Six Nations
Staring into the Six Nations crystal ball
Tom Hamilton and Paul Eddison
March 19, 2014
It was Ireland's championship but what areas of improvement should they be focusing on? © PA Photos

Following the end of the Six Nations, attention inevitably turns to the summer tour and to next year. We spoke to six prominent former internationals about their respective nations and asked them how they think their countries will fare over the coming months.

Ireland - David Wallace - 72 caps, 2000-2011

2014 Six Nations in three words: "Basics done well."

Reasons for optimism: "We have the likes of Sean O'Brien and Stephen Ferris to come back into the set-up and the two of them are world class. Ian Madigan is also a very exciting player and it was good to see him get a chance against France.

Scottish centre Nick de Luca does enough to stop Ireland's David Wallace during their Six Nations match at Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland, March 20, 2010
© Getty Images

"There's good strength in depth all over the field. Joe Schmidt is very decisive in what he wants from a team and he'll drill and drill and drill until they're all playing the way he wants so there are the building blocks there. The lineout and the scrum have also been good. There's a lot to be optimistic about."

Areas for improvement: "We need to replace Brian O'Driscoll but there are some guys who are in the frame. Jared Payne qualifies soon then there's also Luke Marshall, Darren Cave, Fergus McFadden, Robbie Henshaw and Stuart Olding at Ulster who everyone is raving about. But Drico will of course be missed, he does things others can't.

"On the field, it's hard to find fault. There were times when they weren't clinical enough but there were moments when it all clicked. So when it's all said and done, perhaps a bit more consistency in that area."

Predictions for the summer tour: "Argentina is a tough place to go, I made my debut there and we lost. But Ireland will head there wanting two wins from two."

Three wishes for 2015:

  • Find the next Brian O'Driscoll.
  • Carry the level of performance on to next year.
  • Focusing on building strength in depth. I wouldn't want to see the same team week-in-week out.

England - Richard Hill - 72 caps, 2000-2011

2014 Six Nations in three words: "Progress, defence, happy"

England's Richard Hill in action, Austraila v England, Rugby World Cup Final, Telstra Stadium, Sydney, Australia, November 22, 2003
© PA Photos

Reasons for optimism: "England were confident in the culture and environment Stuart had put in place. They were confident of the way the defence was organised in stifling the opposition. The attacking structure and attitude was also impressive.

"I'm very happy with them, it was a progressive Six Nations. They've moved forward and have been shown the dangers of not being clinical at Test level and they will develop as a team."

Areas for improvement: "The attacking side of it will improve, it's a new team and they've only had five games together. It was great to see seven tries go in against Italy and the desire but there were times when the application and accuracy wasn't quite right. They've got another three-week block together so those are the sort of things England will work on."

Predictions for the summer tour: "It doesn't come any tougher than playing the world champions in their own backyard over the course of three Tests and of course for the first one it'll be without a few of their players due to the scheduling. Those who are picked for the game in Auckland will get some great match experience while also attempting to prove their credentials.

"We have to be aware they are the current world champions and an outstanding three-match series would be two wins but it wouldn't be a disgrace if they came away with one. England will go there targeting all three."

Three wishes for 2015:

  • A fully fit World Cup squad to be able to work with all year.
  • A continuation of the playing style.
  • Confidence obtained from victories.

Wales - Tom Shanklin - 70 caps, 2001-2010

2014 Six Nations in three words: "Finished very strongly."

Reasons for optimism: "We are a fairly young squad - you look at the backs and they are all in the early stages of their careers so there are loads and loads of positives there. It's a similar case in the back-row. Wales are in a good place."

Wales' Tom Shanklin carries forward against France, France v Wales, Stade de France, Six Nations, Paris, February 27, 2009
© PA Photos

Areas for improvement: "We do need to start looking ahead to two or three year's time at loose-head and tight-head. Gethin [Jenkins] and Adam [Jones] are first choice and while Paul James is a good operator, he's not as young as he was. We need to test some youngsters at the top level.

"They also need to find the best half-back position and settle on a partnership. Look at England and Ireland, both have settled partnerships. I still think James Hook is one of our best options at fly-half but I think this coaching team want someone to play the percentages there, someone like Dan Biggar. Either way they need to pick one man, which looks like it'll be between Biggar and Rhys Priestland, and stick with them."

Predictions for summer tour: "South Africa is a very, very hard place to play. I've played five Tests there and never won. If you want to get anything out of those two Tests, you have to bring your strongest team. It's a tough, long season so there will be players rested and injured. It will be good to see youngsters step up to see where they are. They might not win the games but they'll learn a lot."

