By Nicola Kenton

  • Ireland beat England at Twickenham to secure the Grand Slam
  • Wales and Scotland also claim victories on the final day
  • England finish fifth in the table, with Scotland third and Wales second
SIX NATIONS – The final weekend of the 2018 Six Nations saw Ireland secure only their third Grand Slam in history with victory over England, while Wales and Scotland picked up wins too.

 

St. Patrick’s Day saw the final fixtures of the 2018 Six Nations take place. The championship had already been secured by Ireland last week, following victory over Scotland but this week they managed a 24-15 triumph over England at Twickenham to claim their third ever Grand Slam. The day began with Scotland taking victory over Italy in Rome, the boot of Greig Laidlaw winning the game in the final minutes. Next was Ireland’s Grand Slam victory and a third defeat in a row for England – their first at home under Eddie Jones. Finally, the tournament concluded in Cardiff where Wales held on to win against France and finish second in the table.

Ireland are on track for the 2019 World Cup

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Ireland completed their third ever Grand Slam at the weekend and throughout the tournament they showed different aspects of their game. In the first match against France, they got over the line in the last moments thanks to a Johnny Sexton drop goal and followed it up with some clinical try-scoring performances against the home nations. Although not every performance was complete or perfect, they showed creativity throughout and allowed their defensive and attacking prowess to come to the fore.

Moreover, they also utilised youngsters in their squad after an injury to Robbie Henshaw and a few games without Tadhg Furlong and Iain Henderson. Former Under 20 players such as Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Porter and James Ryan had to step up to the mark. Stockdale has taken many headlines with seven tries across the tournament, a record since the Six Nations began in 2000.

In the past year, Ireland have beaten New Zealand in Chicago, claimed a Six Nations grand slam and won twelve games in-a-row to move up to second in the IRB world rankings. Out of all the home nations they seem to have built the most from the last World Cup under Joe Schmidt and are aiming to overcome the Wallabies in Australia this summer.

Captain Rory Best told the BBC after the England match:

“It was a ferocious Test match throughout but words can’t describe how delighted we are with that win and with the Grand Slam. We set out to make every moment count and tried to build as perfect an 80 minutes as we could, hoping that effort would bring reward. I can’t say enough about how everyone involved with the squad has gone about their business – we wanted to make a statement by winning something big and we have shown on the big stage what we are made of.”

 

Wales develop strength in depth

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Having secured a one point victory at the weekend at France, which meant they finished second in the table, Wales should be happy with the ‘best of the rest’ title. Before the tournament started Warren Gatland had a reduced squad with players such as Sam Warburton, Dan Lydiate and Taulupe Faletau all out of action. On top of this, throughout the competition Wales lost players due to injury and Gatland ended up using more than 30 players across the five matches; however, it didn’t impact the side too much.

Wales lost to Ireland, in a match where they scored three tries but were outplayed in the middle of the match, and England in a closely fought battle. The other fixtures were convincing winning by a margin of 20+ points against both Scotland and Italy. They have proved that they can win in different ways and they won all their home games, which is always the aim in this tournament. Against England they were not too far away, the ill-discipline that day proved to be too costly but Gatland and his side should be impressed with their overall performance.

Many youngsters have been given a chance, others who have been out of the side have come back to the fore and added to their experience. When players such as Warburton return to the fold, it will be good to have competition for places all across the field and the Six Nations experience will be invaluable to the squad as a whole heading towards the next World Cup.

 

Scotland continue with ‘Plan A’

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Before the tournament began, many were tipping Scotland to have a good tournament following on from their success in the Autumn Internationals. However, that all came crashing down to earth in week one when they were beaten by Wales and struggled to score. In the next round, they won a close game against France relying on Laidlaw’s boot and then came the turning point. They beat England in the Calcutta Cup match for the first time in 10 years. They stuck with their style, managed to frustrate England at the breakdown and prevented the reigning Champions from scoring.

Against Ireland, Gregor Townsend‘s men stuck to their task and played a similar way to they had against England but Ireland were too clinical in their ability to score and Scotland lost away again. Their final match was in Rome against Italy and Laidlaw’s boot came to the rescue again, as he took the lead and the win in the final moments of the game. Scotland had won away. There have been several good points for Scotland. The return of Laidlaw to the team, the attacking play of backs such as Huw Jones and Sean Maitland, the relentless work conducted by John Barclay and Jonny Gray.

Head coach Townsend told the BBC:

 “Three wins is a big achievement. We’re not pleased with how we played against Wales and with not taking chances against Ireland or our first half performance [against Italy]. Nothing’s ever perfect and we understand there will be times when we don’t play as well and we have to find a way to get better, find a way to win. That’s what we did [against Italy]. The England performance was a great performance and a great win because of what it meant for the country, but having watched it a few times I know we could have been better – and that was probably our best performance”

 

England may have to return to drawing board

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It all started so well. England won their first two matches against Italy and Wales, they showed their attacking prowess in Rome while they had to win ugly against the Welsh but since then they were less than convincing. Before the tournament began, Eddie Jones had underplayed the many injuries that the squad had and instead tried to shift the focus onto other teams, stating that England weren’t favourites. However, this competition has seen England struggle at the breakdown and lost three Six Nations matches in-a-row for the first time since 2006.

After last week’s loss to France, Jones rang in the changes against Ireland with captain Dylan Hartley returning from injury while George Ford, Danny Care, Dan Cole and Joe Launchbury were all dropped to the bench. However some of the same mistakes were there again, ill-discipline at important moments and a seeming lack of creativity in attack. In Eddie Jones’s tenure, England had only lost one out of 23 test matches before the tournament began; this is stat is now four out of 28 games.

The implementation of Jones was so that he could fix the issues with the side that led them out of the 2015 World Cup, and although they have improved in certain areas there has not been a continuous improvement. The main bulk of the squad is the same and there are players who have come in and proved their worth in side i.e. Sam Simmonds and Sam Underhill. However, for their tour of South Africa this summer England will have to rebuild, re-ignite their creative spark and work harder at the breakdown.

International rugby fixtures finished have until the home nations begin their summer tours in June, while on the domestic front the quarter-finals of the European Champions and Challenge Cup take place on Easter weekend.

 

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