Six Nations 2015 – Final Report – All roads now leading to the World Cup

I wrote a mid-competition report – – on the Six Nations – here is my end of tourney report:-

Wow what an end to the 2015 Six Nations Championship!!!!!!! At the start of the final round of fixtures, four teams were in contention and what followed was a day of high scoring (221 in total), try laden (55 in total) drama with Ireland coming out on top by a matter of only (quite apt really) SIX points. So the final competitive matches north of the equator are done before the Rugby World Cup later in the year. Where are the teams at in their pursuit of stopping the Southern Hemisphere giants and to bring the William Webb Ellis trophy back to the north of the world – table order as always.

Ireland – Joe Schmidt has done it again, two Six Nations, two titles all be it on points difference – back to back outright titles for the first time in 66 years – fully deserved champions. Ireland have been somewhat conservative (but extremely effective) in their play throughout – with the leadership of Paul O’Connell and game running of Jonny Sexton but when they needed to be expansive in their final game they showed exactly what they are capable of when they need to get points on the board. The only blot was their defeat to Wales in an epic duel – but it gives them something to look at in regards to their preparation for the biggest tournament of them all. Congratulations to the ‘Green Army’ who as we stand have to go into World Cup as the Northern Hemisphere’s best hope.

England – So near yet so far YET again for Lancaster’s England. They have now been the BRIDESMAIDS!!!!!!! for four years running, coming second – and for the third year running on points difference after a dramatic and amazing match against the French when they did everything but win by the required points margin to snatch the title from Ireland. This years will be most galling as in previous matches they have missed opportunities to beat teams by more points (especially Italy and Scotland) – though potentially dubious refereeing decisions that could easily have gone their way lost them points against Wales and Ireland with disallowed tries – the margins are so tight. And with the comments of RFU Chief Executive, Ian Ritchie, ringing in their ears (basically saying it is ‘unacceptable’ to keep finishing second) – the pressure has now ramped up markedly on the coaching staff and players. For me England go into the World Cup in good shape (a young and motivated squad who can play the expansive rugby when needed) but with a group of death containing themselves, Australia and Wales (not forgetting Fiji thrown in the mix) getting out of the group has to be the minimum requirement. The Cumbrian coach keeps losing matches that really matter – September 26th (Wales) and October 3rd (Australia) are the key matches as we stand and would be a very good time to start winning those kind of games – if he does the opportunity of a run to glory on home soil will present itself.

Wales – After the heartbreak of their blow out versus England, brilliant backs to the wall wins against the Scots and French an outstanding defensive display against the Irish  finished off with a second half try blitz against the Italians the Welsh so nearly made it three titles in four years. Understandably after their second half collapse against England – tough questions were asked and a response was needed by coach Warren Gatland and his players and its safe to say they have all been answered.  Wales have players that can produce at will, but there has always been that thought that they had a soft centre if things were not going their way – however in my opinion they gone some way to have destroy this myth during this years Six Nations with differing types of performances whilst still winning – and with the World Cup looming it can be put to bed once and for all. A group of death awaits and a huge game versus England at Twickenham which they can no doubt prevail. Their final group game is against the Wallabies a win there and an opportunity to win the greatest tournament in Rugby on the home soil of their bitterest rivals may well present itself.

France – A strange tournament with an unrecognisable French team early on. However their performances in victory against Italy (especially in the second half) and even in a losing cause versus the English showed a lot more promise with a return to the swashbuckling style of rugby we are used to from our Gallic rugby teams. French coach Philippe Saint-Andre must continue along this path as on their day, when showing flair and guile, the French are a match for any team on the planet (remember they were runners up in the last World Cup and were very unlucky not to win the final – Craig Joubert, the referee on that occasion is still a bit of a marked man in France). They will need to balance this out with their defence as they had only conceded two tries before England ran seven past them – so the time in between now and the World Cup must be used wisely as there is clearly more to come from this squad of players and if Saint-Andre can unlock this another run to the final at least is not out of the question.

Italy – It would be interesting to see how the Italian Rugby officials see this years tournament. A heavy defeat at Twickenham would have been expected, but three home thrashings cannot have been viewed with much comfort, however coach Jacques Brunel will probably say he has achieved what he set out to and not finish bottom after a last gap victory over Scotland in the third round of games. Unfortunately this is the level Italian rugby is at – well done Italy you have not finished bottom and no wooden spoon for us this year!!!!!!! They will be just going through the motions at the World Cup as France and Ireland will no doubt do what they regularly do and beat them. The interesting matches will be against Canada and especially Romania who may even think they could do a better job in the Six Nations.

Scotland –  It has to be said that despite showing promise in all their first four games (despite the heart breaking loss to the Italians in the third round of matches) – their shocking performance against Ireland has made this a Six Nations to forget and one that Vern Cotter will not remember too fondly. Scotland could have beaten Wales, should have beaten Italy, held their own in Paris and at Twickenham so where last Saturday’s performance (or surrender as I’ll call it) came from who knows. Major concerns for their New Zealand coach, who has since stated he is in for the long haul.  A lot of work is now required to make them a force at the World Cup where they are in a group with South Africa, Samoa, Japan and the United States, so realistically they are playing for one place. They did not get out of the group phase in 2011 so the minimum requirement has to be getting to the knockout phase or Mr Cotter may well become a short haul coach.

Ok so just friendly matches to be played now for the Northern Hemisphere elite before World Cup 2015 kicks off – lots of hard yards to come.

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