What Happened in the Six Nations?

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The Six Nations is now done and dusted and we have to ask ourselves a number of critical questions and confirm what we have learnt and observed. Two key questions that come to mind are how the teams are now positioned in the global rankings and what does the future look like for each of team?

Over the weekend the average winning margin was only 3 points and included the following results:

  • France 33-31 England (Borthwick said they didn’t lose, they only ran out of time).
  • Ireland 17-13 Scotland – a scrappy game but Ireland once again were able to get through with a winning.
  • Wales 21-24 Italy – great comeback from Wales… but not enough

The IRB rankings for the Six Nation participant teams are now ranked as follows:

  • Ireland #2
  • France #4
  • England #5
  • Scotland #6
  • Italy #8
  • Wales #10 (record low)

Ireland have set themselves up superbly for a long-awaited showdown in the upcoming tests against World Champions, South Africa.

France sorely missed du Pont and looked below average for the majority of the tournament – they face Argentina, which will be a hard tests indeed.

England are off to New Zealand for a massive face-off against an all-new All Blacks coaching staff. Two countries trying to turn around their performances for different reasons and will make for brutal rugby.

Scotland will be playing Canada, US, Chile, and Uruguay, giving them a massive opportunity to give their broader squad exposure.

Italy will be playing Samoa, Tonga , and Japan, and should pick up some more wins. This should be seen though as a chance to cement some newer team combinations and give exposure to new squad players.

Wales have the toughest assignment. They will be up against Australia and based on last year’s RWC performance you might think Australia wouldn’t be a formidable challenge. They now have legendary Joe Schmidt, the original mastermind behind Ireland’s resurgence before Andy Farrell.

Wales should take a big squad and give new players playing time both now and on the end-of-the-year tour. There will be losses but they need to build a bigger squad with more depth.

The Six Nations have concluded with Ireland taking the championship title, followed by France and England. The tournament served yet again as a valuable springboard, allowing teams to refine tactics, experiment with new lineups and player combinations, and to help integrate new coaching staff.

As they move forward with a packed 2024 schedule, teams will face tough tests against Southern Hemisphere giants such as South Africa and New Zealand.

I for one look forward to a marvelous year of rugby!

Six Nations Recap: Week 2

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TMO Controversy

Most unfortunately, as the 2nd weekend of the 6 Nations came to a close, it will not be remembered for the right reasons. While the majority of the matches went the way most pundits predicted, it was evident that in at least two instances, it could have gone the other way.

The results were as follows: 

  • Scotland 16 – 20 France
  • England 16 – 14 Wales
  • Ireland 36 – 0 Italy

Ireland vs Italy

This game delivered no surprises but the Irish deserve special mention for the following 2 reasons: 

  • Firstly, their defense continues to be one of the most suffocating in the world, all without there being any yellow cards issued;
  • Secondly, they can remove themselves from all the hype and controversy that might be going on in the world of rugby, and simply get the job done.

Along Ireland’s current trajectory, I cannot see, nor do I foresee this year or until at least 2025 (probably longer), that any one of the 5 challenging contenders will be taking them on – they just seem to be unstoppable.

England vs Wales

Wales fought bravely and England would be the first to admit that they wouldn’t have been shocked with a loss had Wales held on. Sadly, the game was marred by moments where common sense was lost against the prying eye of the super slow-mo replay footage. 

Ollie Chessum went high in the tackle (if you slow down the replay to a snail’s pace). The still image looks much more controversial than it was in real life. I feel it was nowhere near dangerous play.

Mason Grady was the unlucky one on the Welsh side for his ”deliberate knock-on”. There is no way that he could have checked his initial reaction and I feel the card was harsh. 

In football, if someone gets struck on the hand from a bulleted volley a few feet away from them, it isn’t ruled as deliberate, and neither should these have resulted in sanctions. This is something the officiating authorities need to re-think going forward.

Scotland vs France

The Scotland vs France game was a defiant show of rugby by the Scotts against an error-prone France. All credit has to go to Scotland for the way they played and they should get some of the credit for forcing a number of French errors.

