Ireland – WINNERS
A fitting farewell for Brian O’Driscoll and the men in green. A consistent tournament which was dominated by the line out and their fluent attacking style. The BOD era ended after 141 Test caps in the same stadium where he announced himself on the world stage. A nervous finish but a win captured the title on points difference and denied England the championship. Performances from Jonny Sexton, Connor Murray, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony proved flawless and guided Ireland to their second title since 2009.
Going forward, the question remains of who will fit into the number 13 jersey. Options of Robbie Henshaw, Darren Cave and Luke Fitzgerald would not be surprising, yet head coach Joe Schmit has made it no secret that Ulster’s Jared Payne could fit perfectly into the number 13 role.
Ireland’s strength in depth was another key factor in their six nation success, especially within the forwards. Without the likes Sean O’Brien and Simon Zebo, the Irish showed their resources through star performers Andrew Trimble and Chris Henry. With the 2015 world cup only a year away, Joe Schmit’s revitalized Ireland can take confidence in their performance this year. How they cope without their talismanic leader BOD is another question, one which will be answered in matches to come.
England – RUNNERS UP
Despite losing out on the championship on points difference, England have plenty to be confident about going into next years world cup. A youthful side showing high levels of maturity proves that Stuart Lancaster’s coaching plan is working well. Home advantage is also a bonus as his side continues to get better and better.
The only side to have beaten Ireland, England were unlucky not to have won the six nations. They way the side has played is down to the amount of depth and individual talent at England’s disposal. Players such as Mike Brown had a fantastic tournament, scoring four tries and being the top for meters made and defenders beaten (also winning player of the tournament). Youth is also a key factor for England’s success, with players such as Jack Nowell and Billy Vunipola making a great impact. Mentions also to Luther Burrell and Billy Twelvetrees, proving to be a formidable centre pairing.
A daunting task awaits them in New Zealand for their summer tour, but England will be confident to shock the All Blacks at their home ground and come away with a series win.
Wales – 3rd
A disappointing tournament for the Welsh, who aimed to win a third successive title in 2014. Warren Gatland’s men fell short against Ireland and were smashed by England. Wins against Scotland, Italy and France managed to keep worried fans happy, yet questions are still being asked.
Wales selection is indeed settled and vastly experienced. Yet, their tactic of drawing opponents in and bringing in their big players such as George North and Jamie Roberts has been worked out (as seen by the Irish!). They need to develop more ways of playing the game that is in front of them and developing more depth in their squad. Players such as Adam Jones and Alyn Wyun Jones are not going to be around forever!
With the world cup on the horizon, Gatland and his team must improve to have a chance of qualifying from their group. With injuries to key player such as Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton, they will hope to develop back up and pray that they are not going to miss out on match practice before 2015.
France – 4th
The only team in the six nations capable of playing their worst rugby in years, yet still manage to put themselves in contention for the title at the end of the tournament. France’s victory over England at the start of the tournament was considered to be an uplift from recent poor performances. Yet, after a shaky result at Italy and being destroyed by Wales in Cardiff, many are calling for Phillipe Saint Andre to be sacked. Over the past two years, he has selected 12 different half-back pairings. In order to compete at international level, you must have a balanced and settled squad.
Yet, the blame must not all go to the coach. Injuries have played their part, including the loss of the captain Thiery Dusatoir and the talented centre Wesly Fofanna. Plus, the lucrative nature of the domestic French leagues have attracted players from all around the world, hence denting the development of French youth. Also, players such as Yohan Huget and Gael Fickou had a great tournament.
In relation to the world cup, the French coaching staff need to have a hard look at themselves and decide what is needed to improve their standard of play. Yet, this is typical French rugby: You have no idea what French team will show up!
Scotland – 5th
Where do we begin…..
The so-called ‘transitional’ phase in Scottish Rugby at the moment is being looked at with disapproving taste from supporters. Selection, disarray, last minute…. all words that can be used to describe Scotland’s six nation performance. Discipline will also need to be addressed with Stuart Hogg being the villain of the tournament with his late shoulder barge on Dan Biggar.
Coach Scott Johnson will be glad that he was leaving on good terms after this years tournament, rather than having to be forced out. Poor performances against England, Ireland, Wales and France showed how far behind Scotland are in the build up to the next world cup. They need to find a way of winning tight games, and having the belief to finish the job. Wins will come after that along with confidence. New coach Vern Cotter will have his work cut out yet he will most likely be a breath of fresh air for the Scottish team in terms of preforming and getting the most out of their chances. The possible addition of a third Scottish club team in Aberdeen is also a reason to be optimistic, encouraging a wider selection of Scottish talent.
Italy – WOODEN SPOON
In short, an expected result for the Italians. However, regardless of the standings in the championship, the Azzurri have plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Their youth are seeping through nicely in the form of Michele Campagnaro, who announced his arrival to test rugby with a two try haul against Wales at the start of the Six Nations. Sergio Parrise, the Italian’s ever reliable skipper, also had another consistent performance.
However, the individual talent is yet to gel together as a team. They failed to do anything dangerous with the ball and never really threatened any other teams defence. They were very unlucky to lose to Scotland after Duncan Weir’s last minute drop goal. Yet, another wooden spoon means that Italy need to prepare even more if they are to compete at all in England 2015.