Six Nations verdict: France flourish to win Slam as Italy show they belong | Six Nations 2022
It was the collective sense of purpose and unity that was most striking as France reclaimed their grand slam and climbed to second place in the world rankings. In the past, they would suffer a setback and often let it distract them. Now they have everything a champion rugby team needs: talent, power and, above all, composure. It was only in Wales, where fear of a Friday night error briefly sidetracked them into a tactical dead end, that their most influential players showed signs of confusion. The clarity of their game plan has been a lesson to other teams and previously unrecognized players such as Gabin Villière, Melvyn Jaminet and Jonathan Danty have stepped up to complement the bigger names around them. Shaun Edwards’ defensive urges also made a huge difference and the French public swooned. By the time the World Cup kicks off in Paris in 2023, they could be big favourites.
By most measures, Ireland has had a productive season. Their tally of 24 tries was the second-highest in Six Nations history – albeit boosted by a day on the pitch against a 13-man Italy – and they also conceded just four out of five games, the fewest in history. tournament. There is absolutely no shame in losing in Paris to quality French opposition either. In Hugo Keenan, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris, they had lackluster players who would all be on the plane if a Lions tour was coming up. There remains a feeling, however, that a more reliable indicator of their World Cup readiness will be the test series in New Zealand this summer. Winning at home – or away against an England 14 – is fine but another level will be needed to beat the All Blacks in their own backyard. They look a more formidable pack with Rónan Kelleher and Andrew Porter on the pitch, but Tadhg Beirne, Jamison Gibson-Park and Michael Lowry add a touch of something different and there are plenty of youngsters waiting for a luck.
Only Italy have scored fewer tries than England, who have lost three of their five games for the second Six Nations in a row. People who still remember their appearance in the 2019 World Cup final must wake up and realize that they are now noticeably behind France and Ireland. Ellis Genge, Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward and Alex Dombrandt will all learn a lot from this tournament, but England rarely have the set-piece dominance or midfield line-breakers to allow Smith to weave the kind of spells he does for the Harlequins. Asking Genge to repeatedly carry him from his own 22 won’t be about top-notch opposition either. Alfie Barbeary is a name to watch while Henry Arundell has scored some blistering tries for the Under-20s but, with just 12 tries by the World Cup, the window for experimentation is closing fast.
Given the squad at their disposal and an optimistic start to the tournament, Scotland’s subsequent decline must be cause for concern. Things are worse than players having a few beers after a win, but trust between players and management seems to be eroding again and any positivity has quickly evaporated. The good news is that Cameron Redpath is a class player and will improve Scotland’s attacking options, while Rory Darge looks to have a long and successful career in Scotland ahead of him. Jamie Ritchie will make the difference when fit and could still take over as captain if Gregor Townsend feels a leadership change is needed. In the end, however, Scotland were overpowered by a moderate Wales and lost comfortably to France and Ireland. Even against England at Murrayfield, they were slow to get going; their summer tour in Argentina suddenly seems hugely important.
Of all the head coaches currently under pressure, Wayne Pivac has the most worries. Having managed to lose at home to Italy for the first time, his side face the daunting prospect of a summer three-Test series against world champions South Africa. Their injury list should have been reduced by then, but the spirit that brought victory over Scotland and brought England closer at Twickenham must be combined with more forward dynamism and smarter thinking. . When captain Dan Biggar suggested ‘this could be the last chance for a lot of players’ after the loss to Italy, he was speaking amid disappointing results by age group and region and financial uncertainty, none of it doing Pivac’s job. easier. Reasons to be happy? The fine gesture of Josh Adams, who presented his man of the match medal to Italian opponent Ange Capuozzo, and the character in adversity of Will Rowlands and Nick Tompkins.
As the dust settles on their Cardiff carnival, the end-of-season list that will give Italy the most heart is the U20 Championship draw. Three wins from five matches – against England, Wales and Scotland – are another sign of better times to come and the young players now involved in the senior team seem determined to give it a good rattle. Capuozzo won’t be creating wonder trials every week, but his enthusiasm is contagious and Kieran Crowley seems to be instilling more conviction. Michele Lamaro’s captaincy, especially in impossible circumstances against Ireland, was impressive and Monty Ioane proved a threat on the wing. The Azzurri can finally look everyone in the eye and insist Six Nations would be a poorer place without them.
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