Six Nations 2020 Roundup

With another 6 Nations now (kind of) in the books, it’s time to evaluate a championship marred by pandemics. Having used the time off to go back and examine some of this year’s games, I’ve compiled a summary of every team’s performance, as well as some awards for the championship as a whole.

Image by Dave Stokes. Available on flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 license

England

The current leaders and potential champions managed to recover from a shaky start against France with three solid performances securing the Triple Crown. The general outlook for England going forward looks positive. They’ve seemed to shake off the World Cup Final loss as well as recent Saracens drama to confirm themselves as one of rugby’s heavyweights. Tom Curry and Sam Underhill look better every game they play and seem locked into the back row for years to come (assuming they avoid injury of course). Maro Itoje cemented his place as one of the best players in the world and a back three of May, Watson and Daly handled themselves very well. The biggest question going forward is England’s alternatives in attack if Tuilagi or Billy Vunipola aren’t firing, as seen in last year’s final against South Africa or the opener against France.

 

France

Les Bleus are back. That performance against England might have been one of the strongest Six Nations opening first halves I’ve ever seen, as they absolutely outclassed their age-old foe. Dupont and Ntamack look set to become the best 9-10 combo in the world and are backed up by a physical and explosive pack lead by an incredible back row. What they need to develop as they build for their home World Cup in 2023 is the familiar problem with French rugby: consistency. Mohamed Haouas’ red card antics against Scotland shows how France can never make things easy for themselves, as they underwhelmed with a poor performance at Murrayfield. Nevertheless, I’m excited for whatever happens next. I might be completely overreacting, but the next stage of French rugby looks incredibly promising.

Scotland

This was the most Scottish Six Nations performance we could have witnessed. Their most recent game against France was a perfect example of all the positives of Scottish rugby, as they picked apart a potential Grand Slam winner with the usual flair that has characterised their best performances. However, this was only potential respite from a 2020 marred with negatives for Scotland, both on and off the pitch, summarised best by Stuart Hogg’s drop against Ireland. Poor performances against England, Ireland and Italy show there’s still a lot of work to be done. Nevertheless, there are signs of promise. Young talent in Jamie Ritchie, Adam Hastings and the pair of Scott Cummings and Grant Gilchrist look perfect additions to the established pieces of Hogg, Watson and Fraser Brown. What Scotland need to do is to be able to win in conditions which aren’t favourable (or Murrayfield). They need a plan for when expansive open play doesn’t work and learn how to grind out victories against tougher defensive teams, and perhaps find a way to get exiled Finn Russell back on the field.

 

Ireland

A confusing championship for Ireland curtailed early by Coronavirus. Wins at home against Wales and Scotland showed they are still a force to be reckoned with, but they followed that up by offering next to nothing against a dominant England side. A true barometer of their performance would have been their potential 6 Nations decider against France, but as it stands Ireland come out with a mixed bag of results. Going forwards Ireland need their young talent to emerge. Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw (only 26), Jacob Stockdale and James Ryan need to capitalise on the promise they’ve shown thus far and take charge of the team. Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray are the oldest starting 9/10 combo in the championship and really showed it at times, and Ireland will need to adapt their team’s identity after both retire. To do better than peak the year before World Cups and advance past a quarter final, they need to find alternatives to Sexton’s performance deciding whether they are victorious or not.

Wales

A rough start for Wayne Pivac’s Six Nations career, with losses to everyone except for Italy. The issue appears to be that Wales are missing production in key areas which were formerly areas of strength. Jonathan Davies’ absence left a big hole in the centres which is yet to be filled, George North can’t seem to regain his world-class form and the pack seemed off the pace throughout the Six Nations. Only a year out from their Grand Slam victory, to regain their position at the top of European rugby Wales need to find consistency in their strengths again. Wales have already conceded 84 points this tournament, their most through the first 4 games of the championship since 2010. Their defensive edge is clearly missing with Shaun Edwards now in France, something Pivac will need to address if this Welsh squad want to regain the Six Nations title. Josh Adams and Aaron Wainwright are emerging young talents but, like Ireland, gaps left by older players like Alun Wyn Jones will need to be filled going forwards. Leaders like Justin Tipuric and Dan Biggar will be crucial in helping this transition pass smoothly.

Italy

Forever everyone’s favourite underdog, Italy have once again claimed their place as perpetual winners of the wooden spoon. Like Ireland, Italy have only managed three games so far, a shame as they had showed promise after their 42-0 thumping in Cardiff in week 1. Jake Polledri looks a promising talent to develop and Matteo Minozzi and Mattia Bellini show potential as part of an exciting back three. Italy’s goal is to continue to nourish this talent (and find a 10 who doesn’t consistently stop the flow of their game) over the coming years, and they might soon earn that long sought after victory.

 

And now for the awards:

Team of the championship

France: Explosive throughout and exciting to watch. Shaun Edwards has added the defensive dynamism France have severely lacked over the years, making them a force to come over the coming World Cup cycle.

Player(s) of the championship

Charles Ollivon/Grégory Alldritt: It was impossible to separate these two. They anchored a dominant French pack and were exceptional in both attack and defense. Having grown up in the era of Dusautoir, Harinodorquy and Betsen it’s nice to watch a young and promising French back row again.

Special mentions go to Dupont, Ntamack, CJ Stander and Maro Itoje for consistently good to great performances throughout

Game of the championship

Wales vs. France: Absolutely no doubts regarding this one. An explosive back and forth thrill ride played with pace and intensity was an incredibly bright spot amidst a slightly haphazard tournament. The game played out as if two heavyweight boxers had finally realised they could actually throw punches, and so began swinging haymakers left and right. Although there was consistently brilliant attacking play from both sides, what makes this game stand out is that it wasn’t simply a try-fest, both sides also displaying incredible defensive work throughout. With drama right up to the final whistle, this game is definitely one to go back and re-watch, ending with the three words any any game of rugby should finish with: Camille Chat turnover.

 

Game I weirdly enjoyed

Scotland vs. England: A tactical shambles throughout, the weather muted Scotland’s attacking play, and I found myself engrossed as both teams tried to figure out how to adapt. In what can be described as a ‘rock-fight’, this was the ultimate test of team composure. It’s telling that England, after 20 minutes of some of the worst box-kicking ever seen on a rugby pitch, managed to make the right adjustments, whereas Scotland didn’t.

Kit of the championship

France: Always impressive, the blue just looks good (copyright means I can’t find a good version).

Try of the championship

Anthony Watson’s try vs. Wales: With Tipuric’s try straight from kick-off most definitely another contender, as someone who loves set piece I had to give it to England’s opening score. Expertly choreographed and perfectly executed this was sublime rugby. I’ve re-watched this clip countless times, noticing something new each viewing: Jamie George and Tom Curry’s dummy lines, Watson’s change of angle to score, even how England set up their lineout, this was absolutely incredible.

 

Way too early, will soon be wrong overreaction

France win the 2023 Rugby World Cup at home. You heard it here first.

 

Featured Image by Dave Stokes. Available on flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 license

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