Six Nations: A few final thoughts: Pies, pints, mates and tries

Well! It’s over for another year. The 2017 Six Nations is rapidly receding into the distance and we look forward to next time. What will not disappear are the memories of this year’s competition at Kieran’s Irish pub; new friendships were forged; old ones reignited; hands were shook; mates embraced and the craic was there in all its glory.

Thank you to everybody who graced Kieran’s for this year’s Six Nations.

Standout moments: Before I get into the serious analytical part of this article; what are the standout memories?  The anticipation before each game and the national anthems will always be up there for this writer. Who is not moved at Murrayfield when The Flower of Scotland begins with the pipes and finishes with a crowd acapella? Our French chef Vincent Francoual is convinced the Le Marseillaise is the greatest anthem in the world and when I sit, watch and listen a part of me thinks he’s good a good argument. Should we mention Land of my Fathers under the Millennium Stadium roof? No wonder the Welsh national color is red with all that fire and passion. The Irish players stand and sing about Ireland’s call; on a wonderful day in Dublin with the stadium awash with green; who would not answer?  The Italian players in Rome, for all their problems on the field, seem to grip each other a wee bit tighter during II Canto degIi Italiani or Song of the Italians. A packed Twickenham with 80, 000 people belting out God Save the Queen is something to behold and enough to stir the blood of any Englishman.

More standout moments at Kieran’s for the six Nations: Our resident French chef, Vincent Francoual, donning an Irish jersey to honour a bet; opening the pub doors at 07:15am on the final morning and welcoming our first supporter of the day, an Italian one no less and resplendent in the jersey of the “azzuri”, hope springs eternal; a rousing rendition in the pub of The Fields of Athenry after Ireland’s victory over England; Vincent’s pie special on the final day; just four of many great moments. It was all wonderful stuff.

 

    

 

And now the serious stuff: After seven weeks, 15 matches, thrills and spills; the Six Nations are done for another year. It was a tournament full of intrigue. It was, dare I say it, the best championship of recent years? England retained the title, but ended on a flat note as a repeat Grand Slam proved out of reach in Dublin. So we should start with them and keep going in order of the final table.

England came into tournament after a very successful 2016. Under Australian Eddie Jones they were unbeaten last year, they had a 2016 Grand Slam under their belt, an excellent 3 test series win in Australia and they entered this year’s Six Nations has hot favorites. The team has strength in depth and plays to traditional English strengths. They had a number of players who enhanced their reputations and made strong cases for Lions inclusion this summer, for example Owen Farrell, Maro Ijoje and Joe Launchbury. England won ugly in the first three games. The games against France and Wales produced scores in the last quarter when the games seemed to be slipping away. It’s a sign of a quality side when victory is achieved on the back of lackluster performances. The win against Italy was disappointing for England-if we can say any victory is bad. It was England’s inability to deal with Italy’s game plan in the first half that surprised everybody. World class teams need to adapt to changing fortunes. The game against Scotland was wonderful and England produced their best performance for many a year. England was very buoyant leading into the final game in Dublin and probably a wee bit over confident. That loss put a second Grand Slam out of reach for the English. England can be confident of strong representation on the Lions tour and will be strong contenders for the 2019 World cup in Japan. Despite that last game disappointment the English will continue to be a dominating force in world rugby.

England’s man of the tournament: Owen Farrell was the architect of England’s second successive championship. His kicking, distribution, defense and general all round display was first class.

 

Ireland’s rousing final-day performance hid disappointments on the road. An opening day loss in Edinburgh proved that teams need a good start to this tournament. A comprehensive round 2 win in Rome over the struggling Italians followed by a home game against France. Ireland looked to be back on track with a victory over a rejuvenated French team. A Friday night loss to Wales meant Ireland would not have a chance of the championship unless England slipped up before that final game in Dublin. Conor Murray and Jonathon Sexton can claim to have the most portent half –back partnership in the competition. The Irish forwards had good tournament. Center Robbie Henshaw looks like blossoming into a world calls international player and could also be on the plane to New Zealand.

