5. Italy’s decline at home
Italy have struggled since joining the tournament in 2000, but after beating Ireland and France last year, there were hopes for a top half finish. They ended up however being whitewashed – home and away – this year. A number of their warriors are looking battle weary and they could not keep up with the pace of both Ireland and England. Their head coach Jacques Brunel, when asked after the defeat by England where Italy were going, replied that he could not give an immediate answer to the question. They are the one team that can take nothing out of this year’s tournament.
4th. Set pieces
The scrum was generally a far more efficient method of restarting play this year than last with teams using it as an attacking weapon again this year. The outcome of fewer matches was determined by the interpretations of referees this year and what teams did in possession mattered more than how they fared without it, to the advantage of Ireland and England.
3rd. World Cup indicators
England set out to win their matches at Twickenham – the ground they’ll be playing at during next year’s World Cup. They have lost only one match at home in the championship since 2010, to Wales two years ago when they were denied a try that would have given them the opportunity to level the scores in the final minute, and they have defeated Australia and New Zealand there in the Stuart Lancaster era. Wales will play England at Twickenham in their group and their away form, which had taken them to the top in the previous two years, fell away, outscored by two tries to nil in Ireland and England. Aside from Ireland beating France in Paris, home advantage counted in matches between the top four.
2nd. Hard centres
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt wondered would the retirement of Brian O’Driscoll herald the end of centres of his type. O’Driscoll possessed until the end an ability to produce moments of high skill under pressure, while never shirking contact and defensive responsibilities but Schmidt’s observation posed the question whether the midfield balance has shifted away from skill to force.
Luther Burrell is a man mountain of a centre. He showed during this tournament that there was more to his game than just bashing players however. The way he created England’s first try in Rome, standing up to the challenge of three defenders and manoeuvring his body so he could slip the ball to Mike Brown, was O’Driscoll-esque. There is still a place for the artist at centre in modern rugby.
1st. The Championship was the most open in years
This year, Ireland and England were superior to the rest tactically, evolving their attacking games and varying their options. It may be an era of brute force but the two showed that brainpower can count as much as muscle power. The match between the top two was the stand-out game of the tournament. Wales have things to sort out but should still be in contention next year, while France showed a glimpse of what they should be at the very end and it should be a four-way battle for the Championship once again next year though the loss to Ireland of talisman O’Driscoll will be impossible to calculate until around this time next year.
Pundit Arena, James Clancy.
Featured Image By Blackcat [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.