The 2019 Six Nations Championship culminated in a special weekend or ‘Super Saturday’, as it was dubbed, which saw Wales clinch their first Grand Slam since 2012.
Scotland’s stunning second-half comeback will live long in the memory and Italy blew a big opportunity to get their first win over France since they last managed that feat in 2013.
With everything that took place over the last seven weeks, the narrative has changed considerably.
Ireland’s performances suggest that they are no longer World Cup contenders while Wales look like a side capable of beating any team due to their sheer ability to grind out results which is built on top of a very impressive defence led by Shaun Edwards.
England’s attacking exploits provide a lot of confidence going forward while Scotland can take some heart for their performances considering their extensive injury list.
Jacques Brunel’s France still continue to frustrate as a squad littered with talent can’t seem to function at international level and Italy continue to show promise in spurts but ultimately falter when the pressure comes on.
Here, we grade each of the teams involved in the Six Nations based on their 2019 showing.
Wales – A+
A first Grand Slam since 2012 and a first championship title since 2013 is always going to earn top marks.
Wales built their Grand Slam triumph around a rock-solid defence and the inspirational Alun Wyn Jones.
Warren Gatland continues to prove why he is one of the top coaches in the world as he brings together a group of players who often struggle at regional level and transforms them into a top international side.
The phrase ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ couldn’t be more applicable to Wales but it’s important to note that they have some quality players at their disposal with the likes of Ken Owens, the aforementioned Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi, Gareth Anscombe, Jonathan Davies and the emerging Josh Adams at their disposal – to name but a few.
The challenge for Wales will be to keep building on the momentum they have gathered in this championship and not falter in the same manner Ireland did after a superb 2018.
Defence. Defence. Defence.
Wales will say goodbye to defence coach Shaun Edwards after the World Cup and his loss will certainly be felt due to the magic he has worked on his players.
Wales conceded the lowest number of tries throughout the championship (7) and their resoluteness provided the platform for their Grand Slam heroics.
On the other side of the ball, Wales are joined with Italy in scoring the fewest tries in this year’s championship (10). Although that didn’t hamper them due to the superb goal-kicking from Gareth Anscombe, Gatland will know that this needs to be improved ahead of the World Cup.
England – B
Eddie Jones will be content with England’s performances throughout the championship and he will be confident that some crucial areas can be improved ahead of the World Cup.
The disappointing 2017/18 season has been consigned to the history books and there seems to be a new swagger about England which has seen them blitz teams with tremendous ruthlessness over the last few weeks.
Ireland, France, Italy and Scotland all paid witness to their explosive performances as Jones’ men put out a warning shot to their rivals ahead of the World Cup.
England scored the most points (184) and the most tries (24) in the championship as the Red Rose showed a ruthlessness we haven’t seen in many years.
England have a superb back-three in Elliot Daly, Jack Nowell and Jonny May (top try-scorer) while Jones has the luxury of mixing guile and brute force as he can select from Ben Te’o, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade to form his centre partnership.
Ben Youngs’ performances at scrum-half also deserve a mention as his quick delivery off the back of a dominant pack sets England on their way.
Jones will be concerned with how his side have allowed teams a way back into games which they looked to have been dominating.
England’s loss to Wales in Cardiff put to bed their hopes of a Grand Slam but they will be disappointed with how they surrendered a 10-3 halftime lead to ultimately succumb to a 21-13 defeat.
At Twickenham on Saturday, it was worse. England led 31-0 after 31 minutes and they almost lost the game but for George Ford’s late intervention with the clock in the red.
The England head coach will be keen to find a solution to England taking their foot off the pedal.
Scotland – D+
Yes, we know Scotland finished second from bottom in the Six Nations table but context is everything.
Any team which loses so many key players through injury is always going to struggle and as a reminder, here are some of the players that Scotland were without either in part or the entirety of the Six Nations campaign – Blair Kinghorn, Tommy Seymour, Stuart Hogg, Huw Jones, John Barclay, WP Nel, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson, Finn Russell.
In their 18-11 loss to Wales at Murrayfield, their entire back-three was forced off through injury. That doesn’t happen too often.
