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French unsung heroes, Eddie's spin cycle, Wayne Pivac on the brink - 6N Talking Points

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Expert
20th March, 2022
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So the Six Nations Championship is over for another year and the 2022 vintage should go down in the history books as one of the better competitions in the tournament’s rich history. As we headed into the final round there were still two teams who could win the title and four who desperately needed a win to salvage something from the past few weeks. Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty to talk about…

The unsung heroes of France’s Grand Slam

No one is doubting that the French deserved to win both the Six Nations title and the Grand Slam. Even in their poorest moments, they were still head and shoulders above every other side. They not only have a comprehensive game plan, but also the players to execute that plan perfectly.

Amongst those players are some absolute superstars such as Antoine Dupont who continued to demonstrate to the world why they are held in such high regard. But alongside the best player in the world were a number of French players who did so much hard work to give players like Dupont the foundation to terrorise opponents. 

The French back row in particular put in a masterclass against England just like they had in every match this year. Francois Cros, Cameron Woki and Gregory Alldritt were excellent and used the perfect balance of precision and strength to make the usually powerful England pack struggle at ruck after ruck.

HARRY JONES PICKS HIS TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT

Not only does this back row help to give Dupont quick, clean ball to unleash his backs, but they are also a turnover threat in defence. Against England, they won nine turnovers compared to their opponent’s two and made life horrible all game long at the breakdown for the men in white.

When you consider that French skipper and flanker Charles Ollivon is still to return from injury, it’s hard not to get excited about this French side dominating world rugby for the next couple of years at least. 

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England are taking the theory of ‘you learn more from a loss than a victory’ too far

Apart from 15 minutes in the second half against France where they dominated their world class opposition, England’s performance could be summed up as “tried hard, achieved little”. 

Their third place in the table absolutely flatters England and the stats tell a much more realistic assessment with Eddie Jones’ side achieving just four victories from ten matches in the past two years – and two of those victories were over Italy.

Across two years of the Six Nations, the team with the largest player pool in the world has got a net point difference of -4 and have only scored nine more tries than Italy.

Jones continued to stick with the line to the press and fans that England are going in the right direction and are making progress but it’s becoming clear that no one has actually clarified what the destination is that he’s so confident his side are marching towards. 

There’s been an assumption that Jones means the World Cup Final in 2023, but after another disappointing Six Nations, it is probably worth double checking that Jones hasn’t got his sights set on being the answer to the pub quiz question “Which is the least successful England rugby side in the history of the game?”

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From bizarre selections such as moving Freddie Steward to the wing, to a line up that changes more than a Melbourne weather forecast, to a total lack of attacking ability, this English side have continued to under perform. 

There are many who look back at Jones’ record of taking the England side from the terrible situation of getting knocked out of the 2015 World Cup in the group stages to a Final in 2019, and use that as proof that the experienced coach knows what he is doing. 

But there’s an interesting point that’s worth noting – Jones inherited a group of players from the previous coach, Stuart Lancaster, that he then helped improve. But the squad was there, ready to go. Jones added a couple of players for sure but the majority of the squad were there ready, willing and able. 

As Jones’ England tenure has gone on and it’s come down to him to bring in more and more new players and develop his own England squad, England’s performances have started to go downhill. 

There are eleven games until the World Cup in 2023 – Eddie Jones has got to sort this out because England fans, and probably the powers that be at the RFO as well, are getting short on patience.

Scotland have some real issues with their stars

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Gregor Townsend and the Scottish RFU have some big headaches to solve. The fourth place finish with just two wins is a bitterly disappointing result, especially after the first round victory over England. 

But as the championship has gone on, not only have the performances and the results fallen away, but the two big names in the Scottish set up – Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell – have also become as much of an issue for the side as a positive. 

Russell has been off the pace in the past few games and was dropped for the final weekend. Footage of him failing to track back to defend has annoyed fans everywhere who already had concerns over whether the talented fly half was truly committed to the Scottish set up under Townsend. 

With Hogg then being involved in a break of team protocols after the Italy victory and then ruining an absolute gift of a try scoring chance against Ireland in this last round, Scotland have found that their two biggest names are also their two biggest frustrations. 

No one will doubt Hogg’s commitment to the national side, but he hasn’t lived up to his potential this season and while he can deliver the highest highs, the gap between his best and his worst has become too big for Scotland. 

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But the big question is whether Finn Russell has a future with Scotland. At his best, he’s by far and away their best fly half and one of the best in the world game at the moment. But he’s not delivering consistently and if you add in the clashes that he’s had with the coaches at the national level then you wonder how much longer he’s got at this level, at least while Townsend is coach.

Ireland find their next generation of heroes

Ireland have had a very good Six Nations and while they will be frustrated with missing out on the title, they will know that they are building well for the next 18 months. 

One of the really exciting aspects of the championship for the Irish is that they’ve found exciting replacements for national legends Connor Murray and Rob Kearney.

Jamison Gibson-Park has settled into the side in the past few weeks and against Scotland, he was crucial to the Irish victory. He kicked well and made sure that Ireland spent as much time in the Scottish 22 half as possible and his passing was fast and accurate. 

Meanwhile at the back, Hugo Keenan has been in impressive form in both attack and especially defence. His try saving tackle against Scotland where he took Hogg out into touch just a metre from the line was crucial and he has shown that he is a very safe pair of hands under the high ball. 

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With Ireland full of experience and some well travelled players, they desperately need some younger talent and Gibson-Park and Keenan are showing that they are ready to take the world by storm.

Will Wayne Pivac and Eddie Jones be coaching come the 2023 World Cup?

Wayne Pivac and Eddie Jones might be feeling a bit nervous after this year’s Six Nations. England’s woes have already been discussed but with Wales losing to Italy in the final round in such a terrible manner, Pivac might be wondering how much longer he’ll have in charge of the men in red. 

Losing to Italy is never a good thing. While they have played their hearts out all tournament long, they should not be a threat to a side like Wales. 

But losing in the way that Wales did is awful. 13 turnovers conceded and 12 penalties given away (five of which led to penalty goals for the Italians) is just unforgivable and bringing Alun Wyn Jones back for his 150th cap just looked desperate, especially as it didn’t work!

Wales might have won the Six Nations in 2021 but they look a shadow of the side that lifted the trophy and while there have been many injuries for Pivac to deal with, losing in this way to Italy is going to get many people wondering whether he can really lead the Welsh side to a brighter future. 

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Taking over from the legend that is Warren Gatland was always going to be difficult, but Pivac will need to have a very good summer against South Africa if he’s going to keep his job.

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