The disallowed try at the end should have been decided in Scotland’s favor. Every person watching the replays (from all angles) could see it was a try. The referee was also convinced it was a try based on the footage, but, based on technical trivialities rules the try not to have been scored. 

If matters become this technical and petty, what about Elliot Daly’s pas to Fraser Dingwall, surely this should then have been judged to have floated forward? And what should the ruling have been on George Ford’s tiny foot movement before kicking? 

It is all getting a bit ridiculous to be honest. Give referees back the power and let common sense rejoin the party! 

You know it is getting ridiculous when you hear interviews with English supporters later in the day who all feel Scotland should have been given the try. The same English supporters who have been at the wrong end of the Calcutta Cup results recently! 

It was just clear to everyone that the calls were just wrong.

North vs South: Who is Better?

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The North Punishes the South

The whole rugby world is getting turned on its head and the ever-controversial North vs South debate is on everyone’s lips!

  • Is the North overtaking the South? 
  • What should be read into these victories? 
  • Which country is the strongest in the North and the South when it comes to club teams? 
  • How long will this shake-up continue?  
  • What would be the best way to see strength vs strength?

Let’s get stuck into some of these questions and see how the wonderful world of rugby is evolving.

Is the North Overtaking the South?

This past weekend delivered some interesting results in the world of rugby; Tokyo Sungoliath beat the Blues 43-7 while the Saitama Wild Knights beat the Chiefs 38-14.

…and the defending United Rugby Championship team vs the defending Super Rugby team Munster, beat the Crusaders 21-19.

If viewed in isolation the quick conclusion would be that the mighty New Zealand (Olympus) has fallen! 

Over the years, the New Zealand teams have often put up 2nd stringers in their club warm-up games and that was the case in the matches in Japan, but that was not the case in the Munster vs Crusaders clash! 

On the other side of the pond, South African clubs have entered the United Rugby Championship and the European Rugby Champions Cup (previously the Heineken Cup) and they are displaying some all-around competitive performances.

What should be read into these victories?

The gap between North and South at club level is starting to disappear VERY quickly. 

The Irish, Scottish, English, French, and Japanese teams are well-managed and coached and they are forces to be reckoned with. 

The New Zealand teams have rested on their laurels for a long time and have become complacent over the years as a result of their continuous dominance. They have though, in all fairness, been quick to react and adapt.

The South African teams rely heavily on their monstrous players but at times don’t have their coaching and administration at the same level. This is rapidly improving and main coach Rassie’s flamboyant attitude is rubbing off at all levels of the game. 

Overall, the game in South Africa, New Zealand, Japan, Europe, and the UK is evolving into a group of top professional leagues. 

In my opinion, though the North (mainly Ireland, France, and England) holds the slight advantage for now while the others are playing catch-up.

Which country is the strongest in the North and the South when it comes to club teams?

In terms of club teams Ireland is dominant in the North. This is even though they only field the 4 provincial teams. 

Leinster and Munster lead the pack without a doubt. No insult is meant for the French teams with Bourdeaux and Toulouse continuing to be dominant forces. It is just at the present moment that I think the Irish are a little step ahead. 

In the South, it sits with South Africa. The two teams leading the charge there are the Stormers and Bulls.

How long will this shake-up continue?

The good news for neutral fans is that we will see this going on for the rest of 2024 and probably well into 2025 as well!

What would be the best way to see strength vs strength?

The inclusion of the South African teams in the Europan Rugby Champions Cup and the United Rugby Champions Cup is truly a step in the right direction. 

What would make it even more exciting is if we could see a compilation of major pools. 

One that includes the teams from Africa, Europe, and the UK in two tiers in one pool. Let’s call them THE WEST (with THE WEST 1 and THE WEST 2)

Then a second pool includes teams in two tiers from Australia, New Zealand, the islands, Japan, South America, and North America. Let’s call them THE EAST (with THE EAST 1 and THE EAST 2).

Within the two tiers, there can be a promotion-relegation battle both in THE WEST and THE EAST.

