Make the grade: ESPNscrum's Six Nations report card
March 23, 2010
France were deserving champions © Getty Images
The spoils went to France following a Six Nations tournament that scaled the heights as often as it plumbed the depths. With the 2011 Rugby World Cup a speck on the horizon rapidly increasing in size all of the combatants had plenty to play for, but in many cases were unable to inspire.
The next international action for the north's finest will be their outbound tours in June, so we've taken the time to compile a mid-season report card.
France - Grand Slam Champions
Marc Lievremont's tinkering ways infuriated many in his early seasons in charge but his massive player-pool was whittled down to great effect during this tournament. Players in form, from Morgan Parra and Imanol Harinordoquy to the rampaging Mathieu Bastareaud, were paired with veterans rediscovering their spark, take a bow Yannick Jauzion and Clement Poitrenaud, often to thrilling effect.
Their 33-10 humbling of reigning champions Ireland was the most clinical, impressive performance of the tournament and while their foundation shook as Wales launched a comeback in Cardiff there was plenty of gas in the tank as they demolished Italy at the Stade de France. Fittingly it was Parra who kicked them to the Slam against an improved England, and while they can celebrate a first clean-sweep since 2004 there is plenty to interest the coaching team as they prepare to face the Springboks, namely their ability to play under pressure and some nagging doubts over their consistency. Grade: A-
It's hard to follow up and Grand Slam and this campaign will leave a bitter taste in the mouth for Declan Kidney and Ireland. The chance of back-to-back Slams disappeared in Paris and the boot of Dan Parks ensured that there was to be no Triple Crown in the final game at Croke Park.
Ireland showed against Wales and England that they possess an uncanny knack of converting limited possession into points through their classy backs division, but against the southern hemisphere sides they may struggle unless they can up their possession and territory stats. Both Brian O'Driscoll and John Hayes celebrated their 100th caps during the tournament, O'Driscoll against Wales in their most complete tournament performance. B-
Martin Johnson's critics have been in fine voice recently and while it's difficult to watch a legendary player squirm, it's hard to escape the feeling that England really should have stopped providing the naysayers with quite so much ammunition. An opening win against an ill-disciplined Wales was followed not by a resurgent showing in Italy, but a boneheaded slog and yet more platitudes from skipper Steve Borthwick.
Ireland came and went from Twickenham with the points after a little bit of smash and grab, and England were disorganised and powerless to stop them. The Calcutta Cup clash was the nadir of the whole tournament, with the ideas on display from England and Scotland rivalling an inflatable dart-board for wit and invention. Despite all this, there's more than a glimmer of hope. With their selection a little more enterprising, England played a bit against France, scored a great try and on another day could have nicked it. There's a long way to go but recognising the worth of flair players such as Ben Foden and Chris Ashton is a step in the right direction. C
Trips, comebacks, media frenzies and golf buggies. It's never boring in Wales. Defeat to England was hard to stomach first up, not least because of Alun-Wyn Jones' sin-binning, and their unbelievable, if undeserved, comeback against Scotland will go down as one of the all-time great Six Nations moments. Andy Powell's ride to the services may not.
Shane Williams had his say against France as another 20-point lead was conceded but their low undoubtedly came with a toothless showing in defeat to Ireland at Croke Park. A shake-up followed, with Richie Rees, Martyn Williams and Leigh Halfpenny paying the price. The return of Gethin Jenkins and Mike Phillips had an immediate impact as Wales looked more organised and dangerous against Italy, highlighting once again that while their first XV is strong, there's less going on below the surface. The Springboks and All Blacks await in the summer - a real litmus test. D
A work in progress? Definitely. A good side in the making? Absolutely. Again the problems of squad depth will pain Andy Robinson but this was a good tournament from Scotland. They may have avoided the wooden spoon only on the final weekend and lost to Italy, but they are making progress. Not PR progress, but the real thing.
They deserved to beat Wales and England - granted, they didn't - but with a couple of breaks going their way it could have been a Triple Crown play-off at Croke Park in week five. Against Ireland they produced their best performance in recent memory, powered by a resurgent Dan Parks and one of the most balanced back-rows, the Glasgow 'Killer Bs' of John Barclay, Kelly Brown and Johnnie Beattie, in world rugby. Bring on Argentina indeed. C
The wooden spoon is back in the Italians' kitchen again. They procured a victory over Scotland, their first tournament win since 2008, and had they been able to conjure some magic in Cardiff were in sight of equalling their best return of two victories. As it is they remain the same wholehearted but limited side of recent seasons.
Influential skipper Sergio Parisse was undoubtedly a huge loss but Alessandro Zanni deserves special mention as one of the best performers in the tournament despite difficult circumstances. Gonzalo Garcia has the ability to become an international quality centre while their defence and breakdown work remains strong. If Scotland add more bite and confidence to their game, though, there could be a couple of lean seasons ahead for the Azzurri. Roll on Magners League inclusion. D
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.