Ireland claimed only their third Grand Slam@SixNationsRugby/Twitter

On the eve of the tournament, I predicted there would be a Grand Slam, and I predicted Italy would take the wooden spoon. And there ended my accurate prophecies. It was Ireland, not England, who walked away with the Six Nations trophy and Grand Slam, as the men in white slumped into fifth place. The quality of matches may have varied, but when a team that had only lost once in two seasons finishes fifth, Rugby’s Greatest Championship is clearly in good health.

Ireland – Grand Slam Champions

Congratulations to Ireland on only their third ever Grand Slam. To win it away at Twickenham, on St Patrick’s Day, is some achievement, and this might have been the most clinical Slam yet. Ireland went about their business with an almost surgical precision: executing set plays and taking their opportunities ruthlessly.

They are incredibly well-coached, both in attack and defence, and are led by the superlative half-back combination of Murray and Sexton. We mustn’t forget that it was Sexton’s last-minute drop-goal in Paris that kick-started this Slam. One metre the other way and France could have won the Championship! This moment set the tone for what was to be a victorious tournament for the Irish, and they never looked like losing at Twickenham.

In truth, I don’t think we even saw them at their best. They were exposed defensively: conceding 3 tries to Italy, Wales and England and were never entirely out of sight. But this is a team with a steely core; a team that knows how to get the job done; and a team which pounces on opposition weakness, scoring 31 points when the clock was red.

They have developed a great blend of youth and experience, with the 21-year-old Jacob Stockdale breaking the Championship record for tries scored, and captain Rory Best reaching 111 caps. At half-back they perhaps look a bit thin but have a great squad of 30-35 they can take to the World Cup.

Player of the Tournament: Jacob Stockdale – Stockdale’s record-breaking debut season has been something to behold, and his solo effort against England sealed Ireland the trophy.

Wales – Runners-up

Wales have perhaps overachieved this tournament. With eight Lions missing through injury, I (wrongly) wrote them off, but they have put in some promising performances and look back to near their best.

Against France, they failed to control the second half and would have been beaten by a better team, but the intent they have shown makes them deserving of second place. Their forward pack’s handling ability is better than any other northern hemisphere side, and their backs are finding some real form. They still have the aggressive defence of Shaun Edwards, but are developing an open style of play which, if they can find some consistency, could see them do very well next year. 

For such a small country, Wales have great strength in depth and have the back-row options England can only dream of. The emergence of Shingler and Navidi as real forces in international colours adds to their Lions pedigree, while the development of lock Cory Hill brings much-needed youth to the ageing second-row.

There are decisions to be made at 10 and 15, however. Does Warren Gatland want the stability of Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny, or does he want the flair of Rhys Patchell and Liam Williams? The combination Wales settle on over the next 18 months could be all important for the progression of their game.

Player of the Tournament: Alun-Wyn Jones – At 32, Jones continues to lead from the front. His work-rate is unparalleled, and he’s developed an excellent offloading game to set the standards for modern day second-rows.

Scotland – 3rd

In the end, Scotland can count themselves lucky to have finished third. On the final day, they were blown away by Italy and, but for a 79th minute Greig Laidlaw penalty, would have slipped to defeat.

It seems when Finn Russell plays well, Scotland play well. He is something of a liability and, as against Wales and France, his poor performance saw Scotland struggle. Had it not been for the control Laidlaw brought when he moved to 10, Italy may well have won.

Overall, Scotland’s pack impressed massively: John Barclay and Hamish Watson bossed the breakdown, while the front five stood up against some fierce opposition. In the backs, Huw Jones was stand-out, while Hogg perhaps disappointed after setting the game alight against the All Blacks.

At home, it’s as if Scotland are under a spell whereby everything comes off, and every pass sticks. Away from Murrayfield, nothing could be further from the truth: we saw in Cardiff, Dublin and Rome that they are nothing like as threatening and their last away win in the Six Nations, outside Rome, was in 2010. If they are to become a real force, Scotland must improve their execution in hostile environments and develop a ‘plan B’.

