Wednesday, March 23, 2016

RBS Six Nations 2016 - closure post

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logo post greenWrote a post at the beginning of November named “#RWC2015 - one final post to bring closure” which went down pretty well so I thought I’d take a stab at something similar for the 2016 edition of the Six Nations.

Basic idea is to scatter a few headings down the page and then harp on them briefly.  What could possibly go wrong?

IRELAND

We all remember the final day of the 2015 tournament to be a rollercoaster ride of emotions for Irish fans.  This year’s version has been like that as well, with the difference being that it lasted the entire seven weeks and we most certainly did not finish on top.

Going into the opening match with Wales, the overall feeling was one of despair.  That defeat to Argentina broke a lot of spirit.  Oh, the armageddon was truly nigh with fans and commentators alike.  Then we shot out to an early double-digit lead to confound the critics.  THEN we let Warren’s men back into it to prove them “right” again.  THEN it finished as a pesky draw so nobody knew what to think.

A few weeks later we played a heck of a lot better at Twickenham than the final score suggests, but the defeat meant a “three-peat” was off the table for us and this meant everyone was going to start offering suggestions as to what we “must” do to get back to winning ways.

Of course, being a blogger, I couldn’t help but chip in with my own two cents and ahead of the home matches against Italy and Scotland I opined that we “Let Schmidt Be Schmidt” and open up our style of play while at the same time refused to allow ourselves to be bullied out of our game plan.

Now don’t think I’m trying to say that anyone listened to me, but still given what I said I wanted to see, I was happy when we opened up more over the following couple of weeks to the tune of 93 points as well as integrating a more aggressive approach from the off, particularly against the ever-improving Scots.  So all in all we finished the competition in mid-table, with a 50% record, and plenty of fodder for those who #TrustJoe AND those I call #SchmidtStirrers to chew on.

What’s that, you say?  I’m only harping on four of our five matches in those opening paragraphs?  Well, that is because I am saving the crux of our disappointment in this year’s competition until the very last.

Why, oh why, oh, why, oh WHY couldn’t we find the two measly points required to beat the French in Paris????  That would have meant a couple of extra points on the “log” and a completely different complexion to the campaign.  But accept it we must...we were unable to find them and solving that riddle provides the key for moving forward.  More about that later.

ENGLAND

Top of the pile, and deservedly so.  He may not remember much about celebrating the Grand Slam success, but Dylan Hartley can be proud of what he and Eddie Jones achieved, namely that which Chris Robshaw and Stuart Lancaster couldn’t.

Does the triumph put behind what happened at the World Cup and ensure a path to world domination?  Eh, no.  I’m certainly not saying they CAN’T go on and do all of that, but while they got a lot of quality performances over the course of the tournament from the likes of Billy V, Watson, Farrell & Itoje, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m the only one who thinks that George Ford had a very average run of form and will definitely need to improve if the results are going to continue against the southern hemisphere giants, beginning with 3 June tests in Oz.

WALES

Beat the French when we couldn’t, which is mostly why they’re deservedly second and we’re third.  Still, I don’t think Warren Gatland can use this tournament as any kind of guarantee that the Lions job should be his. 

They may have gotten closer to their hosts on the scoreboard at Twickenham than we did but overall that day they were well below the standards we have come to expect from them and I’d be very surprised if they came away from three tests in New Zealand with anything more than maybe one honourable display in a first half somewhere along the line, mostly because it’s the All Blacks but also because they’ll know exactly what to expect from their visitors and will prepare accordingly.

SCOTLAND

Two wins this year is definitely better than no wins last, but after Glasgow winning the Pro12 and then getting within a whisker of the final four in the World Cup, the expectations were probably set for at least that if not more.

Vern’s troops arrived at the Aviva with the best disciplinary record in the competition...if this was by design then Joe Schmidt & his coaching staff found the perfect way to tempt them into poor discipline and a series of errors ensued.  I still think Ireland could be a bit disappointed not to have won by more on the day.

But there is no doubt that Scottish rugby is on the rise and maybe if they can get some up and comers like Sam Hidalgo Cline some game time on their tour to Japan it could help them continue onwards and upwards.

FRANCE

Why oh why oh WHY didn’t we beat them in Paris?  Sorry to repeat myself….but WHY?????

The positives they can take from this Six Nations campaign can be summed up in two words : Guilhem Guirado.  Cheap shots aside, he was the only player I’d guarantee on the team sheet for their next match...Damien Chouly didn’t do too badly filling in at number 8 but they badly missed Picamoles.  Vakatawa looks like he can develop into a powerhouse as well but needs more time.

