Upon reflection of this Six Nations that has passed, it is important to ask the question, where do the northern hemisphere teams stand heading into the world cup in six months time. Each team have their own questions to answer. For Italy, what has to be done to get that elusive win in against a tier one team? For Scotland and France, why did they only perform in patches during the tournament? For Ireland, how far have they fallen since November? For England, what the hell happened in the second-half against Scotland? Fortunately for Gatland, Wales can reflect on a largely positive Six Nations, but that certainly doesn’t mean he can rest on his laurels.
Hansen, Erasmus and Cheika will be looking at this year’s Six Nations and possibly, not feel that threatened. The two biggest threats from the northern hemisphere in recent years, Ireland and England, are not quite firing on all cylinders. Although Wales may be well-deserved Grand Slam winners, they are not much as of a threat to their southern hemisphere counterparts. Wales game plan relies on Shaun Edwards implementation of an impenetrable defense coupled with blistering line speed and forcing the opposition into making mistakes. This worked for a Six Nations where many players were experiencing a dip in form aside from any Welsh player. However, I can’t imagine this working against the likes of South Africa or Australia and certainly not the All Blacks. Wales may have beaten Australia and South Africa at home in Cardiff last Autumn, However, on a world cup stage in Japan, there is high probability that there will be a different outcome.
Although, Wales conceded the least amount of tries, they were also tied last with Italy for the least amount of tries scored in the Six Nations. There defensive game plan can work against Australia in the world cup group stages, however, for Wales to win the world cup, they will have to avoid the All Blacks. Even last November, when the All Blacks could not get past the whitewash in the Aviva, it was a try that the Irish needed to score to separate the sides. That being said, if Wales beat Australia in their group stages, it’s very likely that they will reach the world cup final, but probably will eventually run into the haka.
In terms of England and Ireland, although they may not be in their best form at the moment, in six months time, they can pose a threat to any nation including New Zealand. The reason being is that both have the capability of beating the all Blacks and any other team as demonstrated in recent years. It may be a blessing in disguise for England and Ireland are having their weaknesses exposed before the World Cup, it will give them something to work towards in the next six months. Although, having the confidence that Wales have would be a major advantage for any team heading into this tournament.
For Scotland and France, both of these sides are very capable of causing upsets. If they can work on becoming more consistent in their performances and sort out the issues in the backfield, the French can play their way to a semi-final. Though Scotland may be the best attacking side within the Six Nations, it will be their defense that may let them down against New Zealand or South Africa in the world cup quarter-finals. Nevertheless, bigger upsets have happened on the World Cup stage.
No matter who you support in the Six Nations, I think it’s fair to say that no one wants a repeat of the 2015 World Cup, where every Six Nations team was knocked out in the quarter-final and the tournament began to resemble the Rugby Championship. That being said, this time around, it is highly likely that a representative from the British and Irish Lions will make it to a semi-final. The question is who will they be?
Written By James O’Connor