Player of the Tournament: Greig Laidlaw – Ali Price may be more exciting but, with the maverick Russell at fly-half, Laidlaw is Scotland’s safety valve. His marshalling and kicking won the games against France and Italy.

France4th

It’s a cliché that you never know what France side is going to show up but, in the end, they showed up pretty well. They were difficult opponents for all who played them – pushing Ireland, Scotland and Wales all the way, and beating Italy and England. They seem to be back to a decent standard, albeit they suffer from a lack of game management and structure in attack.

They have got some talented backs but need to find a world class fly-half if they are to make real progress. The injured Camille Lopez is probably the man, but Trin-Duch and Beauxis are certainly not. The depth of France’s player pool is quite scary, though, and they were able to drop eight players for behavioural indiscretions and still field a dangerous side. Up front, Yacouba Camara, Paul Gabrillauges and Marco Tauleigne look to be great finds, while Maxime Machenaud brings some desperately-needed control at scrum-half.

They cause sides problems – often by disrupting their attacking ball – and were close to causing another upset in Cardiff: some common sense and calm heads would have helped. Their raw talent, though, means they could yet pose a major threat to England in their 2019 World Cup pool.

Player of the Tournament: Matthieu Bastareaud – His return added some great direction in attack: not only is the 20-stone man a dangerous ball-carrier but he has added an exciting offloading game.

Ben Cisneros's Team of the TournamentBen Cisneros/Sharemy15.com

England – 5th

England may have come fifth, but I don’t think they are as bad as that suggests. A shocking first 40 in Edinburgh followed by a poor showing in Paris cost them, but against Ireland they were not that far away. Ireland got the bounce of the ball for two of their tries and benefited from several fifty-fifty decisions. As Eddie Jones said, the game doesn’t love England at the moment. Had Farrell kicked his conversions, and Elliot Daly avoided Earls’ ankle tap, it could have been a very different story.

England’s issue was their failure to take their chances, struggling again with ill-discipline and being undone at the maul. The breakdown was much better – largely owing to James Haskell – as they won 98% of their rucks, but at least twice England made errors in the Irish 22 before backing them up with a series of penalties which gave Ireland possession and territory, which they duly converted into points.

Mako Vunipola and Itoje had excellent second forties – which England won 10-3 – while the team looked better when they reverted to the Ford-Farrell axis. As throughout the Championship, players still seemed tired and lacked intensity, but in Daly England have a player who can make things happen. There remain plenty of questions for Eddie, but many could be solved by the return of Billy Vunipola and Ben Youngs, who were conspicuous in their absence.

The summer tour to South Africa is key to England’s future and, if they win the series, all will be forgiven. In 2006, South Africa themselves lost five consecutive games, including a 49-0 loss to Australia, before winning the World Cup a year later. All is not lost.

Player of the Tournament: Elliot Daly – He is England’s Milner-Skudder – the exciting All Black, who Jones has often spoken about finding within his own squad – and made a big difference in his two appearances.

Italy – 6th


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Having failed to challenge most of their opposition, there were signs of real improvement against Scotland. Their speed of play and breakdown work in the first half showed England how it’s done and, but for their lack of fitness, would have pulled off a remarkable win. 

With young Jake Polledri and Sebastian Negri in the back-row, Italy have found some real power and, behind the scrum, Tommaso Allan is developing into an excellent fly-half. His goal-kicking is something Italy have lacked for so long, and he has a running game to open defences, scoring two tries against the Scots.

Indeed, they have shown this tournament that they are now more than capable of scoring tries, and with live-wire Minozzi at full-back, do hold promise going forward. Their pack was also much better against Scotland, with a particularly effective lineout, and if they can become that bit fitter and cut out basic errors, Italy should start to pick up wins.

Player of the Tournament: Sebastian Negri – Having leaned on Sergio Parisse for so long, it was about time Italy found the next generation of powerful forwards and, in Negri, they have done so. He was key to everything they did well.

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