Next up for them are the Wallabies in November (surely Guy Noves won’t learn too much from what is effectively an “A” tour to Argentina in June slap bang in the middle of the Top14 playoffs) - not sure if the long gap is a good thing or not for them.  Hey, it’s France.  We’ll just have to wait and see who shows up on the day, right?  Isn’t that how the cliché goes?

ITALY

Test team bottom of the Six Nations, two senior clubs in bottom two slots in the Pro12.  That really does say it all.

Now to be fair, Sergio wasn’t their only hope over the five matches.  I like their centre pairing of Garcia and Campagnaro and you can point to a few sequences when they did look up to standard, but rugby is not about short sequences of quality - it’s about how you end up at the end of 80 minutes and over the 16 years of the Championship they just haven’t been able to crack it. 

OFFICIALS

OK, I get why Nigel didn’t officiate more this year.  But boy did his absence show just how much we need an improvement in standards across the board.

I mean, we all have our moans about individual referees in particular - usually it is down to one particular match or even one particular call against our team.  But my problem is that there seems to be a lack of consistency, or perhaps even a lack of clarity, in certain areas, like use of the TMO and my latest bugbear which I highlighted from the Ireland v Scotland game at the weekend, the use of “warnings” ahead of the awarding of yellow cards.

Maybe the appointment of Alain Rolland as ref supremo will make a difference?  Although often an object of derision from some fans when he held the whistle, one thing I always liked about him in the middle was that he would be able to quickly give you a concise explanation of every decision.  If he demands that from his officials maybe things will get better.  Maybe.

CHANGES

We’re always looking to tinker with the status quo here at Harpin Manor.  We’d be willing to admit that we’re never happy.

Yesterday we published a guest blog from Conor Cronin where he made the case for promotion and relegation from the Six Nations to the next level down, the Nations Cup.

All I can add is that in rugby terms, it seems to me like a no-brainer that a year in the Nations Cup for Italy and a year in the Six Nations for Georgia would be beneficial for both unions. 

When it comes to financial terms, I’m not so sure the FIR would be wild about the greatly reduced revenue, nor would I say the travel companies would find more punters willing to go to Tbilisi rather than Rome.

I guess we’ll have to see which of the two terms wins the day in the long run.

On the subject of the bonus point, raised again today this time by Gordon D’Arcy, I agree it’s time to bring it in, though I’d lean towards the try bonus as used in the Top 14 and Super Rugby where rather than score four tries, you must instead out-score your opponents by three clear tries.

NEXT FOR IRELAND

At the risk of over-dramatizing things, I really do believe that Ireland could be about to embark on its most important June tour ever when they go to South Africa at the end of the season.

The Springboks have yet to announce their new coach (though it seems the smart money is on Allister Coetzee) so if nothing else we’ll have the edge on having a more settled coaching ticket. 

Not that we won’t have someone new in our ranks, however...there’s Andy Farrell running our defence now, and this too can help give us an edge.  As I have said before, Les Kiss has been amazing but the time has come for a new set of eyes and question marks will always remain over whether or coaching was spread too thinly throughout the Six Nations.

For me, our target for the rest of the year is simple.  Three matches v SA, Two v NZ and One v Aus.  We must win at least two of those otherwise our ranking points situation will be dire, as in turn will be our chances of avoiding a “pool of death” at the next World Cup.

Is that target impossible?  Absolutely not.  With the likes of Sean O’Brien and Iain Henderson set to come back into the reckoning, new names like Dillane and van der Flier cutting their teeth in this Six Nations and others like McCloskey and Ringrose ready to embark on what should be long careers at the top, there is certainly much to feel good about.

Perhaps we are a little too reliant on our 3, 9, 10, 12 and 13 positions being filled by specific players, if I had to find one thing that could hurt us.  Should any one of those not be able to take part in those six big tests we would likely struggle and that’s a shaky state of affairs to say the least. 

But for now I’m going to be glass half full and say our chances of building on the positives from this tournament.  I suppose only time will tell.

FInally, it’s a long way away I know but here are our fixtures for the 2017 Six Nations. 

Sat Feb 4 Scotland (a)

Sat Feb 11 Italy (a)

Sat Feb 25 France (h)

Fri Mar 10 Wales (a)

Sat Mar 18 England (h)

Looks like a slightly easier journey than this year’s but let’s park that notion for now until it gets a lot closer to the time shall we. JLP

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