HEKKTA’s Natwest Six Nations Tournament Review

After one of the most unpredictable Six Nations in recent years, HEKKTA are going to sum up what we learned from each team over the course of the tournament. It has really shaken up the European rugby scene from how it looked just a few months ago. So we analyse the winners, the losers and what to expect from each team in the build-up to the 2019 Rugby World Cup.


IRELAND

So Ireland came out on top and I don’t think anyone can argue that they are worthy Grand Slam winners. This is only Ireland’s third ever Grand Slam, so it shows just how great an achievement this is for Irish Rugby. But what worries me, as an English fan, is the instinctive quality in this side. If all those Irish players were wearing All Blacks tops, I don’t think anybody would bat an eyelid. Focusing particularly on yesterday’s game at Twickenham, Ireland were without the ball for really large chunks of the game and only once in the game (just before half time) did they appear to be under pressure. England would attack wave after wave and they would calmly defend until England made a mistake and then any pressure on Ireland died. A few fortunate bounces of the ball and one superb worked try gave them a healthy lead which proved to large a gap for England to close in the end. England didn’t play badly at all, it was small mistakes and ill-discipline that meant the comeback was too much. It was a masterclass of a performance under the greatest of pressure away from home.

Ireland didn’t just win the Grand Slam, they won it comfortably. This Ireland side is the sum of years of playing together under Joe Schmidt, who has created a superbly disciplined and intelligent team and also the exciting breed of new Ireland players coming through the ranks who have added that missing spark to the Irish backline.

What does the future hold for this team? We don’t see Ireland crumbling away in the same way England have this tournament. This side in good enough to go all the way- they are more than capable of winning the Rugby World Cup next year for the first time in history.

Johnny Sexton + Jacob Stockdale - HEKKTA's Six Nations Review

Johnny Sexton + Jacob Stockdale – HEKKTA’s Six Nations Review


WALES

Before the tournament, critics and pundits gave Wales really no chance and predicted they would be beaten by almost everyone bar Italy. This was partly due to the huge amount of injuries to crucial players but the Welsh really showed their depth in this tournament. That first game against Scotland where Wales just blew them away showed how carried away pundits can often get in the build-up to the Six Nations. They dismantled Scotland to the point where we felt as though Scotland’s recent progress was all for nothing and all the Scottish promise was simply media hype.

Wales put themselves back on the map as true contenders for the title, but an away loss to Twickenham halted this slightly. However, there were many positives Wales could’ve taken from that game. They only gave away 2 penalties all game and with stats like that, you give yourself a chance of winning against any team. They were unlucky against Ireland, nearly beating them right at the death in Dublin and a final day victory over France showed that this Wales team has a good future.

Whilst the second place finish and some good performances are positives for this Wales team, they have a long way to go before they reach their peak in our opinion. The next year or so will be interesting to see how new players mature and grow into their positions and whether they can produce the synchronicity they often lacked.

Chances at the World Cup? Quarter finals perhaps, but I think next year might be a bit too soon for this developing side.

Players congratulate Halfpenny as he scores against Scotland in their 34-7 win

Players congratulate Halfpenny as he scores against Scotland in their 34-7 win


SCOTLAND

It was a funny old tournament for the Scots. Great lows, great highs and damp squibs. They were torn apart by Wales in a performance that embarrassed the side, they then beat the French at Murrayfield to affirm the strength of the side. Then they produced the performance of their lives blowing England away, a victory nobody in the rugby world could’ve predicted. They had to travel down to Dublin next to try and defeat a quality Irish side in their fortress that is the Aviva, but despite not getting the win, they played some great rugby and it was just inaccuracy in finishing that cost them. The three performances put in against France, England and Ireland suggested they would go to Rome and have a field day, but they were rubbish. HEKKTA watched the game from start to finish and we must say, the Scots just didn’t look bothered and it so nearly cost them. They didn’t deserve to win and the Italians were really unlucky.

The Scots will be able to look at this tournament as a success for sure, wins against France and England don’t come around too often. However, the question mark over the Scots form away from home still remains. If they can straighten up their shaky form on the road, this Scottish team could become very good indeed. But until then, they will never find the consistency required for a top international side and Scotland’s relatively easy games in the summer will do little to answer these questions.

Make no mistake, Scotland have proper quality within their team. Hogg could start for the All Blacks, he is simply that good. Huw Jones was on fire all tournament and embarassed the English defence quite frankly and the flanker combination of Barclay and Watson are Pocock-Hooper esque.

It’s disappointing that Scotland don’t have some greater fixtures in the summer and autumn to really test them. Whilst Scotland have shown a lot of promise this Six Nations, HEKKTA fears a quarter final place in Japan might be the best the Scots can do.

