The Lineout finishes our Report Cards of 2016 for the Northern Hemisphere’s top six and a precursor to this year’s Six Nations!

Posted: January 27, 2017 in General Commentary
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With this year’s Six Nations just around the corner we finish our look at the fortunes of the Northern Hemisphere’s big six in 2016 and rate them accordingly. While most of the teams struggled with the inevitable rebuilding that takes place after a World Cup, there was still plenty of excitement on hand. England clearly led the way in one of their most successful years ever, made all the more poignant in light of their World Cup disaster in 2015. Ireland struggled to hit the right notes in the first half of the year, but by the time the Autumn Internationals rolled around they had clearly regrouped and were once more competing for headline space with England. France, Wales and Scotland all provided moments of genuine excitement, with France and Scotland really showing some clear intent and promise by the time the November Internationals came to town. Italy recorded a historic win over South Africa in November, but apart from that there was little to celebrate other than the arrival of new Coach Conor O’Shea in the summer and some exciting talent on display at times.

England – 10/10

Unlike their Southern Hemisphere rivals the All Blacks, England had the perfect season and it was hard for us to not give them full marks. There have been plenty of question marks about the quality of opposition that England faced in 2016 coupled with the fact that they didn’t play the best team in the world right now, the All Blacks, to gain a measure of where they really stand in the world pecking order. All that aside however, a perfect season is still a perfect season and as a result it would be hypocritical and a tad disrespectful for us to give them anything less than full marks. Look at the facts on display. A Grand Slam in the Six Nations, a series whitewash of Australia on the road and a clean sweep of the Autumn Internationals at home – it doesn’t get much more cut and dry than that. Sure the quality of the opposition England will face in 2017 is likely to give them some much sterner tests, but for 2016 it was a job well done, even more so when you consider the complete disarray England found themselves in just over a year ago at the end of the last World Cup.

England’s perfect year got off to a very convincing start in the Six Nations as they swept all before them. There was a great deal of controversy surrounding the appointment of Dylan Hartley as England Captain by new Coach Eddie Jones, and we have to admit to having been one of the many doubters, as Hartley’s reputation as England’s bad boy and king of the yellow card was well documented. However we have to confess to having been pleasantly surprised as Hartley rose to the challenge exceptionally well. While he still may have disciplinary issues in a club shirt, no such concerns seemed to manifest themselves in an England shirt. Hartley led his troops well and proved to be a very calm and well-disciplined figure even when England were under pressure.

England were clinical and devastatingly effective in everything they did in the Six Nations and looked the most composed of all the sides in the competition. As the tournament progressed they looked more confident with each outing, despite almost coming unstuck against Wales. There was a clear sense of team identity and purpose on display throughout the tournament. The strike axis of Owen Farrell at centre and George Ford at fly half proved devastatingly effective with Ben Youngs proving to be the scrum half of the tournament. Maro Itoje and George Kruis’ lock partnership was a clear and exciting signpost towards England’s future and forward prowess while Chris Robshaw, relieved of the pressure of the Captain’s role, proved to be outstanding in the back row. Billy Vunipola continued his efforts as England’s one man Blitzkrieg unit and wrought havoc on Six Nations’ defences. Meanwhile Jack Nowell on the wing really came into his own and provided us with some of the best tries of the tournament along with centre Jonathan Joseph.

As England basked in the glory of their Six Nations triumph they prepared for an equally stern test in the shape of a three Test tour of Australia – a team who had finished as runners-up in the recent World Cup. After an exceptionally long season in which players had little or no break in almost 13 months, this was a very tall order. England got themselves warmed up by beating Wales before heading off to Australia. They then proceeded to stun Australia and the rest of the rugby world in a hard-fought but ultimately convincing victory in the first Test in Brisbane. It was a thrilling match and one of the best Tests of the year, but England emerged the dominant side. Buoyed by the win they went on to thrash a hapless Australia 23-7 in the second Test in Melbourne despite a pitch that was clearly not up to the challenge. The final Test in Sydney was an absolute classic, and a nail biter all the way to final whistle, as a wounded Wallaby side desperately sought to salvage some pride from a Test series that had been a nightmare for them. The Wallabies provided the English defences with an all out non stop assault for the final forty minutes and England’s efforts were nothing short of heroic as they stood up to the test. As the final whistle blew on an England victory, England’s players got to bask in the afterglow of what can only be described as a truly remarkable turnaround in their fortunes in the space of only seven months.

