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6 Nations – End Of Term Report

by Aidan Elder | March 22, 2011

Six Nations Betting
Age had taken it’s toll on the looks, but New Kids On The Block made up for it with enthusiasm

Poor rugby. Poor refereeing. Poor foresight.
That’s the tale of a forgettable 2011 Six Nations Championship.

For three years out of every four we can leave aside the questionable standards of the 6 Nations and simply enjoy the show. The thrilling, low quality show.
The bigger questions and the elephants in the room can be ignored most of the time, but in a World Cup year they’re a real worry. The pre-World Cup 6 Nations should be a time to put the finishing touches on the building process rather than arguing over the blueprints, not that you’d have guessed it from what was served up over the last couple of months. The ‘pin the tail on the donkey method’ they use to decide the IRB World Rankings tells us Ireland are the now the best team in the northern hemisphere, but that’s shaping up to be a compliment with all the flattery of being told you’re the most musical member of Blue.

The whole tournament exposed the frailties of the European nations. The cast of the 6 Nations are staring down the barrel of a hiding in New Zealand later this year. Mistakes were rife to the point where the Tri-Nations looked like a different sport. Teams from the Tri-Nations aren’t perfect and do make mistakes, but they tend to be advanced level mistakes whilst Six Nations teams struggled with the basics – catching, passing, kicking. They’re doing differential calculus while we’re still counting out on our fingers and toes. On the evidence of the last few weeks, it’s looking highly unlikely that the Webb Ellis Trophy will be venturing north of the equator until the promotional campaign for the 2015 event begins in earnest.

England are the champions, but stuffed up their chance of a Grand Slam with a spineless performance at the artist formerly known as Lansdowne Road. When a 16 point defeat flatters you, you’ve got some real problems. The trinity of Foden, Ashton and Cueto has made them a more appealing spectacle than the Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps level of tedium they’ve achieved for much of the Johnson reign, but the team is still littered with too many highly regarded, but unremarkable players. Or to use the collective name – Aviva Premiership players. But writing England off is pretty pointless. The team that went all the way to the 2007 looked equally uninspiring, but they had the power and just enough attacking threat to go pretty close. In certain ways, this is a better collection of players than reached the Paris decider, but in terms of experience and big match temperament there are major question marks.

For Ireland, the campaign was an exercise in papering over the cracks. There was always an excuse to grasp rather than admitting that the players were drastically underperforming. Injuries, erratic referees, uncharacteristic individual errors were amongst the straws clutched at, but the truth was the decisions of the management didn’t get the most out of the talent within the squad. The players fumed at the match officials for a woeful and match-changing error in Cardiff, but in truth they should have been sending them thank you cards for providing them with a talking point which distracted from what was one of Ireland’s least ambitious and most mind-numbing performances in this four year cycle. The win over England did at least leave a pleasant taste in the mouth and reaffirmed that this team is still capable at a moment when the doubts were in danger of running riot.

In France, Marc Lievremont couldn’t be making more of a pigs ear of putting together a jigsaw puzzle if he was sticking the pieces in his ear. Les Bleus would appear to have well in excess of fifteen players capable of mixing it at the highest level of international rugby, but Lievremont has a real flair for not putting the right combination of them on the pitch at the same time. There were times when the French combined to play some rugby packed with pace, power and panache, but too often it was soon followed by the type of disjointed individuality that makes them so easy to stereotype. Sheer inconsistency and unpredictably probably still makes them the side the hosts fear the most in a way similar to how you’d feel if you’d invited Charlie Sheen over for dinner.

Wales are worth keeping an eye on, if only because they were poor yet still managed a few wins and are open to improvement, especially as key players return from injury. Scotland are probably delighted to have avoided the wooden spoon, but in true pissing on their parade style, they probably shouldn’t be too smug. Andy Robinson is widely acknowledged as doing a great job, yet still they managed a solitary win in the easiest fixture they have on their calendar. Imagine they had a coach who wasn’t doing a good job – where would they be then? In the qualifiers for the 2015 World Cup presumably. Italy made some fantastic progress to beat someone other than Scotland and suggested it wasn’t a fluke by pushing Wales close and Ireland even closer. Their progress under Nick Mallett makes them a huge World Cup banana skin – a banana skin with a decent chance of slipping into a quarter-final.

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