Scotland star Huw Jones - HEKKTA's Six Nations Review

Scotland star Huw Jones – HEKKTA’s Six Nations Review


FRANCE

Again, quite a mixed tournament from France but considering the chance they were given before the tournament, they did pretty well. They were the only team who looked like beating Ireland, but that amazing Sexton goal right at the death stole that from them. An unfornate performance against the Scots will have disappointed them but wins against Italy and England made this tournament more of a success for the French than many were predicting. The French team still has many holes that need plugging, but they are a far more structured team in some aspects of their game having got a new head coach. Their breakdown work has been impressive and the physicality of their pack has never been doubted.

But they often rely on moments of individual brilliance to set up tries like Teddy Thomas and Gael Fickou using their own skill to create the try. Their backline is so confused and there is still no real game plan or execution in the team. Hopefully this will come with time as the French have some outrageously talented players, but they are yet to click properly as a team.

We don’t give them huge chances based on this Six Nations in the next World Cup, but it’s France we’re talking about – they might go and beat the All Blacks again. You really never know with this side.

Teddy Thomas of France - HEKKTA's Six Nations Review

Teddy Thomas of France – HEKKTA’s Six Nations Review


ENGLAND

Oh dear oh dear. A team which once found a way to win in every game is quickly becoming a team struggling to avoid defeat. As big England supporters this rapid demise has come as quite a shock, as it has for most people. But is this an overreaction? I don’t think anyone could give you a clear answer. You need to go back 12 years to 2006 to find the last time England lost three games in the Six Nations and losing on the final day at Twickenham? Something doesn’t seem right.

But I think we can save the pity party for now. The losses against Scotland and France, in my view, wasn’t about coaching – it was about selection. Eddie Jones seemingly forgot England’s huge weaknesses in the back row because of the success England had experienced previously. When we fielded that side against Scotland, we had no real ball-carriers that can get over the gainline. This not only meant that we got not front foot ball for our backline to exploit, but it made it so much easier for Barclay and Watson to make the turnovers. Making turnovers when you’re on the back foot is very hard, but England didn’t have the powerful runners to pierce their line so we were just handing them turnover after turnover.

England could’ve seen that loss to Scotland, realised the issue and rectified the problem. However we fielded an almost identical team against France! We lost against France for the same reasons we lost against Scotland. A lack of momentum because of a lack of hard-runners leading to easy turnovers for the opposition. The French were pretty illegal at the breakdown (constantly off feet) during the game which didn’t help, but that’s not excuse. We lost both games because we had no real balance in the side.

The team that played against Ireland was player for player the right squad. Sinckler and Haskell provided some real go forward and our basic work at the breakdown was far better. We had more front foot ball allowing our backs to play a bit more than it the other two games. Our set piece was strong, our line outs were good and towards the end of the second half, we were by far the better side and we started looking really dangerous. But we didn’t win. Ireland were lucky for sure, in terms of the bounce of the ball for two of their tries and the lack of a good TMO, but none of that matters when Ireland are lifting the Six Nations trophy on your turf. They were just far more precise, disciplined and clinical and that’s why they won.

Eddie Jones went on a lot about how these losses will help England in the long run and I agree with him. What we saw against Ireland was a team that had fixed the problems of the last two games but just didn’t have that confidence to get the game. With a fully fit team, this England side can get back that winning consistency we had gotten used to. It’s not the end of the world, but on paper, this was an abysmal tournament for England.

The question everyone seems to be asking is how much of a dent is this in England’s World Cup chances? It is a dent, that’s all. They are no longer going to be compared with the All Blacks, but with a fully fit team they are still one of the best sides in the world.

If Eddie can find a way to rest important players so they peak at the right time, England can definitely still win the World Cup. But the boardroom politics of English Rugby makes that a big if.

The real leaders of this squad have been questioned - HEKKTA's Six Nations Review

The real leaders of this squad have been questioned – HEKKTA’s Six Nations Review


ITALY

It’s the wooden spoon again for the Azzurri. Conor O’Shea will be really disappointed because they had a few good performances, but it wasn’t enough in the end for Italy. Their final performance against Scotland really had us thinking they were going to win. They did everything right and were aggressive moving the ball forward up the pitch, but they didn’t challenge anyone else in the tournament. This will be a cause for concern as it will feel as though the Italians are not making any process, but this is not the case. Conor O’Shea has done a lot behind the scenes since he took on the head coach role, developing the club game in Italy and there are some really great players coming through, especially the live wire full back Minozzi, whose feet have stunned the rugby world. He made Liam Williams look like an out of shape prop.

Although Italy will be disappointed with five losses, as shown by Parisse’s scowl after the Scotland loss, the team are moving forward and with such a great coach at the helm, we feel Italian rugby can only go up.

In terms of Rugby World Cup? Well the Italians have never been title contenders and we can’t see their fortunes changing too much in the next year. We’re sorry to say.

Do Italy have a future in the Six Nations? HEKKTA thinks they certainly do

Do Italy have a future in the Six Nations? HEKKTA thinks they certainly do

Well what a tournament, what a strange tournament! We saw the standard order completely shaken up with impressive victories and worrying losses but the real message of this Six Nations is that there’s a new power in European rugby…and it’s not the English.

2018-03-19T14:02:12+00:00