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It’s been two weeks now since that incredible final day of the Six Nations, when four teams broke the 30-points barrier in their respective matches – a feat only previously completed by England on Valentine’s Day against a limp Italian side. It’s a shame really that the rest of the competition was quite drab in comparison to this monstrous finale.
For those of you unaware, let me momentarily relive this super Saturday. England, Wales and Ireland; all level on points, none facing each other, and with various permutations floating about. Wales needed to trounce Italy to win, which they did – just – despite only being 14-13 ahead at the break. The Italian defence capsized in the second half and conceded 47 more points to lose 61-20. So Wales were winning.
Ireland needed to beat Scotland, now heavily, considering the Welsh onslaught in Rome. They did, 40-10. Now England needed to beat France by 27 points, a tough ask considering they’d only scored more than 27 points in one game so far. Even beating France is a difficult enough task. Yet the game finished 55-35 to England, not quite enough for England, leaving Ireland to win the tournament.
It wouldn’t be hard in the slightest to write solely about this unbelievable day. A day in which it was just impossible to predict what was going to happen. France scoring 35 points yet not winning just doesn’t happen. However there is a greater task on the horizon for the home nations’ rugby squads; the World Cup, being held in England later this year. So how has this year’s Six Nations affected England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland’s chances in the 2015 Rugby World Cup?
England arrived in February with expectations pragmatically low due to injuries. Joe Launchbury, Owen Farrell, Ben Foden and Ben Morgan were just a few players ruled out of the cup, with many more exempt from their Millennium Stadium opener. Despite this, they rose to the challenge and only defeat to victors Ireland and a converted try against France prevented them from taking their first championship since 2011.
But do they have the steel to take their second world crown? Quite possibly. But it all depends on what team turns up. In an ideal world, England will have all of their key players back from injury so should have their strongest squad available. And with strength comes expectation. On home turf (to an extent) the 15 players will have the crowd on their side. But one only has to remember their ill-disciplined 2011 World Cup, falling easily to France in the quarter-finals.
Realistically, they also have the toughest group. Australia, Wales, Fiji and Uruguay all beckon. Fiji will seriously test whether England’s injured players have truly recovered, whilst Australia and Wales will be no pushover. The Summer Internationals will give a better insight into England’s chances. On the face of it, there are no immediate reasons why England can’t win, but England fans best root in hope rather than anticipation for the time being.
Also in Pool A are Wales, who finished 4th in the 2011 tournament. Wales’ Six Nations adventure was an interesting one. Losing at home on the opening night of the tournament to England was far from the perfect start, however four consecutive wins meant a 3rd place finish as their reward. As mentioned before, this could easily have been 1st. Italy were destroyed and Ireland suffered their only defeat in what was one of the games of the contest.
Wales have never won the World Cup, and they will not be favourites to change that fact come September. However some would say that they have just as much chance as England. Many of their players ply their trade in England, whilst the Millennium Stadium will host their group matches against Fiji and Uruguay. This home advantage would have suited them better against Australia and England, but beggars can’t be choosers.
They surprised many with their finish in 2011, so if certain circumstances fall their way, Wales could easily match or surpass this. Particularly if George North can remain conscious over the summer, Wales shouldn’t be discounted. Write them off at your peril.
Joe Schmidt’s side retained the Six Nations trophy after a dramatic final day. The favourites for the tournament, Ireland made hard work of this. Losing to Wales forced them into having to defeat Scotland by a fair margin. However they did just that, and cemented themselves as a reasonable bet to win the World Cup too.
That said; South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are all favourites too. Ireland’s group is much kinder than England and Wales. France and Italy will be familiar opponents, whilst Canada and Romania should be dispatched easily. 2011’s World Cup wasn’t a great campaign for Ireland, however under Schmidt’s leadership, Ireland seem a revitalised squad. Like all the other sides, the summer internationals will uncover whether the Six Nations champions have the grit to overcome the southern hemisphere sides and cap off a tremendous 2015. This will also be their first World Cup without icons Ronan O’Gara and Brian O’Driscoll.
Let’s be honest, not even die hard Scottish fans expected much from the Six Nations. However most would have hoped for one victory at least. Alas, their loss to Italy ultimately consigned Scotland to their second wooden spoon in four years.
However Scotland fans shouldn’t be too pessimistic. Their group is perhaps the easiest to progress from. South Africa should top Pool B, with Samoa, Japan, the USA and Scotland left to fight for 2nd place. Scotland have never lost to Japan or the USA, and only once to Samoa. So Scotland’s probable target of reaching the knockout stages should be achieved, anything else after will be a bonus. Particularly since this will likely be the last World Cup for Jim Hamilton and props Geoff Cross and Euan Murray.
In the meantime, the nations’ coaches will hope that their stars make it out of their club’s season intact, and pray for a positive round of summer internationals. For us, all we can do is wait for Autumn.