6 Nations Review: Part 1

In Rugby Union on April 1, 2010 at 12:01 am

To kick off our 6 Nations Tournament review, here’s a breakdown of the six teams involved, how they fared and why, what went right, and what didn’t…


Final placing: 2nd

Grade: D

A disappointing tournament for Declan Kidney’s team. Coming off the back of a Grand Slam and an unbeaten year, they should have been looking for four wins at the very least. Losing to France in Paris is par for the course, but the manner of defeat was very disappointing. They were overrun and badly beaten by a team that looked far superior in every facet of play

I wrote in my preview that a loss in the Stade de France could derail Ireland’s tournament, so it was to their immense credit that they were able to bounce back and beat the English in Twickenham next time out. A good win over Wales followed, but the team’s set piece travails and multitude of handling errors in the Scottish loss gave us all a pertinent reminder of where their weaknesses lie

Best Player: Tommy Bowe

Ludicrously voted ‘Player of the Tournament’ ahead of a host of Grand Slam winning  French players, Bowe was, nonetheless, Ireland’s most potent attacking threat. He has added some serious power to his game, and is capable of bursting through the smallest chinks in any opposition. Hungry for work throughout, he went looking for contact in every game, and invariably found it. Also scored the crucial try at Twickenham and beautifully finished what could have been a vital score against the Scots

Best Performance:

The win over Wales was impressive, but came at home against a faltering side. Storming Twickenham is always an achievement though, and to do it with such a small amount of possession was a hugely impressive achievement. The tackling stats were something to behold, as the men in green made 99 out of 100 hits. They also managed three tries with very limited possession, and showed once again their ability to squeeze out the win in tight games


The loss to France was demoralising, but the Champions looked like they’d put that collapse firmly behind them with morale-boosting wins over England and Wales. The formality of the Scots at home was all that stood between a Triple Crown and at least 2nd
in the table, but what followed was like a return to the dark days. They completely sank in a swamp of handling errors and missed chances as their lack of precision made a mockery of an expansive game plan. The set piece was also dismantled as the Scots destroyed Ireland’s scrum and disrupted masterfully at the lineout, leaving Declan Kidney with much to mull over ahead of their daunting Summer tour


Final placing: 1st (GS)

Grade: A

Starting off with what looked like a laboured 18-9 win over the Scots (what Ireland wouldn’t have given for a 9 point win!), France went from strength to strength and earned their first Grand Slam in 6 years. Coach Marc Lievremont has settled on the core of his side, rotating only on the wings and in the back row, where they have a surfeit of quality options

This team is frighteningly young, and incredibly talented. Although they struggled to put England away in awful conditions on the final weekend, they showed real character to do so and will have gained belief from putting away their erstwhile tormentors and winning a Grand Slam

Best Player: Imanol Harinordoquy

Their 21 year old half backs showed some outrageous skills and drove the side with an authority beyond their years, but the real star of the show was no.8 Imanol Harinordoquy. Always a mercurial talent, the Basque back row looks to be making the most of his early promise, popping up everywhere on the field and generally demonstrating the perfect example of what an 8 can do. Not getting the player of the tournament award would only have made sense if it had gone to a teammate

Best Performance:

The dismantling of a tough Italian side was an absolute joy to watch, as they glided, manoeuvred  and smashed through a defence that had given up only three tries in the three previous games. This was classic France, the team that the whole world delights in watching


Really reaching here, but the win over England was too close for comfort, and some of the old flaws returned. The atrocious conditions mitigated against the style of play which had served them so well earlier in the tournament, and there was a lack of control at times, with too much ball kicked away. It would be a mistake to underestimate the hold England have over France though, after dumping them out of the past two World Cups, and the fact remains that after the early Ben Foden score, Les Bleus gave up just three points in the remaining 70-odd minutes. Hardly the jittery performance some would have us believe they turned in


Final placing: 3rd

Grade: C

England fans came into this tournament with cautious optimism, but came out the other side even more bitter and disillusioned with the current regime. An opening day win over Wales looked like the perfect start to the tournament, and the good ol’ Beeb already began talking up the idea of a final day Grand Slam showdown with the French. It was not to be though, and only one squeaky win over wooden spooners Italy followed

Best Player: Nick Easter

Not many to choose from here, but in a consistently competitive back row Nick Easter was the standout. He played every minute of the tournament and was an important presence in defence and attack, playing with real determination and never giving an inch

Best Performance:

