The 2014 Six Nations came to an exciting finish last weekend with Ireland doing just enough to get over the line against the French, and in the process securing the championship.
Although there were some great games throughout the tournament, the bookies favourite won on every occasion bar the Scotland/Italy fixture. So even though I managed to correctly predict 14 of the 15 games, (England beating Ireland my only blemish) I must admit, it wasn't the hardest task this season.
Here are my team reviews for the tournament:
Since the Italians inception to the competition in 2000 they have now picked up the wooden spoon on 10 out of 15 tournaments. Not a record to hang your hat on, but there were glimpses of hope in the Wales and Scotland games.
They came within a David Weir drop goal of beating the Scots and handing them the dreaded 'spoon' - but it wasn't to be and, as they travel to Scotland next year, they will be short odds to hold on to the undesired title next season. They capitulated over the last two games suffering from injuries to key players and conceded 98 points. Continuing to increase the pool of talent in Italy should be a main priority. Tournament Grade D
Unlike Italy, Scotland actually improved as the tournament went on. The knives were out after limp performances against Ireland and England before they produced a gutsy performance in Italy. Even though it was their only win, they also gave France a hurry-up at Murrayfield in a game they could easily have won.
Unfortunately their last game against Wales was spoiled by the early sending off of full-back Stuart Hogg which then quickly spiralled out of control as Wales racked up 51 points. So all in all, another fairly uninspiring Six Nations for Scotland and they will be hoping new coach Vern Cotter can turn around their fortunes when he takes over in the summer. Grade C-
My pre-tournament favourites never really got out of first gear, although they started with what proved to be a decisive victory over England in round one. The mauling they received from Wales at the Millennium severely affected their points differential and effectively took them out of the running for the title.
A stuttering performance against the Scots then led onto the tournament decider against Ireland. France finally showed some of the ability everyone knows they have and only a forward pass prevented Damien Chouly from sending the Irish home empty handed. However, overall this season was a massive disappointment for France who now drop to seventh in the IRB rankings. Grade C
The Welsh were also a very inconsistent side. They had a slow start, just beating the Italians and suffering an embarrassment at the hands of the Irish. But they rebounded well by trouncing the flaky French before being totally outplayed at Twickenham by a very well organised English team.
They again responded well the week after against Scotland but overall, they must be concerned about their recent record against top quality sides. Warren Gatland's men seem to be able to bully teams with less quality but as soon as they can't achieve that, there seems to be a lack of inventiveness.
With the World Cup around the corner, some drastic changes need to be made as they will need to beat three or four top quality sides if they are to achieve their ultimate goal. Grade C+
This has been a season of real growth for the English team. Stuart Lancaster injected a lot of youth recently and most were expecting a team that would struggle to find its feet in this year’s tournament. However they showed they are well ahead of schedule in their development.
Team unity appears to be an all-time high with players noticeably working really hard for each other and they have proved to be very difficult to break down. They also scored the most points this season and only let in five tries in their five games.
England must be considered to be very unlucky not to have finished winners, having claimed the Triple Crown, but they can certainly hold their heads high and look with some real confidence towards next year’s World Cup, playing in front of their fervent fans, in a stadium that is fast becoming somewhat of a fortress. Grade A-
The competition winners have shown real improvement since the arrival of Joe Schmidt. His men have become genuine contenders for the World Cup next year. Schmidt has introduced more of an attacking mind-set and you can see the detail he demands from players and the stress that causes opposition defences.
Even though the loss to England showed some weaknesses in Ireland's phase play, their big wins against Scotland, Wales and Italy coupled with their miserly defence, which averaged less than ten points a game, ultimately proved to be the difference.
Not many sportsmen get to finish on top but Brian O'Driscoll managed to do just that and with all the great things he achieved in his startling career, this one will be towards the top I'm sure. He leaves the team in safe hands and maybe that elusive first ever victory against the All Blacks will be just round the corner! Grade A
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