So this was Wales’s tournament. A fitting Six Nations for a team that is brimming with talent and lived up to their ‘favourites’ tag. Mervyn Davies would have been very proud of this team, and the one consolation for Wales is that, even though they had to say goodbye to one of their legends, there are a number of new players showing some of the qualities that made the Swerve such a wonderful and much loved rugby man. For the rest of the teams in the championship the last weekend highlighted a lot of the issues they will have to sort out if they are to mount a consistent challenge to the Welsh.
As for England, for the first time in a long while, I enjoyed watching them. They had to scrap and graft for everything – new names, new systems, but nothing less than full throttle in every game. There is genuine hope and optimism for the future both on and off the field at the RFU. A few events on the horizon will go a long way to determining the future of this England team.
First up will be the appointment of the new coach on a long-term basis. For me, Stuart Lancaster has done more than enough to earn the job. He has got so much right in the tournament build up with discipline and then throughout the tournament with brave selections. He has created an environment that rewards freedom of expression and has quickly absorbed a new defensive system with Andy Farrell and a powerful forward unit with Graham Rowntree. Importantly he will be the supporters’ choice as well, which will buy him the time he needs to develop the squad further. This will be vital over the summer because England face a tough tour to South Africa. Winning games over there is much, much tougher and it will be a real gauge of how far this team has come and how far it still has to go.
England also managed to answer some tricky selection questions. The biggest headache was who to play in the centres and at fly half. Ultimately an injury forced decisions to be made and they worked out. Owen Farrell ran out in the first two games as a centre, kicked his goals, led the tackling offensive up in Edinburgh hunting down forwards, smashed into things in Rome and then tackled anything that moved when he was shunted to fly half. One hit on Harinordoquy late on in Paris meant Trinh Duc’s drop goal attempt was from 35 yards out not 25 yards out – the difference between winning and losing in the end. Brad Barritt has been unbelievable in defence. I forgive him his seeming lack of footballing prowess, although the Saracens tell me he is hiding it for a dry day. Manu Tuilagi got back into it when Charlie Hodgson was injured pre Wales and hasn’t looked back. A house on legs, he hurt Jamie Roberts then showed wheels for his try in Paris.
The midfield looks strong, but even so I’d be keen to see Jonathan Joseph get a run there in summer tour – a very, very good kid. But he has a lot of good players to get past, and here is my list of the tournament’s stand-out stars and performers…
Player of the tournament (across all 6 teams)
Italy – Sergio Parisse (tough call)
Ireland – Tommy Bowe
Scotland – Richie Gray
England – Owen Farrell
France – Wesley Fofana
Wales and the main player of the tournament (very difficult as it was a real team effort) – Toby Faletau and Jamie Roberts were awesome; Mike Phillips so powerful; Adam Jones a rock; Ian Evans a real improvement; George North was outstanding … in fact you take your pick!!
XV of the tournament (across all 6 teams)
1. Gethin Jenkins, 2. Dylan Hartley, 3. Adam Jones, 4. Richie Gray, 5. Ian Evans, 6. Stephen Ferris, 7. Thierry Dusautoir, 8. Sergio Parisse, 9. Mike Phillips, 10.Johnny Sexton, 11. George North, 12. Wesley Fofana, 13. Jonathan Davies, 14. Tommy Bowe, 15. Rob Kearney
England players close: Mauritz Botha, Brad Barritt, Ben Foden, Dan Cole, Owen Farrell, Alex Corbisero, Ben Morgan, Geoff Parling.
Will Greenwood is an ambassador for rugby and lifestyle clothing brand Canterbury. For his full Six Nations review blog, visit: http://blog.canterbury.com/