Thursday, 22 March 2012

Six Nations 2012 – The Aftermath

So, now it's all over where does this year’s Six Nations leave the participants?

3 Grand Slams in 8 years is impressive indeed and Wales are clearly in a very good place right now. Let’s not forget, however, that in between there have been some pretty fallow periods and Gatland, although lauded right now, hasn’t always made the right calls. Australia in June will be the acid test for this team, after which they face losing Gatland to the Lions for 12 months. Their utter reliance on Adam Jones is also something that Gatland, Edwards and co will have to address.

A squad united in self belief, a bunch of rookies visibly growing in stature and a pack that has rediscovered its mojo – it’s all good for England at the moment. Or is it? Never underestimate the capacity of the RFU for cock-up and catastrophe – get the decision on who should be head coach wrong and the whole pack of cards could come tumbling down. Travelling to South Africa without England’s no. 1 hooker will be the least of the new head coach’s problems.

Given the closest of results against Wales and France it is conceivable that Ireland could have been arriving at Twickenham with the Grand Slam at stake. The result at Twickenham should, however, lay any such notion to rest. The Irish have discovered that the backline can still play a bit (although cannot defend) without O'Driscoll, but have also found out that the pack struggle to function effectively without O'Connell. Time, then, to rebuild but a test series against New Zealand is hardly the place to begin.

Oh dear. For the most part the France we saw was of the Tongan defeat variety rather than the RWC Final version. Monsieur Saint-Andre got this tournament badly wrong selectorially, seeking to rely on old lags having one last hurrah rather than injecting new blood. The selections of Dupuy and Beauxis, in particular, were misguided and conservative and a betrayal of French rugby tradition. That said, a fly half, an openside and a willingness to have a go is probably all this French team needs.

The usual fayre from Italy – heavy on perspiration and light on inspiration. Enough to see off the Scots but no one else. I can’t help thinking that continuing to rely on journeymen from the southern hemisphere is getting Italy nowhere fast. If Brunel is going to move Italy forward he has to bring in younger players from Italian development squads. A decent young fly-half and they’d be competitive – not worldbeaters, perhaps, but competitive.

Taxi for Mr Robinson! There is only so long that you can keep pointing to decent performances in the face of defeat after defeat and arguably the form of this Scotland team deteriorated as the tournament went on. His major problem is that, aside from Gray, Rennie, Denton and, perhaps, Stuart Hogg, the Scotland squad is awash with mediocrity and it is Robinson’s reluctance to jettison the under-achieving old guard that could be his downfall.

And finally...congratulations to Stephen Wickens whose 'Sleeping Dogs' fantasy team held off the challenge of Guillaume Amand's 'Famenne' and yours truly's 'Total Flankers' to win the inaugural TF Premier League. Stephen wins all manner of virtual prizes :)


John Birch said...

What is slightly spooky is that many of these comments could, broadly, be applied to the women's Six Nations teams as well - especially France, Italy and Scotland.

Is there an overall rugby "philosophy" here? The French men and women in particular played in remarkably similar ways.

Pablo said...

Could be a rugby "philosophy", or could more prosaically be a result f the involvement of top-level male players and coaches in the women's game. It's not at all unusual for recently retired (and, sometimes, still active) male pros to get coach women - I encountered Josh Lewsey coaching Richmond a couple of years ago during one of his injury lay-offs.