Six Nations Breakdown: England claim the Holy Grail while Ireland go out on a high

England won their first Grand Slam in 13 years

Six Nations Breakdown: England claim the Holy Grail while Ireland go out on a high

Credit ©INPHO/Andrew Fosker

Ireland: Strong finish leaves us with positive outlook 

Ireland's victory over Scotland today was reminiscent of the 2014 and 2015 6 Nations winners as they dominated Scotland at the Aviva Stadium. 

For the first time this tournament, we saw Ireland physically bully the opposition, with back rowers Jamie Heaslip, CJ Stander and Tommy O'Donnell all key in giving Ireland front foot possession at the breakdown. 

The oft maligned kicking game was deployed again today, but today the aerial bombardment paying dividends, leading to Keith Earls' try, while we also saw a stronger running game and much more offloads than we have become accustomed to.  

A strong final two weekends has given Ireland some respectability from this year's tournament, but it still doesn't gloss over what has been at best, a mediocre campaign.

Drawing against Wales after holding an early 13 point lead and losing late on to an extremely average French side still sting, while there remains a residual feeling that Ireland could have snatched a result from Twickenham. 

The lack of experimentation is also a point of grievance for many fans, with Stuart McCloskey and Kieran Marmion  perhaps not seeing as much game time as many would have liked while the consistent exclusions of Paddy Jackson, Craig Gilroy and Matt Healy remaining a stickling point. 

There are positives to be taken as always, with the emergence of Josh Van Der Flier and CJ Stander adding more options to an already highly competitive backrow. 

One man tackle machine Jack McGrath continues his encouraging development at loosehead while McCloskey, Marmion and Ultan Dillane will all benefit from their match day inclusions. 

Of the old timers, Donncha Ryan looks to be back to a top test level lock while Jared Payne's defensive performances in the 13 channel didn't go unnoticed, and Johnny Sexton seems to have rediscovered his golden touch following a series of disappointing provincial displays. 

Plus, this try wasn't half bad;

England: Not vintage winners, but certainly deserved

England wrestled the Six Nations trophy back off Ireland and Eddie Jones has turned them into a Grand Slam winning team.

Certainly not the neutrals favourites, with multiple on-field incidents causing controversy off it, such as the Joe Marler saga, but few can deny they have proved worthy winners. 

Winning their first Grand Slam in 13 years, England's brutally effective style of rugby was enough to overcome all challengers.

In Maro Itoje they have uncovered a new world star, while Jones has utilized Billy Vunipola with maximum effinciency from the back of the scrum.

The decision to make Dylan Hartley was widely scrutinized given his past disciplinary issues, but the choice has proven vindicated.

The winning of this Grand Slam is down to England's ruthless efficiency, with Dan Cole and George Kruis becoming vital figures when controlling their set piece all tournament. 

Behind the scrum, Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Johnathan Joseph and Mike Brown all looked sharp as they looked nailed on for places in the Lions squad, as does the lightning quick Anthony Watson. 

Italy: Performances don't do much to inspire hope

Sergio Parisse came out prior to today's game against Wales and stated that Italy belong in the Six Nations and emphasised that they 'do a lot for the tournament', however, its difficult to argue a case for the Azzurri from a neutral perspective. 

In perhaps the most dismal Six Nations campaign seen since their own inception into the tournament back in 2000, Italy lost three of their games by more than a 30 point margin while only once did they come to within a score of winning, against a poor French side on the opening weekend. 

Rooted to the bottom of the table, Jacques Brunel's side could only accumulate 79 points in attack, while their extremely generous defense conceded 224 points in five games, an average of 44.8 points a game and 109 more than the next closest side, Scotland.

Worse still, they have only won one game since 2013, when they equaled their 2007 tournament high of two wins.

Consecutive hammerings from Celtic opponents have now thrown their annual eligibility to participate in the tournament into doubt, with clamours growing louder for 6 Nations inclusion for such teams as Romania and Georgia.




What is perhaps most frustrating about the Azzurri is that whenever a progressive step is taken on the test scene, such as their 2013 victories over France and Ireland, they manage to take at least two steps backwards the following season. 

Wales: Plenty of positives going forward 

Wales put in a devastating display in front of a home crowd today, running in eight tries as they ended their campaign on a high. 

It was a strange campaign for the Welsh, with pre-tournament optimism quickly diminishing after a pulsating opening round draw against Ireland.

Hopes of being crowned champions faded somewhat before being extinguished altogether after a thrilling loss to England in Twickenham. 

Asides from those results, the Welsh can be pleased from this years tournament, particularly if they look at some of the individual performances. 

The performance and progression of key players in this team shows a lot of promise moving forward, with George North and Dan Biggar the standout players. 

Ospreys out-half Biggar has fast become the elite ten in the Northern Hemisphere, scoring two tries and 54 points in total in this year's tournament after a miraculous recover from an ankle injury in their Six Nations opener against Ireland. 

Meanwhile, George North continues to defy the laws of physics as he tops the try scoring charts with four and is becoming an even more prominent figure in the Welsh back line, while Jamie Roberts continued his fine form right through to the today's final game.

Rhys Webb's return from injury also showed what Warren Gatland has been missing all tournament with an electrifying display at scrumhalf today. 

In the pack, the Welsh back row remains one of their most envious possessions with Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Toby Faletau all upping their games, while they continue to beef up their front row options. 

Despite another campaign without silverware, there have been a lot of positives to take going forward for the Welsh. 

Scotland: A lot done, a lot more to do

Scotland's will be disappointed by their display today, as they were completely outplayed by Ireland for the guts of 80 minutes. 

Comfortably beaten today, the Scots have shown marked improvements from last year, but they still lack a clinical edge needed to win big games. 

Victory over Italy ended snapped a nine game losing streak in the Six Nations, while they recorded a second win against France in Murray field. 

Scotland are beginning to take shape under Vern Cotter, with Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and John Hardie all becoming key components to the brand of rugby the Kiwi wishes to play. 

There have been a lot of positive steps taken this year, especially with the blooding of players who look ready to cut it at test level.

The improvements can be seen but despairing defeats against Wales and England show that there is a lot more to be done. 

France: Improved, but not by much 

Once again the French flattered to deceive, as they stumbled to victories against Italy and Ireland while they were comprehensively beaten by Wales and Scotland. 

The installation of Guy Noves as head coach had lead some to hope that he would be able to eradicate the erratic French form of recent years, but the jury is still out on the former Toulouse coach. 

Winning their opening two fixtures, they beat Italy by the skin of their teeth, remaining grateful that Sergio Parisse's last minute drop goal attempt sailed wide rather than over, while a late Maxime Medard try sealed a fortunate win over Ireland in torrid conditions. 

However, they followed up those wins with three consecutive losse, despite a strong showing against England in the closing round. 

They have gone someway to repairing the damage that was done by their humiliating defeat to New Zealand in the World Cup, but it is difficult to see how far France have really progressed. 

The root of their problems lies much deeper than the current national team, with their mega-rich, multi-national domestic competition clearly having ill-effects on the test stage as foreign imports are preferred to local talent in many situations.