Six Nations 2016: how did the home nations teams fare?
Now that this season’s Six Nations has been and gone, and the eventual tournament winners England have lifted the championship, it’s time to take a look at the key talking points.
For starters, the winners: what a difference 6-months can make. It seems like only yesterday that England suffered the indignity of crashing out of the World Cup they were hosting at the group stages. And if that wasn’t bad enough, our less-than-heroic exit came at the hands of arch-rivals Australia, who gave us a thorough 31-13 whipping.
But from the ashes of last year’s humiliation, Eddie Jones’ England emerged a team transformed at this year’s Six Nations, and ended a 13-year wait for the trophy – their first since 2003. Better still, the manner in which they did it, having won all five of the five games played, was impressive.
Meanwhile the pre-tournament favourites, Wales, finished as runners-up, and walked away on a high after absolutely battering Italy in their final game. Not that they’ll be happy of course. Coming in second behind the English won’t sit well, and there will be a lingering ‘what if’ will be in the back of Welsh minds after making an uncharacteristically slow start to the tournament. As expected, defending champions Ireland were unable to hold onto their crown, but achieved a respectable third-place ahead of Scotland, France and Italy respectively. The Scots will certainly be disappointed by their fourth-place position, although there is no denying that they have also come a long way since the World Cup.
However without further ado, let’s take a look at this year’s Six Nations winners and losers, and the teams and individuals who made this year’s tournament a tournament worth talking about.
It would be fair to say that after last year’s shambolic World Cup run, England exceeded all expectations. Up until this year’s win, England had been perennial runners-up for the last four years in a row, but rather than go backwards as many pundits thought they would, instead, England’s new coach Eddie Jones inspired a team which was rich in quality but lacking in confidence and motivation.
England’s attack this year was key. Rather than running blindly with little end product, there was some great incisive rugby which spotted gaps and punished mismatches. Individually, the players were nothing less than good overall, but it was George Kruis and Billy Vunipola who really stole the show this year – both displayed a phenomenal workrate, and Kruis ransacked opposition lineouts in the latter stages of the tournament while Vunipola was a force to be reckoned with.
England have a bit of swagger in their step again, and so long as they can maintain their form before heading out to Australia this year they might surprise people.
In the run-up to this year’s Six Nations, a number of pundits had Wales down as the likeliest team to be walking away with the trophy. Their experienced squad, with more than a few Lions call-ups between them and experience in contesting bruising, high-quality Test matches, failed to utilise their attacking firepower and capabilities, and instead played a more one-dimensional kicking game.
That isn’t to say the potential isn’t there – the Welsh team is young, and has plenty of quick, powerful runners to call upon. George North was rampant this year, having beat the most defenders out of any player in the tournament, and scoring the most tries. Taulupe Faletou also chipped in with a strong tournament, and his impressive workrate saw him make a solid contribution to both attack and defence.
While not terrible, Wales will be disappointed this year. Changes will need to be made to their game, but with the next World Cup being over three years away, now is the time develop a more all-action, exciting style of play. Their summer tour to New Zealand, where they will face off against the All Blacks, could prove to be a baptism by fire.
Scotland made an improved showing this year, and Scots are hoping that their team can reproduce this improvement next year and the year after.
The general consensus is that while Scotland is a team which has real individual talent, there is work to do as far as their collective play goes – the foundation of a great team is there but how to transform this potential into a winning formula has everyone scratching their heads.
Stuart Hogg played well in attack and notched up some rampaging tries, while also sprinkling a little bit of magic at various points of the tournament. Greig Laidlaw and Duncan Taylor also had a strong Six Nations tournament, and the Gray brothers were also outstanding.
Next up for Scotland is a tour of Japan this summer – a trip which could aprovide a much-needed confidence boost, and help foster a feeling of belief once more.
The tournament was something of a mixed bag for the Irish, who at times showed just how powerful an attacking team they are and some good, solid structure. It’s easy to forget that Ireland are a team in transition, having lost two legends, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell in just two years.
That said, their players seemed a little slow and stifled at times, and it seemed at times they were too busy thinking about their roles and positioning rather than reacting with instinct and vision – a by-product perhaps of Joe Schmidt’s prescriptive gameplan.
Ireland were hindered by a lengthy injury list, but Jack McGrath and CJ Stander really stepped up this tournament, as did Robbie Henshaw – the man who many believe was their standout player this year.
Success equals more monies
It’s a general rule of thumb that the better you are at something, and the more high-profile your job role, the more you get paid – our England Grand Slam winners being the perfect point in case.
Even though they are already the top-earners in global rugby, the RFU have now confirmed that under a new Elite Player Squad agreement, squad members will be paid £15,000 per match in future tournaments – this could rise to £116,000 for squad members who play every game, once a share of the £600,000 Grand Slam bonus pool is factored in too.
So all in all, work hard guys and girls – you’ll reap your reward in the end. And back to the subject of rugby, well played to our home nations teams who all made the French and Italian squads look like schoolboys.
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