Now that the dust has settled after another memorable Six Nations Championship, we take a look at all six countries to analyse how they performed, remark on the top individual performances and offer a projection of what the future may hold.

 

England – Champions

Good but not great.

Despite retaining the Six Nations trophy and equalling the All Blacks’ 18 match unbeaten run, this was a frustrating campaign for Eddie Jones and his men.

Bar the Scotland match, England were slow off the blocks in all their tests. In Dublin, closing the gap after a slow start was a bridge too far. Throughout the test, they looked incapable of penetrating the Irish defence and were second best in the set piece. Jones 1 – Schmidt 1.

Despite the recent loss, there is no doubt that English rugby is in a good place. The U20’s and Women’s teams both won Grand Slams and the Men’s XV is undoubtedly the greatest challenge to the All Blacks’ crown of the best side in the world.

Stand out performers:

Joe Launchbury was England’s star performer. The former Christ Hospital schoolboy made 85 tackles (best in the Six Nations), took 9 lineouts, picked up back-to-back Man of the Match awards and carried 52 times in total. Machine.

Owen Farrell has cemented himself into the world class bracket. Similar to Wilkinson, Farrell is just so important in defence for England. He is constantly getting off the line, organising the defence, intimidating opposition, demanding more from his teammates and putting in big hits. His energy and desire to improve are relentless. A real leader.

Surprise package:

The emergence of Elliot Daly. Despite his red card against Argentina, Jones stuck by Daly and has been rewarded for his faith. The Wasps man was marvellous to watch, oozing class on a similar level to New Zealand’s Ben Smith. He now looks certain to be going to New Zealand and will likely be a part of the test 22. Don’t be surprised to see him wearing the No.13 jersey for the Lions.

A look into the future:

England are off to Buenos Aires and will face a full strength Pumas side.

This will be a perfect opportunity for young players to impress Jones and get some game time. Argentina will not be a push over either, in what is set to be an interesting affair.

 

Ireland – Runners up

The Irish just love an upset!

In the past 6 months the Irish have ended not only New Zealand’s world record run but now England’s.

Ireland endured a mixed campaign with unexpected losses to Scotland and Wales. Nevertheless wins over New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and England in the past 6 months is an incredible achievement.

Much has been made of Jones’ managerial career at England but Joe Schmidt is without question one of the world’s best.

Stand out performers:

CJ Stander was an outside shout for player of the tournament: 103 carries, 234 metres made, 14 defenders beaten and joint top try scorer. The stats speak for themselves.

Johnny Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Jack McGrath, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Robbie Henshaw and Gary Ringrose all kept their stock price high and should tour.

Surprise package:

Tadhg Furlong is almost guaranteed to start at tighthead for the Lions. The 24 year old is an exceptional scrummager, superb in defence and has raw power with ball in hand. If you haven’t seen the clip of Furlong against New Zealand last November, watch it. Beast.

A look into the future:

Nothing too interesting. They are set to play the United States followed by Japan. Should be easy wins.

 

France – 3rd

Les Blues will be happy with this Six Nations but they are someway off the France of old. The French only scored eight tries (four of which came against Italy) across the whole tournament. Still, there are many positives for Guy Noves to be happy about.

Stand out performers:

Louis Picamoles = world class. He made 362 metres (second only to Mike “ball hog” Brown), beat 24 defenders (nine clear of the next best performer) and made 21 offloads. 21 offloads! The only other player to get into double figures was Noa Nakaitaci, with 12. World class.

Camille Lopez was the tournament’s top point scorer and at scrum-half the French appear to have unearthed a gem in young Baptiste Serin. The 22-year-old is arrogant, languid, forceful, stroppy, charming and, most importantly, a spectacular rugby player. France have a very special relationship with their scrum-halves. We look forward to seeing how this one develops.

Surprise package:

Kevin Gourdon was extremely impressive in his first Six Nations. The La Rochelle flanker made a huge 72 tackles, 8 offloads, 2 turnovers and a lineout steal.

A look into the future:

A three-Test tour of South Africa looks set to be a monstrous affair. Considering the mediocrity of current Bok side, Guy Noves’ France have a real opportunity to cause an upset.

 

Scotland – 4th

Scotland were the story of the Six Nations. Three consecutive wins at Murrayfield for the first time since 2006, including two massive victories over Ireland and Wales. They couldn’t cope with an exceptional England and only just missed out to France.

It’s sad to see the departure of Vern Cotter after such success, but exciting times lie ahead and all eyes will be on Gregor Townsend next season.

Stand out performers:

Stuart Hogg won Player of the Championship after racking up 281 metres, made 5 clean breaks, beating 10 defenders and was joint top try scorer. He will be a key man for the Lions this summer.

The Gray brothers, in particular Jonny Gray, Finn Russell, Huw Jones and Tommy Seymour all had very good tournaments.

Surprise package:

Edinburgh’s Hamish Watson. What a livewire this player is. At 6ft tall and 93kg, he is a very small for a flanker but he’s incredibly strong. A great ball carrier and quality over the ball.

A look into the future:

Scotland travel Down Under to face the Aussies in June. It will be a real test to see how they fair without their key men. We predict they will struggle.

 

Wales – 5th

Being a supporter of Welsh rugby is like being a supporter of Arsenal football club. The teams have a history of success, coaches rated as the best in the world and a squad filled with talent and experience.  However both sides are inconsistent, mentally fragile and lack variety in their game plan.

They showed glimpses of brilliance but finished the tournament in 5th, their lowest finish in over a decade.

Stand out performers:

Sam Warburton was back to his brilliant best this Six Nations. There is now serious weight to the argument suggesting he should captain the Lions this summer.

Justin Tipuric, Rhys Webb and Jake Ball all had excellent tournaments.

Surprise package:

Ken Owens enjoyed a really strong campaign and is now many people’s first choice in their Lions XV. He finished top of the lineout rankings with a 95% success and also racked up 68 tackles (86% success rate).

A look into the future:

The Welsh face Tonga followed by Samoa this June. Both are must wins for Rob Howley. If not successful, it may be time for a change in management.

 

Italy – Wooden spoon

The Azzurri endured a miserable campaign and collected their twelfth wooden spoon of the tournament. Worryingly they failed to collect a single point in their final game, shipped 63 points at home to Ireland, and were beaten convincingly by Scotland.

A playoff with the top European teams outside of the Six Nations (e.g. Georgia) now seems necessary. It forces the Italians either to improve or make way for other teams.

Stand out performers:

Michele Campagnaro gets a special mention for his superb solo try against England. The Exeter man gave George Ford a big “don’t argue”, brushed off Jamie George then left Mike Brown grasping at thin air. Brilliant.

Sergio Parisse was unsurprisingly Italy’s top performer. Maybe others would step up to the plate without him?

Surprise package:

Conor O’Shea’s tactical approach when Italy fazed England. Unfortunately it will merely go down as a 36-15 loss but it certainly caused England (especially James Haskell) a great deal of confusion. Eddie Jones was absolutely fuming in his post-match interview, comparing Italy’s game plan to when Australia’s Trevor Chappell bowled underarm to prevent New Zealand hitting a six.

A look into the future:

O’Shea, accompanied with Mike Catt and Brendan Venter will travel Down Under in early June. There is a potential fixture against the Scots, followed by tests against Fiji and Australia. Italy need a win. Big time.

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