The opening day win over Wales was a good start to the tournament as they scored three tries and racked up 30 points against the dangerous Welsh. Their best effort was definitely against the French though, as they almost stole the Grand Slam right from under the noses of Lievremont and his team. The belated introduction of Toby Flood at out half gave them far more verve in the backline, and they made a number of line breaks. The lack of confidence showed though, as they often took the wrong option once in behind. A little more clarity in execution could have seen them cause the upset of the year, but at least they gave their fans something to cheer about


Has to be the men in charge sticking with a conservative game plan and a clearly struggling Jonny Wilkinson at the pivot for so long. Coach Martin Johnson and his captain Steve Borthwick simply refused to acknowledge any flaws or shortcomings, even when scraping a five point win over the Italians and slumbering their way to a draw with the Scots. Johnson has shown an inability to make the right selections, motivate his side or change the momentum of a match with tactics or substitutions, while Borthwick is clinging on to his place in the side by his fingernails. A change must come, either in personnel or attitude, or the World Cup is a write off


Final Placing: 4th

Grade: C-

An opening day defeat to England set the tone for a deeply disappointing Welsh campaign, as they managed one convincing win in the entire competition. Things look to have gone stale under Warren Gatland, and he has a lot to do to convince that he’s the right man to take them forward

Best Player: James Hook

Part of a big name Welsh backline that failed to fire with any consistency, the richly talented Hook at least showed that he is capable of producing his best form at outside centre. Having been shunted around the backline, he may have finally found his niche. Always an attacking threat with ball in hand, he picked up three tries and could have had more with a little luck

Best Performance:

While their heart-stopping comeback against the Scots was a moment for the ages, their most impressive win by far came in their final game of the tournament. Against the Italians, they finally produced their incisive running and quicksilver offloading game from the kick off, instead of giving their opponents a 20 point head start first


Their sluggish starts, which put them on the back foot right from the off, and a lack of discipline that resulted in damaging yellow cards at key points. They went 20-3 down to England and lost Alun Wyn-Jones to the bin, trailed Scotland 21-9 before their comeback, were 20-0 down to the French at the break and shipped 10 points with Lee Byrne cooling his heels in a 15 point loss to Ireland. Their aggregate 1st half deficit was 18-67, which says it all really


Final placing: 5th

Grade: B

A very encouraging tournament for the Scots, with the only real blight their loss to Italy and the last couple of minutes against Wales. They’ve showed numerous times over the years what a tough, well organised unit they are, and if cooler heads had prevailed they could have come away with three wins

Best Player: Dan Parks

I chose Phil Godman as my key man ahead of the tournament, and my reasoning was that out half was the most important position for the Scots. I was half right. Godman was pretty poor, but from the moment Parks was brought into the squad against Wales, he was a revelation. His game management was masterful as he drove his side into the right positions time and again. He picked up the man of the match award in a losing performance against Wales, then led them to a draw with the ‘auld enemy and a win over Ireland in the remaining three games

Best Performance:

Beating the Grand Slam champions at Croke Park was something not even the most optimistic Scotland supporter could have expected, but they thoroughly deserved their victory. Their back row showed why they have a rising reputation in World rugby, and they dominated at the set piece, with Euan Murray and their second rowers particularly impressive. Some bullocking runs from the back line, who made up in determination what they lacked in finesse, gave them the go forward Parks needed to pin the Irish back and they nailed any chances that came their way in cracking performance


A win over the English would have been nice, but their collapse against Wales was jaw-dropping. Had Parks not been injured, Halfpenny may not have snuck in for a crucial try, and the out half probably would have had the presence of mind to hoof the final drop out dead and salvage a draw at the very least


Final Placing: 6th

Grade: C+

Another wooden spoon for the Italians, and they’ll be cursing Ireland for allowing the Scots to nip ahead of them in the table. They battled hard in the first three games, earning a deserved win over Scotland and nearly shocking the English, but a six try battering at the hands of the French spoiled things somewhat as they began to tire

Best Player: Alessandro Zanni

Without their captain Sergio Parisse, Alessandro Zanni stood up marvellously well at the back of the scrum and earned the man of the match award in their loss to England. Their most important player was probably Mirco Bergamasco though, who took over the kicking duties against Ireland and landed 15/17 for the rest of the tournament

Best Performance:

They stayed with England right to the end in their five point loss, almost causing one of the upsets of the tournament. Their win over Scotland was what their tournament was all about though, and should have been enough to see them avoid the wooden spoon


Apart from finishing in last place once again, shipping nine tries in their final two games (the demolition at the hands of France and a tired loss to Wales) will be an annoyance to Nick Mallet and his players


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