We look back at a fascinating 2018 tournament.
A truly memorable campaign, perhaps the greatest ever. Joe Schmidt guided Ireland to a clean sweep and in some style. Ireland’s approach has been labelled as ‘boring’ and one-dimensional’ but they scored almost twice as many tries as the free-wheeling Scots in the final standings. There were many positives but the emergence of Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Dan Leavy and Jacob Stockdale as genuine Test- class players will please Schmidt the most.
Tipped to struggle before the tournament with the likes of Jonathan Davies, Sam Warburton and Rhys Webb all ruled out due to injury. Warren Gatland leaned heavily on the Scarlets and selected 10 players from the region to start the championship opener against Scotland. Gatland unearthed some real gems with Cory Hill, Aaron Shingler and Rhys Patchell grabbing their opportunities. The Kiwi steered his young squad to second in the table and found some real depth in the squad. A promising campaign.
Recovered from a disastrous opening-day demolition at the hands of the Welsh in Cardiff to finish a respectable third. This was Gregor Townsend’s first Six Nations in charge and Scotland’s innovative head coach will have learned plenty from a challenging campaign. Townsend has some of the best attacking backs at this disposal with Finn Russell, Huw Jones and Stuart Hogg all capable of unlocking any defence. Murrayfield is becoming a real fortress for this exciting young squad but their final day escape in Rome once again highlights their problems on the road.
Seconds away from an opening round victory against Ireland, France endured a turbulent championship, on and off the pitch.
They then blew a 20-14 half-time lead at Murrayfield and conceded six penalties after the break as Greig Laidlaw kicked the home side to victory. Les Bleus ended a 353-day winless streak with a laboured victory over the Italians in Marseille before vanquishing England in Paris. Their narrow loss in Cardiff consigned Jacques Brunel’s men to a disappointing fourth place.
The wheels well and truly came off Eddie Jones’s England chariot during a traumatic championship. From back-to-back title holders to fifth place; England’s worst placing since 1983, the events of the past two months will give Jones plenty of sleepless nights. The Australian guided England to 24 wins in his first 25 games in charge but his squad has hit an alarming slump in recent times. To add insult to injury, they surrendered second-place in the world rankings to Ireland, who also ended their 14-match unbeaten run at home.
Another Wooden Spoon for the Azzurri but there were some positives for Conor O’Shea with the emergence of fleet-footed full-back Matteo Minozzi and abrasive flanker Sebastian Negri. But there were many tough outings for the Azzurri including heavy defeats at the hands of England and Ireland in the opening rounds. Laidlaw’s last-gasp penalty in Rome on the final day stretched Italy’s losing streak in the championship to 17 games.
How the mighty have fallen. England’s ebullient head coach was rewarded with a contract extension until 2021 before the championship but even Jones couldn’t have predicted the shambolic scenes that would unfold before him. Under pressure following consecutive defeats by Scotland and France, footage then emerged of Jones branding the Irish ‘scummy’ and referring to Wales as a “s*** little place’ at a sponsor’s event last July. The former Japan coach was forced to issue a public apology just weeks after he himself suffered abuse from Scotland fans at a train station after his side’s loss to the Scots. To compound matters, Jones was then booed by the Twickenham crowd during his post-match interview after Saturday’s loss to Ireland.
The Edinburgh eight
Following their 32-26 loss to Scotland, the French squad were given permission to enjoy the sights and sounds of Edinburgh that evening. What transpired was an international incident that dominated the back pages. France’s chartered flight the following morning was grounded by Scottish Police as six players were hauled off the flight to be questioned over an alleged sexual assault in the city centre in the early hours. There were also allegations of a bar brawl involving the French squad and Scottish supporters. No charges were pressed but Brunel turfed out eight players from his squad. Louis Picamoles, Anthony Belleau, Jonathan Danty, Remi Lamerat, Felix Lambey, Sekou Macalou, Arthur Iturria and prolific wing Teddy Thomas would see no further action in the championship.
Sergio’s terrible ton
Italy’s heart-breaking defeat by the Scots was traumatic enough but that loss secured an unfortunate record for their talisman Sergio Parisse. The veteran No 8, unquestionably the most talented player to ever represent the Azzurri, has now lost 100 Tests during his 134-game career.
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