* IRELAND STRONG AFTER WINNING 6 NATIONS
* ENGLAND BEST SINCE 2003?
* WALES FAIL DUE TO LIONS 2013
* FRANCE POOR DUE TO TOP 14 CLUBS
* SCOTLAND AND ITALY JUST POOR!
Well, the 2014 6 Nations has come to an end and it’s been a terrific tournament altogether. Some great performances and the winner was unknown until the very last minute. Like every year, each of the teams have different things to take away from their performances.
Irish eyes are smiling of course and England had a great season, very unlucky to have had the same record as Ireland (won 4, lost 1) but lose out on points difference. Still, England did manage to win the Triple Crown.
Wales didn’t reach the heights of their previous 2 years but should still be happy with 3rd place. France weren’t that great this year in terms of performance but still managed to be in contention for the title until the very last minute.
Scotland and Italy won’t be happy with their results, both suffered a real downswing in fortune and failed to build on the progress they had made last year.
Ireland came into this year’s tournament on the back of a heroic performance against New Zealand (though they lost). This was also Joe Schmidt’s first 6 Nations in charge. Ireland had performed poorly in last year’s tournament, 5th out of 6 and with only 1 solitary win. Ireland needed to do better this year.
Ireland got the ball rolling with tremendous wins against Scotland (28-6) and Wales (26-3), thrashing both teams with dominant performances. Ireland were unable to retain that momentum and were affected by a 2 week lay-off. They looked sluggish against England and lost the match, 10-13.
Ireland came back in style against Italy, winning 46-7 and atoning for their loss against the Italians the previous year. Ireland’s high points difference meant that they topped the 6 Nations’ table and had the best chance of winning the title. They only had to beat France in Paris, a feat they had not achieved since 2000 (and Ireland hadn’t beaten France anywhere since 2009)!
France were also going for the 6 Nations Title and the match was a close run thing until the final whistle. Ireland managed to hold out until the end and left as winners, 22-20. They had also achieved their first 6 Nations title since 2009 (and only their 3rd since 1985!).
Ireland finish the tournament in good standing, and though they say goodbye to the legendary Brian O’Driscoll (who was immense throughout the tournament) they will be buoyed by the tremendous showing of a lot of the team and some talented young players coming through.
Rob Kearney had a terrific tournament (though he was a bit overshadowed England’s Mike Brown) and Gordon D’Arcy showed that he still has a lot to offer. Andrew Trimble returned to the team in style and David Kearney is quickly establishing himself as a player of real class. Jonny Sexton has matured into 1 of the best out-halves around and Conor Murray has built on his great performances for the British and Irish Lions.
Losing Sean O’Brien before the start of the tournament was a big blow but Chris Henry took his place well and developed into 1 of the stars of the team. Peter O’Mahony is becoming a talismanic figure and Jaimie Heaslip is playing some of the best rugby of his life.
Paul O’Connell has had a resurgence and Devin Toner almost matched the great ones presence. Rory Best has turned himself around after a lacklustre Lions tour and Cian Healy and Mike Ross have possibly become the premier prop pairing in European rugby.
Ireland finish the 6 Nations in great health and even have some quality players in back up positions (Zebo, Earls). Ireland are in very good stead to do great things in next year’s World Cup.
England have a great record over the last few years. Since winning the tournament in 2011, they have won 12 of their last 15 6 Nation’s matches but have been denied the top spot in each year, losing out to Wales twice and this year to France.
It’s still a great record and they deservedly lifted the Triple Crown this year. They were unlucky to lose a very close game to France (24-26) at the start of the tournament but came back in real style and dominated the 3 Celtic countries and put Italy to the sword, 52-11.
Mike Brown was their star player at full-back and they have a very good out-half in Owen Farrell, probably their best no.10 since Jonny Wilkinson was at his peak. Amazing to think that Farrell is only 22. Chris Robshaw is also one of the best no.7s around and is a brilliant captain.
England are in great form. They’re are playing some very good rugby and have a brilliant defence. They’ll be looking to do some damage in next year’s World Cup (which they’re also hosting) and seem to be the best England team since the Golden Team of 2003.
Wales came into this year’s tournament having won the last 2 6 Nations. They were in great form, having contributed the most to the winning Lions’ Series and looked to be on the way to becoming the 1st team in history to win a 3rd consecutive 6 Nations title.
The warning signs appeared when they struggled to beat Italy (23-15) in the first round and then came completely undone against Ireland. They came back with a strong win against France (27-6) but their hopes and dreams were dashed when they were outclassed by England (29-18). They still had enough left to inflict a heavy defeat on Scotland (51-3) on the last weekend of the tournament .
Wales come out of the tournament in pretty bad nick. They’ve lost their captain, Sam Warburton and full-back Leigh Halfpenny for the rest of the season. Both are 2 of their key players and will be missed (though Wales have able replacements in those positions, the players themselves are inspirational and probably the 2 most important players on the Welsh team at the moment).
Paradoxically, it may have been the Lions tour that caused the problems for Wales this year. The players gave so much to the tour that they may not have had anything left for the 6 Nations. When Wales are back to full strength they’ll be dangerous.
France are a very difficult team to judge. They had a pretty poor tournament in terms of performance yet managed to remain in contention until the final whistle of the tournament. Much like in the 2011 World Cup, where they were imploding but still managed to make the final.
France were much improved on last year (they were absolutely terrible in last year’s tournament) which isn’t difficult but their only clear win was against Italy (30-10). They struggled to beat England and Scotland and lost comprehensively to Wales and were beaten by Ireland.
Where to now for the French? They were missing their captain, Thierry Dusaoutoir, which must have had an effect on their performances but it goes deeper than that. Phillippe Saint-Andre has had a poor record as coach and France have lost a lot of their elan.
It’s not all Saint-Andre’s fault, though. The French clubs in the Top 14 have the real power and see their national side as an afterthought. In most countries, the international players are rested by their respective clubs so they’ll be fully fit on test-match duty. Not in France.
In France, the players play matches week in, week out (the Top 14 is ongoing throughout the 6 Nations) and the top players will often find themselves playing matches on consecutive weeks. While an Irish player like Brian O’Driscoll will only play the 6 Nations games while the tournament is on, the French players are looking to play twice that amount of matches in the same timeframe.
Something has to be done if France want to achieve things at an international level. They last won the GRand Slam in 2010 but have been quite poor since then. It might be old-fashioned but I believe that the international side should always get preference.
Scotland had done very well in last year’s 6 Nations, coming 3rd, and it was hoped that they could built on that this year but they never really got going. They started badly with a heavy loss to Ireland and then compounded that by an even heavier loss against England (20-0).
They then struggled to beat Italy (before almost achieving a shock win against France, losing 19-17). They had a chance to do well against Wales but it all ended when they lost Stuart Hogg 20 minutes into the game. His absence seemed to knock the fight out of the team and Wales inflicted one of SCotland’s heaviest defeats in years.
WHere can Scotland go from here? They can’t get much worse, to be honest. They showed against France that they can still achieve some good things but their heavy defeats against Ireland, England and especially Wales shows that there is still a long way to go. THey were only saved the embarrassment of the Wooden Spoon by a single point victory over Italy (21-20).
Italy had beaten France and Ireland in the 2013 6 Nations tournament and hopes were high that they could improve on that this time around but they never really got going. They gave Wales a fight but were completely outdone by France.
They were then unlucky to lose to Scotland after a spirited performance, but followed this with heavy defeats against Ireland and England. Italy finished the tournament with 5 losses from 5 games, which is there poorest result in quieter a while (they usually manage to win at least 1 game).