With a full house in the final round of games, our Six Nations blogger and Director of Rugby Gareth Dyer returned an impressive 13 correct predictions from the 15 games played. Here he provides his thoughts on the final round together with his team of the tournament.
The final round of games was played out in a frenetic fashion with the whole tournament finale coming down to the final play of the final game. There can’t be many international tournaments that can provide such drama based on passionate nationalistic fervour.
Italy vs England
England went into the game knowing a big winning margin could put pressure on the Irish ahead of their trip to Paris. For the most part England delivered but again it might be that their “bench strategy” derailed their momentum and stopped them from applying further pressure. England scored some nice tries but perhaps should have had further scores. However much they may rue their defeat in Paris, they left a lot of points on the paddock in dominating a poor Scottish team at Murrayfield. This ultimately may have cost them in terms of winning the tournament on points difference but overall they will be pleased with their campaign. They have unearthed an attacking edge and have players who have shown themselves ready for international rugby. There remain plenty of things to work on. The scrum was a sore point (with Corbiserio and Cole keenly missed) whilst a number of positions have not been nailed down as yet. The wing and inside centre positions may still be up for grabs whilst who fills the propping positions may only be resolved once the long term injuries have either been recovered from or succumbed too. There also appears to be a lack of depth at hooker (with Tom Youngs lineout woes becoming a big issue), openside flanker (an injury to Robshaw would be a big hole to fill in the side) and still little is known about George Ford as a suitable backup to Farrell. The coaches also need to “tidy up” their replacement strategy which is the only negative on an otherwise impressive rebuilding job by Stuart Lancaster and his team. Overall England are progressing nicely to RWC 2015.
Italy have again shown some improvement but they continue to lack strength in depth and a pair of international class half backs. It is clear that the condensed nature of the tournament does Italy no favours and they will have been devastated to lose to Scotland. The emergence of Sarto, Campagnaro, De Marchi and Furno are positives and they are four players who look like they could offer much in the years ahead. However some of the older players are now creaking badly with the talismanic Parisse showing the strain of the continual carrying of his team’s hopes.
Wales vs Scotland
It could be argued we know little more about either side given the one sided nature of the result following Stuart Hogg’s sending off in Cardiff. I don’t believe the red card altered the likely outcome as Wales were already in the driving seat and Scotland coming off second in the physical battle. However it did ensure the margin of victory would be bigger than anticipated. What was startling was Scott Johnson’s decision not to put another back on the field after Hogg was sent off. By keeping his backline a man short in defence he was merely inviting Wales to play to their strength. Yes Kelly Brown may have already been taken off but Wales looked like they would exploit the one man overlap behind the scrum every time they got the ball.
Wales have much to ponder as to how they take their game forward but the questions as to how Scotland return to a competitive standing run much deeper. I doubt many tears will be passed for Johnson’s move upstairs and Vern Cotter’s arrival cannot come soon enough. It is important for the integrity of the Northern Hemisphere game that Scottish rugby becomes competitive once again.
France vs Ireland
As I thought, we finally saw something from France that befits their status in the game. They were quick out of the blocks and battle back strongly in the final quarter to almost take the game. Individually they were better but it was a big ask for them to put in a coherent team display for the full 80 minutes after their “travails” during the tournament. Their performance was a reminder that if they can discover a game plan, they have the personnel to beat the best.
Ireland took the title they probably just about deserved but were hanging on grimly at the end. They played in a nervous fashion and were almost deprived by a poor call by referee Walsh for the French second half try. The use of the video referee is becoming a problem almost on a par with the DRS in cricket. Throughout the tournament we have seen refs use the facility to trawl back through numerous phases to look for the most innocuous of offences. Here we saw a ref actually decide to award a try when it was clear he could not have seen the ball grounded. In the game that is consistently marred by inconsistency, the decision “to use” or “not to use” the video ref is another area that needs a consistent approach. The forward pass try was correctly called but how Ireland were not penalised at the resulting scrum was amazing. That scrum anywhere else on the field, at any other point in the game would have surely been penalised. It would have led to a winning French penalty kick.
Ireland have improved under Joe Schmidt and certain parts of their game are above the rest of their NH counterparts. Their standard of passing and disruptive work at the breakdown is better than anyone else and their set piece work is mostly clinical. This could be a shot in the arm they need to finally make an impact at a World Cup although the replacement of O Driscoll and perhaps O’Connell remain big holes to fill with preparation time running out.
My team of the Six Nations was:-
6) O Mahoney
The club would like to thank Gareth for taking the time each week to provide both a preview and review for each game. It’s made great reading!