The first season after a World Cup always throws up surprises – remember in 2016 when South Africa lost to Italy?! While the 2020 Guinness Six Nations is yet to produce the same shock so far, we may well be witnessing a shift in the balance of power.
A spluttering Scotland, three difficult games for the Italians and the sublime emergence of the French have all stood out as we reach the midway point in the tournament. Here, we take a look at the key talking points from each nation and what they need to do to improve.
Position: 1st (3 wins, 0 losses)
There is no denying it, France have been an absolute joy to watch in the Six Nations so far.
Based on a foundation of U20 World Championship-winning talent, star half-backs Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack have provided the creativity while new defence coach Shaun Edwards has tightened up the defence to create a formidable side capable of beating anyone in the world.
If there’s one weakness, it’s their fitness. Playing at such intensity has its consequences and against England, they very nearly let their lead slip. Nonetheless, with Scotland away and Ireland at home, you would feel confident putting money on a first French Championship win since 2010.
Position: 2nd (2 wins, 1 loss)
Fresh from the high of making a World Cup final, in the eyes of many, the competition was England’s to lose this year.
That seemed to come undone in the first half against France, although the brilliance of Jonny May nearly stole victory in round-1. In chasing the title, however, they can only hope now for a slip up from Les Blues.
Last weekend’s Ireland match highlighted the potential England have to play fantastic rugby – particularly when their forward pack take the upper hand. However, amidst the dominant French, they may have to accept second place this time around.
Position: 3rd (2 wins, 1 loss)
The Irish went into last weekend as contenders for the Grand Slam, yet many were still wondering how on earth they were in that position.
They are certainly a team in transition. A new head coach in Andy Farrell and some key players coming to the ends of their careers means that a balance has to be found between developing youth without destroying the core of a team that has dominated the Six Nations in recent years.
Italy would have provided the opportunity to give the likes of John Cooney and Ross Byrne an extended runout before that difficult final weekend at the Stade de France, but with the game currently postponed, they’ll have to wait for that chance at a later date. All hope is not yet lost for the Irish, however.
Position: 4th (1 win, 2 losses)
Another of the redeveloping teams, under Wayne Pivac Wales are trying to realise the attacking potential of their deadly backline.
The systematic destruction of Italy in round-1 was followed by a disappointing afternoon against Ireland. More promising however was their narrow defeat to France which could very easily have resulted in a Welsh win.
The Six Nations title may be out of reach now but Wales should continue to build into a busy summer and autumn without having to worry about the wooden spoon.
Position: 5th (1 win, 2 losses)
What a tournament it’s been, for all the wrong reasons. From the opening week, Scotland’s performances have been overshadowed by the dispute between Finn Russell and Gregor Townsend with any resolution still seemingly a long way off.
For a side proud of their attack, it took until week 3 for Scotland to cross the try line without dropping the ball. In Russell’s absence, Hastings looks solid; even if his goal kicking left plenty to be desired against Italy.
One positive has been their defence – two tries conceded in three rounds is some effort. That now needs to be complemented by some successful attacking play against France and Wales.
Position: 6th (0 wins, 3 losses)
The Italians are supposedly rebuilding, yet their performances sadly show no real difference in play from previous years.
Failing to score a point is often a rare feat in international rugby, yet Italy have managed it twice already against Wales and Scotland. Their over-reliance on playmaker Tommaso Allan has perhaps become all too easy to read for the defence.
Rounds 4 and 5, versus Ireland and England respectively, would have further tested Italy, but Coronavirus now poses a unique challenge. With their round-4 match postponed and round-5 in the balance, who knows how the next few weeks will pan out for the Italians.
We’ll be back to review all the tournament action in a couple of weeks!
About the author
Hailing from the birthplace of rugby 7’s, Melrosian Ruairidh Campbell spent the bulk of his playing career out on the wing. These days Ruairidh is more likely to be found whistle in hand, red card in sock, in the heat of the action as a busy referee on the Scottish circuit.
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