Monday, 19 March 2018

Six Nations 2018: Final Round Verdict plus Champs & Chumps

Another Six Nations has come and gone and, while the quality was variable at times, there was certainly no shortage of excitement or controversy and it all ended with a much deserved and fitting Grand Slam for Ireland on St Patrick's Day.

Here are a few thoughts about where the last couple of months of rugby leaves the respective competing nations:

IRELAND

Champions and Grand Slam Winners and deservedly so. Ireland flirted with defeat in Paris and wobbled a little at home to Wales and Scotland but on each occasion pulled through and were then comfortably clinical at Twickenham in a match they never looked like losing. Joe Schmidt has developed a formidable squad who must surely fancy their chances against New Zealand in November. Whether they can maintain momentum through to Japan in 2019 is another matter, but they are now firmly established as the World's number 2 team and will be setting their sights higher.

WALES

A second place finish is nothing to be sniffed at but if Warren Gatland is honest with himself he'll realise Wales were a distant second and, other than in the opening match against Scotland, were never particularly convincing. Reverting to Dan Biggar for the French game showed Gatland's true colours and I can't help feeling that Wales are going to have to embrace fully the Scarlets' attacking philosophy if they ever want to be more than also-rans.

SCOTLAND

Very impressive at Murrayfield but much less so elsewhere and were quite fortunate to escape with victory in Rome. There is the basis of a good team there, with a potent backline and very mobile back row, and in Gregor Townsend Scotland have an exciting and progressive coach. Achieving consistency will be the next big challenge ahead.

FRANCE

OK, so my prediction that chaos would prevail and France crowned champions did not quite come to pass but actually France were not that far away. The French are by no means a great team but they are robust and competitive and defensively very sound. It took an incredible Johnny Sexton drop goal to beat them in Paris in the opening fixture and the French would definitely have won in Cardiff if not for a second-half comedy masterclass from Francois Trinh-Duc. Something to build on...

ENGLAND

Poorly selected, knackered, over-trained, over-coached, lacking energy and rugby nous, England fully deserved their worst championship finish since 1983. There's no lack of effort but it all looks horribly misdirected at the moment. Eddie Jones needs to take responsibility for this and stop spouting the "moving forward" BS. Nowhere near good enough.

ITALY

Although the Italians are once more propping up the table having again been whitewashed, there are signs that they are not a million miles away from being competitive again. Italy really should have held on to beat a lacklustre Scotland this weekend, had their chances against Wales and France and played some good rugby throughout. Some good young players coming through does bode well for the future, especially in the back row where Sergio Parisse now has some much-needed support.

TF Team of the Week:

15. Matteo Minozzi 14. Keith Earls 13. Garry Ringrose 12. Mathieu Bastareaud 11. Jacob Stockdale 10. Johnny Sexton 9. Connor Murray 1. Cian Healy 2. Rory Best 3. Tadgh Furlong 4. Alun-Wyn Jones 5. James Ryan 6. Sebastian Negri 7. Jake Polledri 8. CJ Stander

And so to the Champs & Chumps of the 2018 Six Nations...

First up, the Champs...

15. Matteo Minozzi - discovery of the tournament. 
14. Steff Evans - excellent first Six Nations and one for the future.
13. Garry Ringrose - gives Ireland midfield the X Factor missing since BOD's retirement.
12. Huw Jones - a few wrinkles to iron out, but his performance against England was one of the competition's best.
11. Jacob Stockdale - new kid on the block took international rugby in his stride.
10. Johnny Sexton - simply the best.
9. Maxime Machenaud - just why did Brunel keep substituting his most influential player?
1. Cian Healy - brilliant, even when clearly concussed.
2. Rory Best - consistent and relentless as ever.
3. Simon Berghan - shored up the Scottish scrummage and strong in the loose.
4. Alun-Wyn Jones - hugely consistent and a surprising finder of midfield holes.
5. James Ryan - a great new prospect for Ireland.
6. John Barclay - will dine out on that performance v England for years to come.
7. Josh Navidi - another proper open side from the Welsh production line.
8. CJ Stander - appears to improve every time he plays. Remarkable.


And now, sadly, the Chumps...

England. Nuff said



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