We of the Welsh rugby fraternity won't regret leaving the year 2007 behind at all, but things are not that bleak and I am confident that the new year is worth looking forward to. In fact, I'm getting quite excited about the prospect of the Six Nations restoring some of the morale we lost during the World Cup.
We weren't the only ones to suffer in what was a very disappointing tournament. The more you look back on it, the more boring it seems. New Zealand must still be wondering why they didn't win it by a mile.
England will take some satisfaction from reaching the final but they have to admit they played some dreadful rugby on the way. And all that bickering afterwards about the coach, Brian Ashton, didn't help. I understand he had some differences with his backroom staff as well.
But the RFU made the right decision in reappointing him and I hope their faith will allow him to stamp his authority on the squad, because you sense England are on the brink of becoming a massive power again. They have a wonderful batch of young players ready to step up to the top level, they seem to have sorted the club-versus-country problem and they have a competitive domestic system capable of keeping players at a high state of international readiness.
While it is true that they have a high number of overseas players, it doesn't appear to have affected the quality of young Englishmen coming through. The task facing Ashton is to get the balance right. There is no doubt he is going to have a redoubtable back division at his disposal, but his pack will need some attention. He can be sure they'll win scrums and line-outs, but although they went well in France they are too ponderous for the modern game. They have to be more dynamic and mobile and start producing the quicker ball their backs will need.
The style in which they played was never going to win the last World Cup and it certainly won't win them the next. Ashton will be under pressure from now on to introduce and develop the system that is going to shape their future. It is going to be fascinating to watch them.
At least England will be carrying some confidence from the World Cup, which is more than you can say for most of the other Six Nations sides. It is difficult to know what to expect from the French. They have new coachesin place, but do they have any new habits? They must get some more fluidity into their play and resist being dragged into a brawling game. Losing Yannick Jauzion is a big blow for them, and it is still hard to recognise a dominant figure who can command from outside-half.
They may take heart from the performance of Toulouse in the Heineken Cup. They manage to play with the style and power that the national team need.
Scotland can make an impact on the Six Nations. If they can recapture the manner in which they played the last 20 minutes against Argentina in their quarter-final they will be a team to be feared. I am delighted Frank Hadden is continuing as coach, because he has faith in their ability to play rugby. Had they been more adventurous against Argentina they would have had a far more rewarding World Cup. If they can find the adventurous spirit to solve their try-scoring problem, they'll go well.
The return of Ryan Jones to action for the Ospreys last week would have been welcome for Wales, who are desperately short of ball-carriers. Their new coach, Warren Gatland, will bring a new maturity and mental toughness, but Wales have to get their set-piece play right and stop being so shy of the gain line before they can mount the serious challenge they are capable of.
It is not easy to see how Ireland are going to pick their game up. Ulster are struggling and Leinster are not much better. Munster are still in with a chance of making progress in the Heineken Cup, but Irish rugby needs regeneration.
With all their Six Nations rivals busting a gut to improve, Italy might find it harder this time. They will still be nuisance opponents but their lack of resources might tell.Reuse content