Ireland’s man of the tournament: Tadhg Furlong did not have a bad game, he carried well, tackled hard and fast, and his set piece play was first class. The cheers that rang out when he left to field against England indicated the esteem in which he has held and the impact he has made. He should be on the Lions plane to New Zealand.

France always brings a different dimension to the tournament. The championship is always better when France are properly competitive and they seem to have re-discovered their flair again. Scrum-half Baptiste Serin made his Six Nations debut against England and never missed a game. He was incremental in trying to get the French back-line moving in the right direction. France had their chances to get their championship off to a good start in the opening game in London. They just could not keep up the pace. A win in round 2 at home against Scotland meant French hopes were raised; however, defeat in Dublin killed any chance of a tournament win. Two consecutive victories against Italy and Wales meant a credible a mid-table finish for the French. Next year will bode more promise for this exciting French team

France’s man of the tournament: Louis Picamoles has always been renowned for his carrying ability and he was on top form this year. He regularly tops the charts for defenders beaten as well as number of offloads; he was the driving force behind France’s campaign.

 

Scotland won three matches for the first time since 2006, but suffered a record-equaling defeat by the Auld Enemy. They started the tournament at home to Ireland and got off to a good start, in round 2 they narrowly lost to France in Paris before a good home win against Wales. The only blip for the Scots before the last day’s win over Italy was that hammering in London. They found an England team that produce their best performance for years and would have beaten any team in the world on that day. Scotland won all three games at home this year. A sure sign of progress. Last year’s man of the tournament, Stuart Hogg, once again started brightly.  He should also be on the plane to New Zealand. The Scottish backs had a very good tournament and played inventive and exciting rugby. The forwards competed very well in all the games except the English one. All-in-all the Scots can feel optimistic about the future.

Scotland’s man of the tournament: Hogg once again was at the forefront of any Scottish success. Defensively sound and he either scored or had a hand in the majority of Scotland’s 14 tries.

 

Wales finished fifth, but were just a few minutes and seconds respectively from victories over England and France. That would have given the table a very different look. There were a number of positives to the Welsh campaign with the return to form of George North, the form of potential Lions Ken Owens and Rhys Webb and the emergence of Alun Wyn Jones as a potential Lions captain. Wales can count themselves unlucky during the tournament. They won the opening round in Italy, followed by two consecutive losses to England and Scotland, a victory over Ireland in Wales on a Friday night steadied the ship somewhat. Their championship was finished in Paris under farcical circumstances and a contentious loss.

Wales’ man of the tournament:  Even taking into account the above mentioned players, Sam Warburton could have been man of the match in every game he played. Warren Gatland should not dismiss Warburton from his thoughts when selecting the Lions captain.

 

Italy had all sorts of problems to deal with; they never looked like troubling any of other teams. In round 3 they confused and frustrated England and the game was very close at the half; however, that was more to England’s inability to deal with a changing situation than any attacking acumen from the Italians. The Italians conceded 29 points against the Scots in the final game and that was the least in any game. They are under tremendous pressure to justify their inclusion in the championship. Unless the Italians can improve their domestic game then each season will be much of the same. The international governing bodies should keep supporting the Italian team; however, there are other teams hammering on the door and getting frustrated about future opportunities.

Italian man of the tournament: Sergio Parrise (who else?) How long can this talisman continue to shore up the leaky Italian ship?

 

There are a few highs, lows and thoughts to reflect on. And in no particular order:

Player of the tournament: Owen Farrell

Try of the tournament: Alex Dunbar in the opening game against Ireland and entering a lineout.

Brightest newcomer: French scrum-half Baptiste Serin.

Most innovative moment: Italy confusing England.

Most grumpiest post match interview: Eddie Jones after the Italy game.

Record breaking moment: CJ Stander’s hat-trick; the first by a forward for 55 years

Best referee: Frenchman Romain Poite in the England/Italy game “I’m the referee, not a coach”.  Wonderful!

Most unusual moment: England captain Dylan Hartley asking Poite about the rules. Hmmmmmmmm

Things that need to go away: Friday games (terrible for supporters), and the song “Swing low sweet chariot”.

Things we need to keep: Pies, pints, laughter, friends, songs and the craic

 

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