Eventual Finish: 3rd
Throughout this year’s tournament, it has been clear that England have a long-term vision, with their focus being next year’s World Cup and the Six Nations simply being a series of warm-up matches for it. With that in mind, whilst the individual results have been largely disappointing, we need to analyse the bigger picture and ask if we seen any progression from them. The answer is yes, because some of the new players have had an impact on their performances, such as Bristol Bears’ scrum-half Harry Randall, whilst others like Exeter Chiefs’ Sam Simmonds and Harlequins’ Alex Dombrandt will get better as they grow into the team.
What England need now is better consistency during games, because their biggest issue was that when the attack was good, the defending went missing, and vice versa. Normally, it is the defence that lets them down, but it was good against Ireland in their penultimate match. However, they couldn’t convert their opportunities, meaning that their hard work wasn’t rewarded. If they can get both working simultaneously, then it won’t be long before they start to contend once again.
Eventual Finish: 1st
Make no mistake, France are potential World Cup winners-in-waiting, and what an achievement it would be to lift the Webb-Ellis Cup on home soil next year. Their improvement in 2021 was incredible, but the only thing that was missing was a reliable kicker to challenge fly-half Romain Ntamack; this has been addressed by the introduction of Perpignan full-back Melvyn Jaminet, who has arguably been the find of the season. We could pick out a number of their players who have stood out, but the truth is that every one of their players contributed to their Six Nations win, whether it be tackling hard, scoring tries, winning turnovers or kicking well.
The biggest thing that has become evident throughout this year’s tournament is their teamwork, with their strong Shaun Edwards-coached defence built on everyone working together to limit gaps, whilst their attack has succeeded because players have constantly run excellent support lines, helping to move the ball at speed and create more chances. England in the closing stages on Saturday night looked like a team that had run out of ideas, and that summed up how good France have been.
Eventual Finish: 2nd
Ireland have undoubtedly been the France’s closest challengers throughout the 2022 Six Nations and are some way ahead of the rest of the field in terms of overall quality and squad depth. This tournament, we saw the next generation of players coming through, and they look really exciting. Leinster’s Dan Sheehan is a really talented hooker who has impressed for club and country this season, whilst both Connacht winger Mack Hansen and Ulster full-back Michael Lowry demonstrated their attacking quality when given chances in the team. Their defensive work is also really good, especially when under pressure at the end of the first half on Saturday, with Scotland having to really fight to gain every inch of ground possible.
However, the reason that they are not the top team in the northern hemisphere is because they occasionally struggle to break through teams that dig in against them. Whilst they did eventually take all five points at Twickenham on the penultimate weekend, it was not a pretty display and they did look quite lost at times, so this is where they perhaps need to focus their efforts now.
Eventual Finish: 6th
Normally, we would come to an end-of-season analysis of Italy and write the same things as normal; poor play, lack of improvement, some good signs but not enough to show that they have stepped it up. This year, however, there was some genuine improvement as the tournament progressed. After their traditionally slow start, they kept the pressure on England in the second half during Round 2, put on a really good display against Scotland, and then saw their fortunes finally change against Wales on Saturday. The most pleasing aspect of their performance was that they never gave up, even when it appeared that Josh Adams had given his team an undeserved win with a late try.
They seemingly have the basics back under control, but the one thing that will keep letting them down is their occasional lapse in concentration. Against Scotland, flanker Rory Darge was afforded too much space to run through and score, whilst Owen Watkin had the same freedom when opening the scoring for Wales at the Principality. This is where they now need to look at in order to continue their development under head coach Kieran Crowley.
Eventual Finish: 4th
Scotland would have hoped to kick on after a good showing in the last few Championships, and a good opening round win against England at Murrayfield gave fans hope that they would continue their improvement. However, they fell away after that win and never looked like competing, and it was a return to the Scotland of old in some ways. Against Ireland, they took a long while to get into the game, making plenty of errors all over the pitch and making it really hard to gain any territory.
What has become evident is that they are a team who depend on a few key individuals, one of which is fly-half Finn Russell. His absence meant that Scotland lacked a creative edge on Saturday, with his replacement, Blair Kinghorn, more used to playing as a winger or a full-back and not a standoff. As a result, he lacked the same influence and involvement. There were positives, with the arrival of Rory Darge onto the international stage meaning that the injury to Jamie Ritchie did not affect them too much, but there is plenty of learning for them to do.
Eventual Finish: 5th
Before we look at Wales, we need to remind ourselves that their tournament was hampered by injuries to key players beforehand, although Alun Wyn Jones and Josh Navidi did both return before its conclusion. However, this is far from an excuse, and the defending champions were a long way below par this year.
The biggest issue was their execution in key areas, as there were so many times that they wasted opportunities; Gloucester winger Louis Rees-Zammit was not the only one guilty of this, but he fumbled two catches in open space and gave Italy the ball in cheap circumstances. Wales were also not quick enough at the breakdown, allowing loosehead prop Danilo Fischetti and hooker Giacomo Nicotera to win easy turnovers and kick penalties to stay in the lead at half-time. The tackling also wasn’t strong enough, with winger Monty Ioane given the freedom of Cardiff to run into at times, and it was these individual moments of poor quality that added up to a disappointing Championship for them.