Everyone is agreed that the overall quality of the Six Nations wasn't good, but you can never dismiss it as a poor tournament. Some of the teams might not be up to scratch in every match, but as a concerted examination of rugby prowess over a short period it is the most demanding in the world. You not only have to overcome your opponents but also survive severe pressures and tensions under the full glare of a spotlight that is never switched off for the six weeks the event lasts.
It takes some winning, and to complete the Grand Slam is a rare achievement. You only have to think back to England in the years leading up to their World Cup win of 2003. They were the most dominant side, yet time and again they failed at the final hurdle to make a clean sweep.
From a standing start, Wales showed ability, continuity and direction and are worthy champions, contemplating a bright future while the others scramble round in search of solutions.
England must commit themselves for the next World Cup. Brian Ashton is a good coach and a nice guy. Whether he carries on in his present role or takes a lesser one, England have to create a management team who can bring the clarity of purpose that Warren Gatland's regime has so quickly established with Wales.
Ashton seemed to be under a cloud from the start, and England didn't look as if they knew what sort of a game they wanted to play. The players have to take some responsibility. There was enough experience to cope with any problems but it took Danny Cipriani, a 20-year-old debutant, to come in and take control.
It was a shame he wasn't given the chance to do it a week earlier against Scotland. To suspend him for what was no more than a bit of naïvety was a mistake. The boy is the ultimate pro and he hardly takes a drink. I think he is special. He's got pace, he's arrogant, he's a terrific communicator and enthusiastic. He will be a handful for the opposition, not for those in charge of him.
Jonny Wilkinson wasn't well treated, either. A great player's presence is bound to be a plus. That he was the only one to be dropped after the Scotland game was ridiculous. But, sooner or later, he and Cipriani were going to be rivals. Cipriani has the advantage of playing for Wasps week in, week out. With due respect to Newcastle, Wilkinson is not playing at that level. Obviously, they can play at 10 and 12 for England. The only problem with that is they are both left-footers. A right-and-left combination is usually better. We'll know more when England go to New Zealand in the summer. They'll both be severely tested, and Jonny's wider experience will be invaluable then.
That's the advantage Stephen Jones enjoys over James Hook for Wales, but having the option hasn't been a problem. I don't see why it should be for England.
Another great player had a problematical Six Nations. Brian O'Driscoll found it hard to impose himself. But Ireland generally looked tired and stagnant and weren't half the side they once were. It is no surprise their coach, Eddie O'Sullivan, stepped down. It is difficult to put your finger on what went wrong, but they looked undercooked. They are suffering from a lack of regular intensity at domestic level, and must put more emphasis on the Magners League.
O'Driscoll has been the world's best centre for 10 years, but when his team are not creating any quick or decent ball it is a big load to carry on his shoulders.
Despite their forwards looking strong and powerful, Scotland seem to have little creativity behind and are so one-dimensional. Their kicking game is also very erratic.
The French are at least interesting. I'm not sure how much their bewildering selection policy was down to the new coach, Marc Lièvremont, but they may come out stronger for all the tinkering. We shall know more when they tour Australia this summer. Perhaps he'll have a better idea of his strongest squad now, but you have to be worried about the pack. They don't look able to dominate like they used to.
As for Italy, all we can do is pray they can find a steady outside-half, because they desperately need a kicking game. Maybe Andrea Marcato is their man.Reuse content