Five lessons learned from the 2018 6 Nations
Ireland’s convincing 6 Nations triumph has sent shockwaves around world rugby, leaving Wales, England and Scotland with food for thought and New Zealand with a worthy adversary just 18 months away from the World Cup
1. The pluck of the Irish
It would be remiss not to kick things off with a celebration of Ireland's achievements in the 2018 Nat west 6 Nations. From the ﬁnal kick of their ﬁrst game in Paris, onwards, there was only one likely winner of a Championship that was similarly void of drama and intrigue from that point on too. Jonathan Sexton’s last-minute drop- goal broke French hearts but also lifted a tangible pressure that seemed to be hanging over the boys in green during the ﬁrst 79 minutes of their campaign. That pluck was duly rewarded, and heroic consistency virtue of Jacob Stockdale, Rory Best, Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and - well - most others who took to the ﬁeld over the four subsequent games, ensured that the title and only their third ever grand slam was taken back across the Irish Sea. And to complete the rout on Saint Patrick’s Day at England's ‘home of rugby’ made the accomplishment all the sweeter.
2. Scotland: Brave but not the best
Another false dawn for Scotland fans should come as no surprise, but there were signs that this golden — or at least silver — generation of stars may be on the right track leading into next year's World Cup in Japan. Many onlookers’ dark horse for the 2018 6 Nations, an opening week defeat to Wales soon doused those ﬂames, but if this young group can progress at the same accelerated pace as has been seen over the past 12 months, then there is still reason for realistic optimism moving forward. Perhaps next year's campaign will provide a better indication of whether Gregor Townsend is turning his team from 'Scotland the brave' into 'Scotland the best'.
3. England's quantity over quality
A lot has been made of the strength in depth that Eddie Jones possesses as England coach, but this year’s 6 Nations suggests that the emphasis is far more on the latter depth, than the former strength. There may well be four or ﬁve competing players for each position, but if they're all of a similar standard — a standard that is below that of Ireland’s - then alarm bells may well be ringing. Performances against Wales, Scotland, France and the tournament victors all fell way below expectations. Resultantly ﬁnishing ﬁfth for the ﬁrst time in more than three decades, the only reason this season’s ‘setback’ isn't a ‘disaster’ is the blind faith mat English media and fans still just about have in Jones and the Australian's |ong—term World Cup-focused master plan. If there aren’t drastic signs of improvement in the autumn and into next year’s 6 Nations though, those alarm bells may soon turn into an axe.
4. There's room for Georgia
The only way to expand the influence of rugby on the global stage is to make its World Cup more competitive, and this can only be achieved if some of the peripheral nations are exposed more regularly to top tier games‘ Italy was given that chance and while they’re by no means encroaching on the upper echelons of the sport as a result, you can't help but feel that its only national appeal and commercial attractiveness that differentiates them from the ever-improving Georgians. Of course Georgia would suffer the same wooden spoon fate initially, but you only have to take a look at Rugby Sevens to see what expansion can be achieved when inclusivity rules the roost. And, who knows, Italy themselves may ﬁnd a new exciting gear if they’re suddenly threatened with the prospect of ‘relegation’.
5. North v South - the gap is closing
With around 18 months he go um.il the 10l9 Rugby World Cup in Japan, there is an argument to be made that the northern hemisphere is bridging the gap to its southern (counterparts; welcome news for those tired 47! south Africa, Australia and especially New Zealand’s domination. Ireland aside, this isn't necessarily because 6 Nations sides are Improving drastically however; more due to the southern giants enduring somewhat of a slump themselves too. All of the leading nations seem to be going through a handover period in which old guards and legends are paving the way for the next crop at youngsters to stamp their authority on the sport. And if this year's 6 Nations has taught us ‘anything. it's that Ireland's budding superstars have laid the first glove in this two year battle royale. It's now time for Australia, South Africa and New Zealand to ﬁght back, and for ‘ England, Scotland, wales and France to land some - punches of their own.
Joe Schmidt coaching the Irish rugby union team 6 Nations and Triple Crown trophies from 2009