The November Tests saw England’s form continue. First up they demolished a Springbok team that is being described as the worst in history. While the sense of victory may be somewhat lessened by the poor quality of the South African challenge, it was still one to be savoured as yet another Southern Hemisphere giant was dispatched by a rampant England. What was particularly pleasing to see from an English perspective was the return to form of winger Jonny May and the turn of centre Elliot Daly to shine. England would go on to put Fiji to the sword, and then with 14 men see of a feisty Pumas challenge. Lastly, England would make it four from four in 2016 against Australia and 13 out of 13 overall for the year. After the pain and heartache of the last World Cup it was a remarkable comeback as England once more firmly established themselves as one of the world’s major powers in Test Rugby.

2017 will be no less of a challenge and if anything England are likely to be put under the microscope far more than they were in 2016. As the end of year Autumn Internationals clearly showed, France, Ireland and Scotland are back with a vengeance and are likely to be much more challenging Six Nations opponents than they were in 2016. Furthermore with places up for grabs on this year’s Lions Tour to face the mighty All Blacks, this year’s Six Nations Championship is likely to produce considerably more fireworks than what was on display in last year’s rather lacklustre tournament. The gauntlet has been thrown down for 2017 and England will have to be even better than they were in 2016 – a challenge we are sure they are likely to rise to even though things are unlikely to go their way as much as they did last year!

France – 7/10

Let’s face it things didn’t quite get off to the most promising start for France in 2016 as they began life under new Coach Guy Noves. However, by the end of the year it was clear that transformation of the most positive kind was taking place in the French camp as they put in some exceptionally encouraging performances against Australia and New Zealand. It wasn’t a great Six Nations campaign for France as they narrowly avoided the wooden spoon. However, the June tour to Argentina saw the structures and personnel that Guy Noves was trying to put in place really start to gel. The confidence gained on this tour was there for all to see in November as France narrowly lost to Australia and then proceeded to almost give New Zealand another scare akin to the one they’d received earlier in November against Ireland.

France’s Six Nations campaign in 2016 is probably one that they would prefer to forget, especially the nail-biting opening win by the narrowest of margins over Italy. In appalling conditions they managed to eke out another unimpressive win over a faltering Ireland, but then it all went downhill at a rate of knots as they lost to Wales, Scotland and England. What was clear however is that they have an inspirational Captain in the shape of Hooker Guilhem Guirado, shoring up an impressive front row of Eddy Ben Arous and Rabah Slimani. Winger Virimi Vakatawa also proved to be a revelation in attack and one of the most dangerous ball carriers at speed of the Championship while Gael Fickou emerged as a potent threat at centre. However, continued experimentation in the second and back rows, a lack of clarity as to what France’s long-term half back options are and continued confusion over the composition of the backs meant that more lessons were learnt by France about what didn’t work in the Six Nations as opposed to what did.

