After seven weeks of competition, England proved their worth as one of the best teams in rugby by parading the Six Nations trophy in Ireland’s AVIVA stadium.
While Eddie Jones’ men managed to win the tournament a week early thanks to some dominant displays, their hopes of another Grand Slam were shattered by a resilient Ireland, who picked up a much-deserved 13-9 win.
England’s loss was the first under Jones’ leadership, highlighting the team’s impressive turnaround following a disappointing 2015 Rugby World Cup. Spectacular 36-15 and 61-21 wins over Italy and Scotland respectively reaffirmed England’s class, while a workmanlike 16-21 victory over Wales put them in control of the tournament.
Elsewhere on the final weekend, Scotland put their drubbing from England behind them with a 29-0 win over Italy, while France and Wales put on one of the strangest matches the tournament has ever seen. France eventually beat Wales 20-18 after 100 minutes of play. Wales had the lead at 80 minutes, but a spirited France comeback finally ended with an Antoine Dupont try to eventually end the game.
England went into the tournament as favourites and they did not disappoint. After a Ben Te’o try helped them complete a challenging 19-16 win over France, there were question marks over their ability to continue their form from last year, but the hard-fought win Wales restored confidence.
In the end, England’s big names such as Owen Farrell, George Ford and captain Dylan Hartley all delivered. Farrell’s kicking made a huge difference in the Wales game and his partnership with George Ford was a constant threat.
Elliot Daly was another massive presence in the Wales game with a decisive try and offered a diverse attacking option throughout the tournament. What’s more, Joe Marler’s miraculous comeback from a fractured leg proved vital as the prop was a dominant force, constantly making tackles and recovering possession.
England’s confidence is sky-high at the moment and, even though the Ireland loss leaves work to do, the team remain second in the world rankings and will be looking forward to their next meeting with the only team above them - New Zealand.
Ireland were seen by many as potential winners, especially after a huge wins over Australia and New Zealand last year, but they fell short after losses to Scotland and Wales. The final-day victory over England will no doubt restore confidence, though Ireland must feel that this year’s Six Nations is a huge missed opportunity. Jonathan Sexton was a crucial part of Ireland’s team and his absence for the game against Wales may have proved pivotal in costing them the trophy. Tadhg Furlong was another star performer, proving to be a disruptive force in the scrum and playing a key role in the final day win over England.
France’s bizarre win over Wales put them in third place, ending a tournament that must have surpassed expectations during a transitional phase for the Blues. Louis Picamoles continued to be the star player for the French and was at the centre of their dramatic victory against Wales.
On the other hand, Wales and Scotland will not look back on the tournament fondly. Scotland’s loss against England was simply not good enough for a team that has been taking big steps forward. Gregg Laidlaw’s absence was noticeable from the start and maybe the only consolation is that Stuart Hogg continued to show off his credentials as a world class player.
Wales went into the tournament with a number of outstanding players at their disposal (Sam Warburton, Liam Williams and George North to name a few), but couldn’t threaten England. The 29-13 loss against Scotland showed that the Welshmen have work to do if they are to move up the rankings and contend for the Six Nations.
Italy ended up with five losses from five games and it sadly wasn’t surprising. Coach Conor O’Shea has inherited a team in building mode and plenty of changes need to be made in order for them to develop.
Although Ireland’s win certainly rained on England’s parade, this was further proof that England are the team to beat behind New Zealand at the moment.
While Eddie Jones will be eagerly awaiting the world number one, every other team clearly has some work to do. Ireland will be hoping to continue the momentum gained in their final weekend win. Their next games are against the USA and Japan and, while they may not offer as much of a test as England, Ireland will want to continue their winning ways.
Scotland will need to show better form against Australia and Fiji in June, while Tonga and Samoa await Wales in the same month. France will also be tested when they face South Africa on June 10th in a battle of 8th vs 7th in the world rankings. As for Italy, Fiji and Australia are coming up and they have a lot of work to do to remain competitive.