Three wishes for 2015:

  • Win the Six Nations
  • The domestic league to be sorted out
  • Everyone to stay fit

France - Serge Betsen - 63 caps, 1997-2007

The tournament in three words: "An opportunity missed."

Reasons for optimism: "We saw the passion and aggressiveness return in the final game against Ireland. The quality is there in terms of the players, we see it when they play for their clubs so there is a lot of potential."

© Getty Images

Areas for improvement: "Passion is not enough at this level, and what we saw against Ireland should be the absolute minimum. The players don't seem to have a clear game plan, in the last two games Ireland and Scotland put together lots of phases to create space in our defence, we don't seem to be able to do the same. The defence is also an issue at the moment, and the set-piece is a worry."

Predictions for the summer tour: "With three Tests in Australia, we need to see players fighting for their places in the 2015 World Cup. I hope they will show that they have learned how to win tight games as they did against Scotland and England."

Three wishes for 2015:

  • A defence coach to bring a fresh voice into the squad. At the moment Patrice Lagisquet is taking on a lot as backs coach and defence coach. We need someone who can tell the players quickly and effectively what they need to do.
  • A coherent game plan. The players are capable of following a plan in their clubs, I don't know why we don't seem to able to do the same at international level.
  • The return of Benjamin Kayser. He offers real leadership in the pack, and our set-piece is much stronger when he plays, both the lineout and the scrum.

Scotland - Nathan Hines - 77 caps, 2000-2011

2014 Six Nations in three words: "Capable of more"

Reasons for optimism: "The centres are looking good and Stuart Hogg, when he has space, will do a great job."

Scotland's Nathan Hines fends off Fulgence Ouedraogo, Scotland v France, Six Nations Championship, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Scotland, February 7, 2010
© Getty Images

Areas for improvement: "We didn't make a huge amount of progress during the competition. Some of the new guys didn't take their chances at the start of the tournament and some of the experienced guys didn't play as well as they can do.

"The fundamentals were bad though. The lineout and scrum struggled and when you don't get some consistency there, you won't get any ball or a chance to win. Scotland aren't good enough to lose ball at set piece. We were also dominated physically in the breakdown so that needs to be addressed. They are things that are easy to pinpoint but not easy to fix."

Predictions for summer tour: "It's a big tour for Scotland they play the USA, Canada, Argentina and South Africa. Some of the guys like Johnnie [Beattie] and big Jim [Hamilton] might miss the first game or two due to Top 14 commitments but you'd like to think the team has enough about them to beat USA and Canada, though I was part of a Scotland team who lost in Vancouver in 2002. They aren't a gimme.

"Argentina have grown in the Rugby Championship so will be tough. And then they have the Boks in Port Elizabeth. Taking into account all the travelling, it will be difficult. What Scotland must look at now is performance. If you are playing well but lose to Argentina and South Africa then so be it but if you don't have parity in set piece area then they won't still winning."

Three wishes for 2015:

  • Just one - More consistent performance

Italy - Carlo del Fava - 54 caps, 2004-2011

2014 Six Nations in three words: "Not enough wins"

Italy lock Carlo del Fava passes during training at Gosch's Paddock, Melbourne, Australia, June 5, 2009
© Getty Images

Reasons for optimism: "I was happier with how they played this year than any time in the last 10 seasons. In the past players were always told if you had the ball in your half, you have to get rid of it, now with Jacques Brunel and the coaching staff, they are allowed to try things. That's how they are going to move on to the next level with guys who have the skills to counter-attack and threaten the opposition."

Areas for improvement: "The set-piece needed to improve and over the course of the tournament, and it did. There is still an issue with restarts though. We saw it against England, we scored the first points of the game and then there was some confusion from the restart between Bortolami and Furno and England got the ball back in great position. We need to improve that part of the game so that when we put points on the board, we can then put pressure on the opposition."

Predictions for summer tour: "We play Samoa, Fiji and Japan which will be tough. I've played in Japan in June and it's very hard with the humidity. And playing the Pacific Island teams away will be very difficult. But I think they really need at least two wins."

Three wishes for 2015:

  • Guys who didn't feature much in the Six Nations need to be back involved like Giovanbattista Venditti, Andrea Masi and Mirco Bergamasco.
  • Zebre winger Tommaso Iannone has earned a shot, and Tommaso Allan needs to be installed at fly-half.
  • We need another option at tight-head because the cupboard is bare behind Castrogiovanni and Cittadini.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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