We finally know who our Six Nations champions are for 2020; a sentence we expected to say in mid-March, but have ended up saying in early November. However, the thing we were most pleased about was that we got our Super Saturday, without fans, sadly, but we got the drama that we had been looking for. All three games told us something about each team and where they are going, and in this analysis, we will take a look at each of the six teams, providing a verdict on their performances, tactics, players, and where we think they are going in the future.
Since Eddie Jones came in, England have always been working towards the next World Cup, using each Six Nations as an opportunity to build a little further in the team. This year, we saw several players come in for their debuts, and this again ensures that the next generation of English talent is being brought in and slowly introduced to the team. When you consider the poor performance that they put on in Paris in their opening game of this year’s Six Nations, and the number of mistakes they made, the improvements they have made have been really good to watch, and the fact that they have ended up as the 2020 champions highlights this. However, this is not to say that they are perfect; their final game against Italy showed us how they still have plenty of moments where they play badly, and when this is the case, they play really badly. This is something they will need to really work on.
We have also seen a number of tactics being used, with a reliance on grubber kicks to the wings, as well as Sale Sharks flanker Tom Curry being used as the Number 8 in the earlier rounds, so experimentation has also been seen in the team. This shows us that Eddie Jones has ideas and knows how he wants the team to play. Going forward, we need to see even more progression from them, so that, when it comes to France 2023, England are again up there challenging to be world champions.
The 2020 Six Nations showed France as a much-improved team, capable of challenging for the title again. They have a new coaching team in place, led by Fabien Galthie, and one person who has had a huge impact has been defence coach Shaun Edwards. The former Wales coach has brought a new solidity to France’s backline, and we have seen how the other five teams have at times really struggled to break them down. This has given them a platform to then attack from, and we have seen plenty of exciting young players be introduced to their team over the last couple of years to help this. Two who continue to shine are scrum-half Antoine Dupont and fly-half Romain Ntamack, who are two of the best players on the planet at the moment. They control everything France do, and that is why Les Bleus are currently a very exciting team to watch.
Going forwards, we can expect them to continue building, and continue bringing young French talents into the team. The likes of wingers Teddy Thomas and Damian Penaud are two other promising players, but both have had their injury problems. The future of French rugby looks good, especially as they will be hosting the next Rugby World Cup.
It is too early to make too many conclusions about Ireland, as former England coach Andy Farrell (father of England captain Owen) is still in his first season in charge since succeeding Joe Schmidt as head coach, following the 2019 World Cup. However, we are seeing some signs that he wants to play an attacking style of play, and is happy to bring in players who can be in the team for the foreseeable future. Following the restart, he introduced flanker Will Connors and winger Hugo Keenan to the team, who both play for Leinster. In their first game, against Italy, Keenan scored a hat-trick of tries, whilst Connors put in a man-of-the-match performance.
This tournament hasn’t been their year, and this is down to them lacking creativity at times, particularly against France this weekend. However, they have the squad to challenge opponents, as they always have done, and still have a very capable and experienced partnership in the middle of scrum-half Conor Murray and fly-half Johnny Sexton, the latter of whom is the captain. They ensure that the team keeps driving forward and asks questions of opposing defences. Going forward, it will just continue to be a period of transition for them, but they have time to make changes that need to be made, and to bring in the next generation of players to offer something different to what they already have.
Italy have not been on the same level as the other five teams in the Six Nations for a good few seasons now, and haven’t won a game since round three of the 2015 tournament, when they beat Scotland 22-19 at Murrayfield. However, there have been signs of promise since then. They have excellent individual players, such as full-back Matteo Minozzi and winger Mattia Bellini, and it could be noticed how much difference it made not having them in the side during the 2017 tournament. Others who have shown that they can play good rugby include winger Edoardo Padovani, young fly-half Paolo Garbisi, and back row forwards Braam Steyn, Sebastian Negri and Jake Polledri. However, their main problem has always been getting these players to all work together. Too often, we saw mistakes being made because of a handling error, players incorrectly charging into situations, or a lack of communication, and this is what continues to cost them.
Going forward, it is clear that new head coach Franco Smith will need to continue building his team, working on the teamwork part of the game, and tidying up the breakdown situation, cutting out the loose mistakes that Italy constantly make.
Scotland have been one of the teams who tend to pick up an odd win here and there, but never challenge for the title. However, this year, we saw a different beast. They won their last three games, against Italy, France and Wales, and this was a great achievement for them. They have had the players to cause opponents problems, with the likes of captain Stuart Hogg, wingers Darcy Graham and Blair Kinghorn and centre Chris Harris all posing threats. Therefore, Scottish rugby looks to be slowly looking upwards again, which is a promising thing for all of us.
What needed to happen from Scotland was that they needed to have more belief in themselves, because it is obvious that they had the players, and this year, they have put on performances that we knew were in there somewhere. It is now simply a case of keeping this up going forward, which they will, and we know head coach Gregor Townsend will ensure they do, and continuing to ensure that they are a strong team both in defence and attack. They were definitely one of the best teams in the 2020 edition of the Six Nations, overall, and it’s not often we say that about them.
Wales had a tournament to forget, by their standards. However, like with Ireland, it is too early to judge them, because they also have a new coach in former Scarlets boss Wayne Pivac. However, we haven’t seen too much progression from them, and they need to work out how to get the most out of the group. It is likely that next year, we will see them play a little better, but they just seemed to lack the confidence that we know they usually have, and weren’t as good in all areas of the pitch. The loss to Scotland highlighted some of the key issues with their performances, in that they conceded too many penalties for basic errors, even if some of them were a bit harsh.
What will be a worry for them is if the team are still tuned in to Warren Gatland’s style of play, when Wayne Pivac obviously wants to play slightly differently. It could take time to adjust, but this is what they need to work on.
Their main strength, and something we have always associated with them, is their defence, which always makes them a hard team to break down; this was no different this year either. However, they seem to be making changes where changes didn’t need to be made, as they adjust to Pivac’s new ideas, and this is perhaps what is affecting their early performances under him.
The Six Nations is over for 2020, at last, but it has given us plenty of things to think about going forward as far as these six teams are concerned. This review has looked to draw together some thoughts and conclusions, but it is clear that all six have different strengths and different weaknesses, and different things to be happy about and to work on. We don’t have long to wait until next year’s tournament, with it beginning in February, as long as it is safe to do so obviously.