France lived up to pre-tournament expectations by sweeping all before them in the Six Nations, with Ireland followed closely behind.
Here, we examine five things we learned from the competition.
France’s first title since 2010, secured by clinching the Grand Slam, was met with a wave of emotion at the Stade de France, but the joy should also reverberate across the game. For so long a faded power, Saturday’s jittery victory over England completed a transformation that restores one of the sport’s most admired rugby nations to the pinnacle. Directed by their outstanding half-backs Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, they will enter next year’s home World Cup from a position of strength.
England’s limitations laid bare
While France prosper, England are flailing. Their performance in Paris typified what they have become – spirited and resilient, but lacking in any real potency. All of their resolve was on display in a heartening second half, but as an attacking force they ignite only sporadically. France and Ireland are light years ahead in this department and the lack of sustained cutting edge is a real area of concern for Eddie Jones, whose side have gone backwards since a successful autumn. There is much to admire in England’s determination, but it will not win them a World Cup.
Stand by your man
What to do with Jones? That was the question facing the Rugby Football Union, but chief executive Bill Sweeney has moved quickly by giving him unconditional backing. It is an extraordinary show of faith in light of England’s recent Six Nations results, with three defeats registered in three of the last five tournaments. Strip Italy out of the equation and only eight of the last 20 games have been won. Jones’ defence is that his team rebuilding project needs time to come to fruition and Sweeney has given him the green light to continue before the customary post-Six Nations review has even begun. Calls for his removal have increased in volume, but the RFU has made its position loud and clear – it is content to continue riding the Jones rollercoaster.
Italy detonate on the final day
A three-tier hierarchy has emerged in northern hemisphere rugby led by France and Ireland. England, Wales and Scotland form the chasing pack and behind are positioned Italy. Outside of the top two it has been a low-quality tournament. Wales’ fall from champions to fifth place could signal the beginning of a difficult phase across the Severn Bridge and few would envy the position Wayne Pivac finds himself in. And to rub salt into Welsh wounds, it was they who brought to a close Italy’s 36-Test losing run in the Six Nations. The Azzurri were immense as they prevailed 22-21 in Cardiff with electric full-back Ange Capuozzo producing the moment of the tournament with the exhilarating run that set-up the match winning converted try. All of Europe will be willing them to build on a breakthrough moment.
Possibly the most unexpected aspect of the Six Nations has been the total collapse of Scotland, whose pre-tournament confidence was enhanced by an opening-day victory over England, before they unravelled in spectacular fashion. Apart from a hollow win against Italy, they failed to make any further impact as they became engulfed by a disciplinary storm in the final week. For a group of senior players, including captain Stuart Hogg and fly-half Finn Russell, to go out drinking in defiance of team rules is a lamentable lapse in judgement that hints at an unhappy camp. So much for it being Scotland’s year – again.