. With a number of other young players available to Ireland, they future looks bright.
Ireland also undertake a big challenge as they face South Africa in their summer tour, a side who they’ve never beaten on South African soil. Provided everyone is fit, I can see Ireland winning a game, but again, South Africa have to be favourites to win the tour.
Eventually, they backed up their impressive World Cup showing. Following a home defeat to England, then a sixty fifth minute implosion against Wales, I think we were all thinking ‘here we go again’. However, from their they with stood a second half Italian charge and overcame France for the first time in a decade. The fairy tale ending wasn’t to be as they were defeated by Ireland in the last round, but there’s more to be positive about than there has been for a long time for Scottish supporters.
They look to finally have some serious depth in the centre’s with Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne, Mark Bennett, Duncan Taylor and Matt Scott. However, areas such as the second row and wings are a cause for concern. Hopefully some of the young players at Edinburgh and Glasgow will make the step up soon, there are young talents creeping into both sides at the moment.
With a summer tour of Japan, the Japanese will be looking for a win, to further prove what they might have done at Rugby World Cup 2015 where they lost heavily to Scotland after a short turnaround. However, if Scotland are more or less injury free, I see Scotland taking the series, but perhaps not as the walk over it might have been in the past.
Oh France. In my opinion, they were lucky to come away with two wins. Had Parisse’s drop goal gone over and Ireland not have been struck by injury so early on, they’d have picked up the wooden spoon. I know that’s not what happened, but they cut it fine. They were then dispatched of by the Welsh, by Scotland for the first time in ten years before putting up a fight, but ultimately losing out to England at home.
I was happy to see Trinh-Duc back in the side, I thought Virimi Vakatawa was very impressive, as was captain Guillem Guirado. Gael Fickou and Wesley Fofana are great players, but both were relatively quiet this year. Other than that, I’m struggling to find positives. France seemed to back up their World Cup fall from grace after being destroyed by the All Blacks and coming fifth in this years Six Nations.
With a tour to Argentina this summer, Guy Noves’ has his work cut out for him. I honestly think this French side have the ability to win, but they’ve got a lot to do to reach that level. Seeing France’s marginal defeat of Ireland and Argentina’s unpicking of Ireland in the Quarter Finals, I think they have a tough summer ahead.
Another year, another spoon for the cabinet. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that now takes them to eleven spoons in seventeen seasons. In their first game they came agonisingly close, losing to France as a final minute Sergio Parisse drop goal failed to bisect the posts. After that, unfortunately, things went downhill as Italy fell to a series of heavy defeats, ending with their worst points differential in a Six Nations season ever, at minus one-hundred and forty-five points.
However, with Harlequins coach Connor O’Shea taking over, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Azurri. Talisman Sergio Parisse has decided not to retire, Leonardo Sarto will be joining the impressive Simone Favaro at Glasgow- don’t underestimate what playing in a winning environment will do for those two players. Michele Campagnaro has moved to Exeter Chiefs and looks even better for it, whilst Carlo Canna showed a lot of potential in his short appearance in the Championship. Luca Morisi also made a big impression last year and hasn’t been seen in the tournament since due to injury. His return will be a big boost.
Italy will take on the USA and Canada this summer. They spluttered past Canada in the World Cup, but will really need to be targeting a win there. The USA are generally stronger than Canada at the moment and could be a potential banana skin, but I would like to think, a banana skin that the Azurri will avoid. Take nothing away from USA and Canada though, they can both target wins against Italy.
That’s my short review of the Six Nations teams this year. Let me know your thoughts!
The Scribbler, March 28th, 2016