However by the time of their second Test against Argentina in June, those uncertainties were clearly starting to become a thing of the past as France put Argentina to the sword 27-0. Loann Goujon and Kevin Gourdon looked the business in the back row and Louis Picamoles at number eight was on fire. Baptiste Serin at scrum half was also looking like a key component of France future half back plans. Meanwhile Remi Lamerat and Gael Fickou looked set to gel as an exciting centre combination. Come November and the Test against Australia, France not only looked settled they looked extremely dangerous as they narrowly lost to the Wallabies. Winger Vakatawa continued to impress while the half back partnership of scrum half Maxime Machenaud and fly half Jean-Marc Doussain also looked promising with Serin coming on to add some real depth as a replacement. In the Test against New Zealand, which once again showed a French team at full throttle, continued depth in the half-back partnership was made as fly half Camille Lopez had a huge game, and Serin once more came in as a highly effective impact scrum half once he came off the bench. Wingers Vakatawa and Noa Nakaitaci looked exciting on attack and the centre partnership of Remi Lamerat and Wesley Fofana in particular were outstanding with Gael Fickou once more coming off the bench in a starring role in this department. Although there is still plenty of work to be done by Coach Guy Noves and his team, the results are starting to be seen and they look extremely promising.

It is still early days yet for France, but a challenge they will be in this Six Nations and will certainly provide England with a stern opening Test next weekend. While we can’t see them winning the Championship, they are more than capable of finishing in the top three and providing a potentially embarrassing banana skin for tournament favourites England and Ireland. French flair may still be a work in progress but we fully expect to see some Gallic magic in the coming weeks!

Ireland – 8/10

We have to confess to being sorely tempted to have given Ireland a nine based on their historic first ever victory over the All Blacks last year in Chicago, but one epic match sadly does not a season make. Ireland’s middling form over the Six Nations, losing a Test series to one of the worst Springbok teams in history, despite the opening win in Cape Town with just 14 men, meant that at times they just didn’t quite deliver what was expected. Sure there were plenty of concerns around injuries, especially post the World Cup, but Ireland were not alone in the casualty ward. Despite this though Ireland got progressively better as the year progressed, and the Autumn Internationals were ample proof of that development. However, what we did see by the end of the year was an enormous breadth of depth across all positions and plenty of rapidly rising young talent to build with for the next World Cup in 2019.

Ireland got their 2016 campaign off to a spirited start against Wales in their Six Nations opener but the injury crisis that had caused them to implode so dramatically in the quarter-final stages of the World Cup only three months earlier was still having an effect. Ireland looked the dominant side in the opening thirty minutes, but the game devolved into a defensive battle of epic proportions in the second half as the two sides struggled to gain a clear advantage. Consequently the match ended in a draw. Next up were France in Paris in appalling weather conditions. A kicking game ensued in which Irish fly half Johnny Sexton was the master. However France would snatch it at the death with the only try of the match and suddenly Ireland’s prospects started to look shaky to say the least. A resurgent England at home in Twickenham were always going to be a daunting prospect. Ireland once again defended like men possessed and Ireland even managed to take the lead through scrum half Conor Murray. However, England ultimately proved too strong with Billy Vunipola providing a consistent assault on the Irish defences which eventually began to buckle. Ireland gave as good as they got but ultimately it was to be England’s day. Ireland managed to finish their Six Nations campaign strongly as they destroyed Italy 58-15 and then put in a convincing shift against Scotland at 35-25 and finish the tournament in third place. In the process some exceptional new talent was given the chance to shine, most notably lock Ultan Dillane and flanker Josh van der Flier.

Ireland then made the journey to South Africa in June to face a Springbok side with plenty of problems of their own. In a thrilling opening Test in Cape Town, Ireland produced one of their best performances of the year beating South Africa convincingly with just 14 men. A week later the altitude on the highveld and the effects of 13 months of almost constant rugby were clearly having their effects on an Irish squad getting to the end of their endurance. Ireland started well and dominated a poor Springbok team in the first forty minutes.  However, South Africa rallied and put in probably their only really solid performance of the year turning the game on its head and snatching a compelling victory over an exhausted Irish side. The final Test was a nail biter as Ireland dug deep and threw every last ounce of reserve at South Africa. As the final whistle loomed Ireland were camped permanently in South Africa’s 22 and it was only some truly heroic defending that kept the Irish from claiming a historic Series win in South Africa. Instead they limped home knowing that a match and ultimately a Series they could have won went begging.

