Six Nations Round Up

22 03 2010

1. France

France celebrate their win

A Grand Slam year for a truly exciting and deserving side. Throughout the Championship, France have been the side to beat, only threatening to undo all their good work with a nervous win over a resurgent England side at the final hurdle. With the world cup only 17 months away, Marc Lievremont can surely be confident that he has a side that can genuinely challenge for world supremacy. With world class players dotted liberally throughout the pack (Harinordoquy in particular underlined his status as the leading number 8 in the world), and a seemingly endless choice of classy wings and centres, it is the consistency of performance from numbers 9 and 10 which have impressed. Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc have played with a skill and purpose sadly absent in many of their northern hemisphere rivals and Lievremont’s days of chopping and changing in this position appear to be over.

Verdict: Brilliant, powerful and quick rugby leading to a deserved win for France.

2. Ireland

A highly disappointing end to a pretty disappointing season for this Irish team. After contributing the most players to the Lions tour last Summer it is perhaps inevitable that they should suffer a drop off in the 6 Nations after. Yet there are several aspects of their play this year which, if they are to serious contenders for the world cup next year, need to be fixed.

The most obvious is John Hayes and his continuing travails in the front row. It is true that in the modern game it is possible to win matches without a competitive scrummage, yet the extent to which Hayes goes backwards is damaging to Ireland. In the backs Tommy Bowe excelled again, underlining his position as one of the worlds top wingers and Keith Earls also showed some deft touches. The one position that is likely to fuel debate over the next year and a half is undoubtedly that of fly half. The battle between Ronan O’Gara and Jonny Sexton had not been conclusively settled due to the younger mans kicking ‘yips’. Sexton missed several kicks throughout the championship including crucial ones in the final game against Scotland, yet in our view he should be persevered with. In attack with ball in hand and in his ability to defend the 10 channel, Sexton offers far more than O’Gara ever has and one feels that if he can only get his kicking up to O’Gara’s levels, then the argument will be settled for all parties.

Verdict: Outclassed against France, Ireland have gone backwards yet retain many of the crucial components they need to challenge the worlds best.

3. England

One good game does not make a championship and we strongly hope that England don’t get carried away with this. Particularly when their best game was in a losing cause. Here at the Compulsive Hooker, you will all be aware of our distaste for the style of play Martin Johnson’s coaching methods produce. We still stand by the verdict that Martin Johnson is the wrong man for the job and that a first half in which we outplayed France does not make a coaching record.

Problems remain all over the park with precision and the production of quick ball being the most obvious. Several times throughout the 6 Nations breaks were made and try scoring opportunities gained, yet the number of tries scored was amongst the lowest in the Championship due to the final pass going astray. At the breakdown England frequently came off second best meaning that the quick ball needed to threaten defenses was not produced.

Verdict: Rubbish, with the rubbish on the pitch only exceeded by the rubbish given out on a regular basis during England press conferences.

4. Wales

Probably the most frustrating team from a neutrals point of view in the 6 Nations. There are world class players dotted throughout the team sheet yet this year they have failed to put it together consistently. The highlight of their campaign was the win over Scotland, yet even in this game they only really ‘played’ for the last 8 minutes.

It was good to see Jamie Roberts come through to something near his Lions form and his partnership with Hook looks to be full of promise. Hook, like all versatile players down the years, has suffered somewhat due to his ability to play anywhere. Given an opportunity to nail down the 13 shirt, he produced some outstanding game breaking moments earlier in the tournament. It is an experiment worth continuing with.

Like England, the management team led by Warren Gatland has the most to worry about. There have been the first murmurings in the press as to whether Wales are progressing as fast as they should, and whilst this is only natural it is too early to make any kind of judgement on this. Unlike Martin Johnson, Gatland has at least the pedigree and a track record including a Grand Slam to fall back on.

Verdict: An inconsistent tournament with flashes of brilliance, ultimately though highly disappointing.

4. Scotland

This has been a strange campaign for the Scots with an away win over last years champions Ireland and a loss to Wooden Spoon winners Italy. Andy Robinson’s influence has been seen as generally positive and with the last two results against England and Ireland there is evidence that the results are beginning to come. Factor in the game against Wales where, with a little more nous, the Scots would have c0me away with at least a draw and the championship was not such a bad one.

Where Scotland are able to compete and even better the best is in their highly skillful and powerful back row trio. Brown, Barclay and Beattie have proved to be a highly dynamic duo as both Ireland and England can attest. Beattie in particular would be challenging Heaslip for the title of the best number 8 out of the home nations.

The one blot on the copybook was of course the aforementioned defeat to Italy. Always destined to be a war of attrition the game was hardly the best advert for flowing fast paced rugby. Undoubtedly devastated by the result, the Scottish responded well and there is enough evidence of progress for Andy Robinson to be pleased.

Verdict: Definite progress, more line breaks needed though.

6. Italy

Handicapped by the loss of their talismanic captain and 8, Sergio Parisse, this years 6 Nations was always going to be tough for the men in blue. There had been disquiet in the press and amongst many fans that Italy were not progressing as quickly as they should, yet similarly to Scotland, there is now evidence that things might be improving.

Craig Gower is growing into his play maker role and, for the first time since Italy’s promotion to the top table in the north, they actually look to be a threat out wide. Indeed in the Paris game, despite the heavy loss, in the second half some of the rugby they played outshone even the French. Also coming through was Italy’s replacement number 8 who proved that Parisse is not the only man who can make the hard yards.

Verdict: Difficult tournament once again although there is enough to suggest that they are moving forward.

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