An interesting Six Nations for all, a shame it didn’t build to the Grand Slam decider that the schedule promised but if you are Irish it was quite literally a historic tournament as they celebrated only their 3rd Grand Slam in history.
With a commanding 26 points, 11 more than second place, zero defeats and with a points scored difference of +78 Ireland were rightly crowned Grand Slam Champions. Their unerring accuracy was their defining characteristic. Strong under the highball, faultless at the breakdown, nailed their chances and in Jacob Stockdale have developed a real finisher. As Ronan O’Gara’s drop-goal at the death won it in 2009, it was Johnny Sexton’s drop goal at the end of the France match which sealed the 2018 Grand Slam. I very much look forward to seeing them play the Southern Hemisphere Team’s this autumn to assess their progress.
Finished second recovering from fifth last time out and with their pre-tournament injury crisis is some feat. They blooded new players and are looking in good shape to peak at the World Cup. Gatland has dumped Warren Ball and embraced the Scarlets brand of free flowing rugby. Alun Wyn Jones manfully coped with a young side with out Lions Captain Warburton, try scoring Lion Toby Faletau and Lion of the tournament Jonathan Davies. They coped the best with injuries and pushed Ireland hard in Dublin. Worthy runners up.
Having won 3 matches it is interestingly Scotland’s points scored difference was still -27. Their glorious victories were 3 closely fought matches and they won those matches in the heat of battle, which bodes well for the future. Gregor Townsend is an astute coach and arguably has the potential to be best home nations coach since Clive Woodward. Scotland however still struggle away from home and their slender victory in Italy shows as much as their defeats in Wales and Ireland the extent of their task to improve this area. Special mention for Jonny Gray who made more tackles than anyone in the tournament.
What might have happened in the tournament had they not lost to an injury time drop goal by the Irish? In many ways a sobering Six Nations with 3 defeats but it feels like they are on an upward incline from rock bottom. Having sacked their coach pre-tournament France were competitive in every match they played and new coach Jacques Brunel has admirably gained respect having dropped half the team following the drinking incident in Scotland. In Teddy Thomas, France have unearthed a gem and he could be a lethal finisher for the years to come. France too have the best hooker in Guilhem Guirado who led the side with all his customary passion.
Well that was a shock – 5th place is a fall from grace for the double champions of this tournament. They looked tired with 16 players having gone on the Lions Tour. But more than that it might have been the way their players are managed by Premiership clubs with Owen Farrell having played over a thousand minutes for Saracens, whilst his counter part Jonny Sexton has played only 600 minutes of rugby this season. England looked missed Ben Youngs and were one-dimensional, having an inability at the breakdown which created a paucity of attack. Only two players leave with any credit Owen Farrell and Eliot Daly. Interesting Eddie Jones said people will probably never play for England again. Wonder if he means Cole? Kruis? Wrigglesworth? Haskel?
Matteo Minnozzi scored four tries in the tournament and looks a real find at full back. Sebastian Negri was a strong addition to the squad and credit must go to the coaches for the hard work they have put in. But critical analysis of Italian rugby is that it is way short of international class. Fitness, basic skills and the club structure of the Italian rugby shows how much work there is to do. Spare a thought for their immense Captain who now holds the record for 100 Test defeats, a crying shame for the great man, surrounded by a poverty of talent.
A grand slam was a surprise for 2018, except it shouldn’t be as this was the 10th in 19 Six Nations. Well done Ireland. Excellent returns too for Wales and Scotland. France and England have food for thought and …at least the food is good in Italy.