However, once more there had been heaps of positives as a raft of young players stood up and were counted. Flanker Josh van der Flier was rapidly proving to be a force of nature and alongside his back row partner CJ Stander, the pair looked unstoppable at times. Fly half Paddy Jackson had an outstanding tour and proved that there is life after the brilliant but injury-prone Johnny Sexton. A certain Tadhg Furlong made some appearances that proved to be a harbinger of the massive impact this young prop would have on Ireland’s fortunes come the Autumn Internationals.

It was the Autumn Internationals where the disappointment of the World Cup and the tour to South Africa suddenly came to an abrupt halt for Ireland as they showcased some exceptional talent and depth that would be the envy of some of their opponents. The party started in Chicago as Ireland finally ended 111 years of grief against the All Blacks in an emphatic win where they managed to get forty points past the World Champions. It was an outstanding Irish performance and one which we were lucky enough to witness in person. It was a complete team effort but the sheer tenacity and skill on display from Irish scrum half Conor Murray was quite exceptional and surely makes him a dead ringer for the number nine jersey this year when the British and Irish Lions visit New Zealand.

Ireland returned home to Dublin and demolished a spirited Canadian challenge in preparation for the return fixture with New Zealand. Despite the euphoria of the win in Chicago, there were few among us who felt Ireland could pull off a miracle and beat the All Blacks twice in a row. We were sadly proven right as New Zealand pulled out all the stops and brought all their biggest guns to the fray. In a game that left pulses pounding and bodies strewn across the field, especially those in green jerseys, New Zealand ultimately pulled away the winners despite an exceptionally brave performance from Ireland who defended like tigers and threw everything including the kitchen sink at New Zealand. The All Blacks got the win they wanted but had been made to work exceptionally hard for it.

Ireland ended their Autumn series seeking to derail Australia’s Grand Slam express as the Wallabies came to Dublin on a three from three winning streak on their Autumn tour. Ireland utterly dominated a confused and disorganised Wallaby side plagued by ill discipline in the first forty minutes. However, in doing so the body count rose alarmingly and by the end of the first half Ireland found itself having numerous players having to play out of position. The Wallaby side that emerged from the tunnel at the Aviva was a completely different animal to the one that had fumbled its way through the first half. As the body count continued to rise on the Irish side, and Australia started to go on a rampage it suddenly looked almost desperate for Ireland. Despite this another remarkable team effort from this Irish side, which once again highlighted the extraordinary depth that has been developed in Ireland since the World Cup, meant that Ireland managed to hang on against all odds. Australia were relentless in their assault on Irish territory but Ireland hung on even scoring a superb try of their own to snatch a victory by the smallest of margins at 27-24.

It had been a remarkable year for Ireland which slowly built to the crescendo of the Autumn Internationals. Despite the disappointment of the Six Nations and ultimately narrowly losing the June series in South Africa, enough ground work was done in terms of developing an exceptional Irish team to head into the Autumn Internationals. The historic win in Chicago set the tone for a month in which Ireland produced some outstanding performances. Tenacious to the last second Ireland now possess plenty of depth to cover for the inevitable injuries that seemed to have plagued Ireland in the last two years. This Irish team, under the brilliant tutelage of one of the best in the business, Coach Joe Schmidt, look set to be a real force in 2017 and beyond. Ireland possesses some exceptional young talent, many of whom are under 25 and after 2016 are now battle hardened enough to compete at the highest levels in Test Rugby. England for now remain the side to beat in the Northern Hemisphere but Ireland are clearly breathing down their neck. The showdown in this year’s Six Nations between England and Ireland is likely to tell us a great deal about the pecking order in International Rugby. While it is still too early to predict the outcome, there is no question that Ireland are likely to provide England with their sternest Test to date.

