So, here I am, feeling quite bereft after another Six Nations comes to an end. In many ways it was a championship full of surprises. In others it was all too predictable. One inescapable conclusion though is that the best all round team finished top and thoroughly deserved their Grand Slam.
A few thoughts and observations:
Calm, ruthless, efficient and brilliantly competent - Wales utterly dominated the final match against Ireland to seal the Grand Slam. This is not the most exciting Wales team there has ever been - and I suspect they will need to add a few more strings to their bow to make an impact at the World Cup - but I don't think I've seen a more effective Welsh line up who think so clearly under pressure. The coaching staff can take huge credit for this but ultimately it is the players who take to the field and make the decisions. Hats off to them - their success is well deserved.
I guess 2nd place is a big improvement on 2018's showing, but I can honestly say that the second half against Scotland on Saturday was the worst I've known an England team play for many a year, a total and utter embarrassing shambles. For periods during this Six Nations England looked the best team in the competition - compelling and overwhelming attack combined with ferocious defence - but clearly there is an underlying fragility when the pressure comes on. Worrying.
What the hell happened to Ireland? Defeat to England in the opening fixture appeared to dent confidence to such an extent that they never really rediscovered their mojo and against Wales in Cardiff they were utterly outfought and out-thought. It was all looking so good for the Irish in November but there will have to be a great deal of soul-searching for this squad now. Time for Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell to really start earning their corn...
France - a total basket-case - somehow managed to finish 4th in the championship despite the players at times looking like they had barely met. Their performances at Twickenham and in Dublin were simply an embarrassment and, despite the injection of some exciting young talent into the team, I feel more major surgery is needed - probably at the top - before France can become a force again.
Although Scotland's comeback from 0-31 down at Twickenham was remarkable in many ways, it does somewhat mask Scotland's failings in this year's championship. Yes, the Scots suffered horribly with injuries, but a fifth place finish is still a disappointment and mistake-ridden performances against Ireland, Wales and France, plus abject defending in the first half at Twickenham, should still be causes for concern.
There comes a point when you just have to say enough is enough. Italy have some decent players, played well in patches and probably did enough to beat France in the final game, but there was never any realistic belief that Italy could muster a win in this year's competition and if there is no prospect of victory then what's the point?
Team of the week:
15. Liam Williams 14. Darcy Graham 13. Henry Slade 12. Hadleigh Parkes 11. Josh Adams 10. Finn Russell 9. Antoine Dupont 1. Rob Evans 2. Ken Owens 3. Tomas Francis 4. Alun-Wyn Jones 5. Adam Beard 6. Josh Navidi 7. Justin Tipuric 8. Ross Moriarty
Champs & Chumps to follow later...