Finishing 5th in the Six Nations doesn’t look good on paper and Gregor Townsend will be disappointed with his side’s performances but there is plenty to be positive about too.
Most notably is Darcy Graham. The 21-year-old Edinburgh winger was a real highlight for his side throughout the championship and he looks set for a big future on the international stage.
Even though results didn’t go their way, Scotland, at times, looked pretty dangerous with ball in hand and they are in second on the list in most tries scored throughout the championship.
The overriding negative when it comes to Scotland is their superb ability to shoot themselves in the foot.
So many times in this competition, they worked themselves into promising positions only for unforced errors to let them down time and time again.
Defensively, the need to improve a lot, as, after Italy, they conceded the most tries in the competition though with so much disruption to a team through injury, that may somewhat forgivable.
Ireland – D-
Ireland may have finished third in the Six Nations with three wins but the manner of those wins doesn’t exactly warrant a positive grade.
Ireland look a shadow of the team which had a historic 2018 and they fell apart once England came to Dublin in the opening round.
It was clear that loss rocked their confidence as they limped to victories over Scotland and Italy before an improved display against an albeit, dreadful French side (see below) before exiting the championship to a humbling defeat in Cardiff.
The post-mortem is currently in full swing and with no clear, obvious reason emerging for their disappointing performances, one expects that Joe Schmidt will have plenty to think about over the coming months before the squad comes together again in the summer.
A difficult task but some of Ireland’s fringe players put their hands up throughout the campaign, most notably Dave Kilcoyne and Jack Conan.
Although the performances were poor throughout the campaign, they still managed to record three wins which one would hope can provide the platform for a resurgence later in the year.
Where to begin?
The form of Ireland’s most important players has to be the most concerning; Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy, Rory Best, Tadhg Furlong, Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien are all below-par.
In attack, Ireland look too one-dimensional and once a problem presents itself on the pitch such as the line speed brought by England and Wales in Dublin and Cardiff, respectively, there doesn’t seem to be much scope or ability for problem-solving on the pitch.
Are Ireland over-coached?
France – D-
The ultimate conundrum.
France should have beaten Wales on the opening night in Paris and you wonder would their attitude have changed for the rest of the campaign if they managed to record a win there.
Two wins against an injury-ridden Scotland and a poor Italy doesn’t exactly breed confidence ahead of the World Cup and it’s frustrating and disappointing to see a side with so much individual talent flounder on the international stage.
The performances at Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium are a perfect example of how sometimes this team looks like it simply doesn’t care. The complete lack of motivation was glaring which is a real shame.
One of the main positives from a French perspective is the emergence of some exciting young players. Antoine Dupont (22), Romain Ntamack (19), Thomas Ramos (23) and Damian Penaud (22) to name but a few all look to have exciting futures.
They will likely form the bedrock of the France backline for years to come and they should only get better as their careers progress.
Mindset. Or lack thereof.
What is the French mindset? It seems to be a ‘laissez-faire’ attitude to playing rugby which is commendable in one sense as France definitely have the players to play an exciting running, offloading style but the clear lack of game management will be found out time and time again at Test level.
Until this changes, expect France to continue to frustrate.
Italy – E
Another Six Nations campaign without a victory. A record which stretches back to 2015 where they recorded a 22-19 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield.
It’s a real shame to see Italy continue to falter because it’s clear the players give it their all any time they go out onto the pitch but as their winless streak continues in the Six Nations, their participation in the competition will continue to be called into question.
The main positives for Italy were their performances against Ireland and most notably on the last day against France.
Conor O’Shea’s side were completely dominant against France but they just couldn’t turn that pressure into points as they continued to commit unforced errors with the try line in reach. That being said, if Marco Zanon managed to ground the ball when going over for what looked to be a certain try, things could have been so much different.
The half-back partnership of Tito Tebaldi and Tomasso Allan looks to be growing.
They continue to stop in its tracks any good work which Italy produce on the pitch. If it’s one-on-one tackles or needless handling errors, a lot of Italy’s good work gets undone in this regard.
One hopes they will finally turn the corner soon.