Italy – 6/10

It was a difficult year for Italy, made more so by the transition from an increasingly disinterested outgoing Coach, Jacques Brunel, to a highly motivated one in the shape of Conor O’Shea. Brunel saw Italy through a difficult Six Nations where apart from a thrilling opener against France, Italy were poor to say the least. They could have won the game against France without question but despite Captain Sergio Parisse’s valiant but misguided attempt at a drop goal it wasn’t to be. After that Italy were quite literally pummelled by England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales conceding a record 201 points alone in those four matches and causing many to question Italy’s legitimate place in the tournament, especially with other European nations such as Georgia becoming increasingly more competitive.

The end of the Six Nations saw the departure of Coach Jacques Brunel to the relief of many and Irishman Conor O’Shea’s arrival as the man in charge. June saw a tour of the Americas for O’Shea and his men and overall Italy acquitted themselves well. Their opener against Argentina saw them provide the Pumas with a solid challenge and despite a purple patch during the first twenty minutes of the second half Italy finished strongly with a superb try from danger man winger Leonardo Sarto. However, it wasn’t enough and Italy walked away the losers at 20-24 to Argentina. Next up were the United States and Italy while not brilliant were still the more composed of the two and secured a vital if narrow win. The same could be said in their next match against Canada. It was a rather uninspired performance from the Italians but once more their execution, discipline and composure was just that much better than Canada’s. Consequently Italy ended their June tour on a high of two wins out of three, and despite the loss to Argentina, feeling pleased that they had at least been competitive against the Pumas for the full eighty minutes.

Italy’s efforts during the Autumn Internationals left much to be desired despite the high point of their historic first ever win against the Springboks. Italy started their Autumn campaign with the unenviable task of having to face an All Black side smarting from having their world record winning streak broken the week earlier by Ireland. The All Blacks were hurting and determined to prove a point and sadly Italy ended up being the sacrificial lambs in the process, as they took a thumping 68-10 defeat and to be honest were never really in the match. Next up were South Africa who were suffering a crisis of confidence of almost biblical proportions. To say that South Africa were a shadow of their former selves would be an understatement of the highest order. However, Italy played this to their advantage and were the much better side especially in the last ten minutes and were able to secure a historic victory. However, this was all put into painful perspective a week later as they lost to Tonga in a shambolic performance.

Italy remain consistent wooden spoon holders in the Six Nations and this is not making their claim for legitimacy amongst Rugby’s top nations any easier. That being said it is hoped that with the arrival of Conor O’Shea Italy will realise some of their obvious potential. In Captain Sergio Parisse, Italy possess one of the best number eights in Test rugby though the need to find a replacement for the veteran will be key over the next two years. Parisse’s inspirational abilities on the field are second to none, even though he may not quite possess the sheer all round ability to seemingly play every position that New Zealand’s Dane Coles possesses. While Italy’s scrum continues to struggle along with their accuracy in the set pieces there is no denying that Marco Fuser in the second row, Simone Favaro, Francesco Minto and Alessandro Zanni in the back row are all powerful and dangerous players in the loose. Carlo Canna and Tommasso Allan are both proving to be talented fly halves on the rise and Giorgio Bronzini and Eduardo Gori provide some real pace in the scrum half positions. Meanwhile the centre pairing of Michele Campagnaro and Gonzalo Garcia provides an exciting combination of power and speed while winger Leonardo Sarto needs little if any introduction as a try scoring machine.

As the rest of the Northern Hemisphere sides have considerably upped their game in the last six months it is going to be a tough challenge for Italy to stay in touch with the competition during the upcoming Six Nations. However, the initial learning curve for new Coach Conor O’Shea is clearly over and he seems to have a good road map of where he wants to take Italy in the next three years. We hope his optimism proves well founded and he certainly has some exciting talent to work with, so that hopefully debates around Italy’s place in tournaments such as the Six Nations can be put to bed once and for all.

