Coming into the tournament, it was hyped as being one of the most open in a generation, but it was Wales who took the Grand Slam amongst a mixed showing from the rest. With the World Cup now firmly set in the sights, we take a look at how each of the European heavyweights sit 6 months out.
Warren Gatland predicted that if they beat France, Wales would win the Grand Slam – and they did. Half time in Paris could prove to be such a pivotal moment in Gatland’s final year – a true sliding doors moment. This Wales team are now 14 games without defeat and as Gatland said – they don’t know how to lose. They’ve looked comfortable throughout having the right answers to all of the tough questions. They may not have set the World alight but for this particular group of players to have won a Grand Slam – makes it one of the best clean sweeps ever and they are certainly worthy of being ranked number two in the World. Attack wins games and defence wins Championships.
Prior to kicking off in Dublin, England may well have settled for a second-place finish, however, the manner in which it was achieved was far from convincing – a number of questions have been answered but an equal number of new ones are now being asked. If matches had finished at half-time Eddie Jones’ men would have taken home the Grand Slam. But as we know – this is not the case and worries over nerve and leadership will now be at the forefront over the summer. England have more than enough to be crowned champions in November but do they have the mental fortitude? Only time will tell.
This has been a difficult tournament for Ireland, following 2018 they were heading to Japan with a genuine belief. That doesn’t go away overnight – but the way they lost to England and Wales will be a serious concern. Expect Joe Schmidt to reset his players over the summer – but he will be hoping they have a big finish to the season at home and in Europe. If Ireland struggle in their first group game against Scotland, whispers of peaking too early will become a lot more audible.
‘Which French team is going to turn up’? In fact, both did and on several occasions. If France pick players in the correct position and give their young guns a sustained chance – there is no doubt they can be a match for anyone. However, realistically they travel to Japan with hope rather than expectation and along with England and Argentina have it far from easy from the off.
How many teams go to Twickenham and win a 50-minute period 38-0? Scotland were part of one of the greatest test matches ever, becoming the first international side to score 6 tries against England at home to boot. They certainly showed what they are capable of and with such a depleted squad, Gregor Townsend is probably heading into the break content. However, they have still failed to get over the mental hurdle of winning away from home or performing when the chips are down – lets not forget they still finished 5th and chalked up one victory. The first match in Japan against Ireland will be massive – they need to win that to avoid a likely quarter-final against New Zealand. However, should they lose a winner takes all clash with the hosts awaits to see if they progress at all.
Despite registering no wins, they showed periods of promise in all of their games (Twickenham aside). They are far better than the talk of being replaced by Georgia would suggest. There is no doubt that Conner O’Shea has the Azzurri moving in the right direction, but they’re unlikely to make waves in Japan. In a pool with New Zealand and South Africa, anything other than the status quo would be a big surprise.
Written By James Jones