Then there can also be a knockout for the “World Champions” with a quarter-final, semi-final and final. 

This can take the top 8 teams in Tier 1 of THE WEST vs THE EAST but also the top teams of Tier 2 from THE WEST vs THE EAST. 

Just an idea. A small logistical nightmare but an interesting concept nonetheless. Let’s see, perhaps someone with influence reads this post!

Six Nations Recap: Week 1

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The games completed thus far include: 

  • France 17 – 38 Ireland
  • Wales 26 – 27 Scotland
  • Italy 24 – 27 England

Below are a few key questions that came to mind as we evaluated the completion of the first week’s play:

  • Who is the most dominant and the early favorite between France and Ireland? 
  • Can any of the other 4 catch them during this season? 
  • Who will get the wooden spoon? 
  • There has been a massive intensity from all teams so far; will they be competitive against the South Hemisphere teams?
  • Who was the standout player of the weekend? 
  • What can we expect from this coming weekend’s fixtures before the teams go on break?

Who is the most dominant and the early favorite between France and Ireland?

Based on Saturday’s performance you would have to say Ireland. 

It would have been very interesting to see how France would have done if they had 15 players on the field for the whole game. 

That being said, Ireland remains the most amazing team in terms of discipline on defense. 

They got a yellow card in the game but it was their 3rd one in 3 years almost! 

If Ireland can do it, so can the other teams.

Can any of the other 4 catch the Irish this season?

No. Not in 2024, but, based on the results, it’s safe to say that it is going to be VERY tight over the next few weeks.

If Italy puts together 80 minutes like they did in their first 40 minutes, they can potentially upset either Wales or Scotland.

Having said that, if Wales play like they did in their comeback, England and Italy are in for a tough one.

Who will get the wooden spoon?

In my professional opinion, I predict a close call between Italy and Wales.

There has been a massive intensity from all teams so far, will they be competitive against the South Hemisphere teams?

Most definitely! All of the Southern Hemisphere teams have new head coaches… well South Africa’s coach is not exactly spanking brand new.

In 2024 things will look a little different but there shouldn’t be too much read into that. Teams are rebuilding and regrouping all around the globe after their respective World Cup tournament efforts. 

Who was the standout player of the weekend?

Although neither of them got man of the man, I would have to say that it should be shared between two Irish players, namely:

  • Jamison Gibson-Park played a pivotal role in connecting play and not just in a standard distribution role from set pieces, rucks, and mauls. He ran clever lines to create options for his team to play back in the other direction and one of these resulted in his try.
  • Tadhg Beirne was the forward of the week in my opinion. Not for the try he scored, which was amazing by the way, but for his relentless work at the contact points.

What can we expect from this coming weekend’s fixtures before the teams go on break? 

This coming weekend there are two fixtures that could get really interesting. 

The Ireland vs Italy game is not going to be that fixture; it should be a one-sided affair in favor of Ireland.

The England vs Wales game should go England’s way, but Wales will go into this game with far greater confidence than they’ve had for a long time. The abilities they displayed in their chase against Scotland were very impressive, and England had a spotty performance, to say the least.

Scotland vs France should be an interesting one and it starts the action this coming weekend! France will be wounded from their loss against Ireland and should come out guns blazing. Scotland got a real scare against Wales and will play a far more clinical game. Keep in mind this game is played at Murrayfield.

Overall we are in for an interesting weekend as the 6 teams all fight for different goals: 

I am fairly confident listing the following game goals:

  • France & Ireland will fight for domination of the tournament.
  • England will fight to regain glory and recapture some of the unexpectedly good results from the Rugby World Cup.
  • Wales will work hard to retain some level of respectability, and I am sure they will do their best to keep it there.
  • Scotland will fight to live up to the hype of the exciting rugby that they have promised but have often failed to deliver consistently.
  • Italy will fight to pick up a win or two along the way and earn some additional respect points.

This concludes our recap for the first week of this exciting tournament. As a new year of international rugby kicked off (pun intended), we look forward to bringing you updates, insights, and commentary on all the games to come!