Scotland – 7/10

It was another frustrating year for Scotland. They provided us with excitement by the bucket load at times and some of the most thrilling running rugby of 2016. A team bristling with talent but seeming to lack the confidence or composure to go for the killer blow seems to be the best way to describe Scotland’s fortunes in 2016. However, there were enough positives on show for Scotland in 2016 to lead us to believe that 2017 is likely to be a year to savour for the Scots.

Scotland’s Six Nations campaign should have delivered so much more than the fourth place finish they ended up with. The opener against England was a gritty affair with England being the more composed of the two sides as both teams sought to put a bitterly disappointing World Cup a few months earlier behind them. Scotland walked away the losers and in the process sadly showed us little of what they would later be capable of. Scotland opened up in their second game against Wales despite ending up on the wrong side of the scoreline when the final whistle blew. We saw the sheer brilliance of Scotland’s back line especially fullback Stuart Hogg at full throttle even if it wasn’t enough to ultimately get the win. However the warning signs were there for all to see. Scotland really hit their straps against Italy and pulled off an impressive win. Their best game of the Championship was up next against France where they put in a scintillating display of running rugby and emerged comfortable winners at 29-18. Their final match against Ireland showed much of the same character and was one of the most exciting matches of the whole tournament. However, Ireland were the better side in the end and showed an ability to keep their discipline much more effectively than Scotland in the heat of the moment, despite fullback Stuart Hogg once more providing one of the most dramatic bursts of speed seen in the tournament.

June saw Scotland travel to Japan for a two Test series against an Asian side that needed to be given the utmost respect after their heroics in the last World Cup. Japan provided Scotland with two stern Tests, though the men from beyond Hadrian’s Wall managed to stay the course, especially in a tensely fought second Test. Scotland returned home with two solid wins under their belt and plenty of confidence built for a challenging Autumn series.

First up were Australia who were desperate to prove that their trials and tribulations against England in the summer were simply nothing more than the inevitable hiccough in the rebuilding process that always follows a World Cup. What transpired was one of the best matches of the Autumn Internationals as Scotland suffered a heartbreaking loss which mirrored their last meeting with the Wallabies at the World Cup by just one point, in a game which they could and should have won. On a positive note, one of the revelations of the year made himself known to the rugby world in the shape of Scottish centre Huw Jones. In an already outstanding set of backs, Jones was simply electric, scoring two superb tries for Scotland. However, Scotland’s age-old problem of not closing out the big games would haunt them once again and they would be on the wrong side of the score line by just one point. Next up was a gruelling encounter with the Pumas, which in all honesty provided a dire first half in contrast with the previous week’s thrills and spills against Australia. Both sides seemed to find their feet in the second half and Scotland piled on the pressure in the closing stages of the match, but once again you couldn’t help feeling that Scotland were leaving it a little too late as Laidlaw’s 84th minute penalty saw Scotland edge the Pumas out 19-16. Last up was Georgia who are increasingly becoming a thorny Tier Two side but Scotland took them comfortably in their stride and were simply magnificent finishing their year on a real high note as they emerged the winners by 43-16.

There is no doubt that Scotland possess an exceptional set of talents in the backs, a half back partnership that is provides both youth, experience and plenty of razzle dazzle in the shape of Finn Russell and Greg Laidlaw and a forward pack that increasingly takes few prisoners. Scotland are clearly the dark horses of the forthcoming Six Nations with France and are more than likely to provide a few upsets and should challenge for one of the top spots on the table, even though it is unlikely they will emerge the Champions.  One thing is for certain however and that is that they will be one of the most exciting teams to watch over the next 7 weeks, and we certainly will be riveted to our TV screens every time they head into battle!

Wales – 7/10

In a way it’s difficult to judge Wales as harshly as we have perhaps done. A second place finish in last year’s Six Nations and a very spirited challenge of New Zealand albeit painfully bereft of actual wins is no small acheivement. It was their horrendous lapses of concentration at times especially in the Six Nations and their erratic form in the Autumn Internationals which have left us handing them a relatively poor score, despite the fact that in essence they remain a quality side with some of International Test Rugby’s best players.

