The Six Nations competition is over for another year and now the countdown to the Rugby Union World Cup can really begin. The battle between the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere resumes all over again. It was certainly a nail-biting finish to the Six Nations, but perhaps slightly worrying for those taking part is the fact that no side was able to dominate the tournament.
We now know Wales can beat Ireland, England can beat Wales and Ireland can defeat England. So did the Six Nations give any clues that could lead to England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales taking their places among the World Cup favourites and lifting the trophy?
After another second-placed finish in the Six Nations, England now have to prepare themselves for a World Cup group that includes both Australia and Wales. That’s basically three teams chasing two places in the last eight – and England dare not miss out. They won four of their five games in the Six Nations, with the loss in Ireland proving decisive as far as the final destination of the trophy.
England scored more points than any other side, and have a strong lineout, but only Italy and Scotland conceded more points than them. Their defensive problems were shown most in the 55-35 win over France on the last day of the Six Nations that so nearly won them the title. That said, Stuart Lancaster’s men needed to rack up the points in that game to win by a certain margin, so attack was very much at the forefront.
Another problem identified during the Six Nations was the slow starts England made in their games. They were 10-0 down to Wales in the opening minutes, albeit the side did record a win in Cardiff That’s a problem that has to be eliminated if they are to have any chance of winning their second World Cup. Keep your eyes peeled for Sam Burgess, who has impressed since his switch from league. If he makes the squad and Stuart Lancaster gets him running at defences with his power, then expect exciting times ahead.
Six Nations winners Ireland didn’t manage a Grand Slam or a Triple Crown this season but again showed they can be a force in the World Cup. They take on France, Italy, Canada and Romania in their pool and should have no problems against mostly familiar opponents.
The Irish beat both South Africa and Australia in the autumn internationals and their continued good form in the Six Nations can only instil more confidence into the side. They’ve got quality with the likes of Tommy Bowe, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney, to name but a few, and they know how to put points on the board. Only New Zealand averaged more in matches in 2014. Ireland’s outside price to win the World Cup could be a decent punt.
A wooden spoon for Scotland in the Six Nations means a worrying time for the team as they prepare for the World Cup. In truth, their tournament could have been so different. A narrow 15-8 loss in France was followed by a 26-23 home defeat by Wales and more agony followed as they went down 22-19 at home to Italy. Scotland are playing in a more expansive manner than in recent years and it perhaps wouldn’t take too much improvement for them to make a mark in the World Cup. They haven’t got the hardest of pools, if you rule out South Africa, with the Scots facing Samoa, Japan and the USA. Anything less than a quarter-final looks likely.
Wales can take a great deal of encouragement from their performances in the Six Nations. They disappointingly lost at home to England in the opening match, but went on to win their next four. That included a confident win over eventual champions Ireland and an excellent win in France.
George North and Rhys Webb both scored three tries in the tournament and if they can continue that form then it could be an interesting World Cup. As mentioned previously, they have to face England and Australia in their pool and in particular their clash against England will be a vital game. Win that and a quarter-final place beckons, lose it and they’ll most likely have to beat Australia to progress.