Wales’ Six Nations campaign was frustrating to say the least, while they finished second it almost seemed by coincidence at times rather than actual ability. Their opening Test against Ireland showcased a strong defensive ability, with second rower Alun-Wyn Jones and flanker Justin Tipuric at the forefront of Welsh efforts in securing the draw in an exceptionally tight match. Number Eight Taulupe Faletau also had a massive game and was a potent force in defence and attack. Wales managed to contain Scotland’s speedsters in their next match, despite seeming to switch off in terms of concentration at times during another closely contested match. Next up were France and once again it was the absolute solidity of the Welsh defence that saved the day rather than a clear and potent attacking threat, but Wales were clearly on a roll heading into round 4 with three wins from three games. Dominated by England in the first half, Wales fought back valiantly in the second producing yet another close finish, but England were clearly better organised and composed under pressure than the Welsh and their aspirations for a Championship title seemed in tatters as they faced their first loss of the season. Wales would finish strongly against an exceptionally poor Italian team, and as a result despite their erratic form at times could still feel pleased with a second place finish overall in the Championship.

Like all the other Northern Hemisphere teams, exhausted after a year of almost non-stop Test Rugby, Wales headed to New Zealand for the daunting challenge of a three Test series against the World Champions, after a meaningless warm up game with England which they lost. To their credit Wales made New Zealand work exceptionally hard for the first sixty minutes of the first and second Tests. However, the last quarter in both matches simply proved to be a bridge too far and the All Blacks would emerge comfortable winners. The final Test was more an exercise in contractual obligation than anything else as a Welsh side, clearly dead on their feet took on a rampant All Black side really getting into their stride. The 46-6 trouncing by the All Blacks is one Wales will want to quickly forget.

The Autumn Internationals were a mixed bag for Wales. They were soundly trumped by their bogey team the Wallabies in their opening Test, as interim Coach Rob Howley took charge as regular Welsh Coach Warren Gatland took up the Lions coaching job. Wales looked confused and seemed to have little if any kind of game plan. Next up were Argentina in a game that Wales laboured through and were lucky to edge out a thoroughly unimpressive win against a tired and poorly disciplined Pumas team. The confusion continued as they seemed constantly surprised by a ferocious Japanese challenge and to be honest were lucky to win the match by the seat of their pants at 33-30. Finally Wales prided themselves on a convincing win over a South African side experiencing probably the biggest crisis of confidence and morale in the history of Springbok rugby. As a result the Welsh victory while still impressive has to be taken in context as much lesser teams could have easily beat a Springbok side which essentially put up little if any resistance.

Are Wales a poor team? Not by any stretch of the imagination. What they seem to lack however, is a sense of purpose and structure as well as a sense of the kind of game they want to play. There is no doubt that Wales are blessed with some exceptional talent. Second rower Alun-Wyn Jones is a veritable giant of International Test Rugby and as a result is clearly in the sights for the Lions Captaincy this year against New Zealand. Flanker Justin Tipuric possesses a phenomenal work rate and is devastating in the loose, and number eight Ross Moriarty was one of Wales only consistent performers last year especially in the Autumn Tests. The half back pairing though, as talented as they are in the shape of Gareth Davies and Dan Biggar seem to lack a degree of cohesion and understanding of what kind of game they should be playing. The same can be said of the backs – the talent is there by the bucketload in the shape of centre Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams, while on the wings George North and Liam Williams remain world-class. We hope for their sake that they find the cohesion and clarity that seems to be eluding them during the course of the upcoming Six Nations and as a result one of the powerhouses of Test Rugby will once more stamp their authority on a tournament they have so often dominated in the past!

Endnote

As a summary of this post we provide you with GG Rugby’s excellent video wrap up of some of the best moments of last year’s Six Nations – Enjoy!

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