And just like that, another Six Nations tournament has come and gone. While it may not have been the most memorable Super Saturday of all time, it certainly was a historic one. Italy played like they have all tournament in the early kick-off, Wales surprised some by bringing a fight to one of the world’s best, and Ireland sealed the title and a first Grand Slam won in Dublin. As well as this, it was the last time we’ll potentially see some of the modern-day greats don their international jerseys in the Six Nations for the last time with retirements after (or maybe even before) the World Cup seeming inevitable. The final whistles have been blown, the tv cameras have switched off, and the final pints of squishy cup Guinness have all been drank for another year. Before the small matter of a World Cup in September, where maybe one or two of the favourites play in the Six Nations, there’s still a grading to get done. And because it’s the last one, each team can get a grade for their respective performances and one for the tournament overall, don’t say I never treat you. So, for the last time in 2023, let’s get into the grading!
Scotland: Blair is King(horn)
Phew, that close. In an earlier than usual first game of Super Saturday, Scotland had a bit of a shaky start in Edinburgh which became the story of the afternoon. They gave away quite a few silly penalties and were lucky that Italy couldn’t capitalise more than they did in the early stages. Sometimes teams just need that bit of quality, and Duhan van der Merwe brought it in abundance with an absolutely incredible try. Add an Italian yellow card and Blair Kinghorn’s first of three tries, and Scotland looked to be somewhat in control going into the second half, but they didn’t half have to work for the win. Through some questionable defending and poor penalties, Scotland let Italy back into the game and with 5 minutes to go I thought we’d be seeing a repeat of last year’s Super Saturday encounter in Cardiff. But as has been the case with Italy this tournament, they just couldn’t get it done, with Blair Kinghorn wrapping up the bonus point with his hat-trick late on. It wasn’t the prettiest performance, but it’s difficult to criticise a team too much that got a bonus point win to finish third in the table. In what has been an eventful Six Nations, Scotland will have been happy to have improved on last year and finish the tournament on a high.
Match grade: B-. Made that far more difficult than it needed to be, but it would be harsh to give anything less than that for a bonus point win.
Tournament grade: A. Unrecognisable compared to last year. There’s a great unit here, keep it going and who knows where it can take you!
Italy: Agonisingly close… again
This game just summed up Italy’s entire tournament. Looked competitive after a poor start, start to make the opposition worry, let a few chances go, come very close to winning it with only a few minutes left, concede a late try and make the score look more flattering than it should’ve been. While Italy have been fun to watch this tournament with how far they’ve come over the last 20 years, at times it’s been equally frustrating. As an advocate for Italian rugby and for them to keep their place in the Six Nations, it can get a bit annoying seeing them not make the most of golden opportunities. They have some incredible players who have shone on Saturday and all tournament, players like Sebastian Negri, Paolo Garbisi, and Tommaso Allan to name a few, but for whatever reason it’s not quite clicked in the crucial moments when they needed to. Their late charge made for an incredibly exciting finish in Edinburgh, but there were plenty of opportunities throughout the game where they could’ve won it. It’s another bottom placed finish going into the World Cup, but they’ll still be looking forward. While it’s unlikely that they’ll get out of the initial stage with New Zealand and France in the same pool, it’s an opportunity to test themselves against two of the world’s best teams and get some wins on the board against Namibia and Uruguay. They’re a team in development, and the sky really is the limit. While I’m not saying they’re going to win the Grand Slam next year, I can definitely see them getting a Six Nations top 3 finish within the next 5 years.
Match grade: C. Not a bad performance, but you need to start making the most of these opportunities when they come.
Tournament grade: B-. Whilst the results may not have come, you definitely proved why you deserve a seat at the table by running Europe’s and some of the World’s best clubs incredibly close. Build from this and next year could be even better!
France: World Cup fever starting to brew
After a demolition job in Twickenham the previous weekend, all eyes were on Paris to see if the same could be done again. Even though they came away with the win, it wasn’t quite the mauling that some thought it would be. It was still a great French performance in this Six Nations, but it was out of their hands as to whether they’d be champions or not. After going a try down early on, Les Bleus began to work through the gears and pulled together a great first half performance with tries from Damian Penaud and Jonathan Danty. With the ever-reliable Thomas Ramos there to kick points it meant France went in 20-7 up at the break. It looked as if it would continue in the second half with an early Uini Antonio try, but Wales fought back with some tries of their own. However, France made sure that this wouldn’t happen with two hammer blows of their own with tries from Gael Fickou and Penaud. While it wasn’t the drubbing some thought it would be, France never really looked in great danger. They still played some brilliant rugby and were too much for a stubborn Welsh defence to handle. Second place won’t feel too amazing after last year’s Grand Slam, however 2023 is always going to be about the World Cup for France. I personally think they’ve not peaked too early, and instead are getting back to their best in time for September, but all eyes will be on them and that mouth-watering opening game between Les Bleus and New Zealand.
Match grade: A. Second good performance in a row even if not as good as last week, but that was always going to be hard to top.
Tournament grade: A+. Second best to the winners, but still played some incredible rugby. Plenty to be confident about ahead of September.
With how this tournament has gone for Wales and France respectively you’d be forgiven for thinking that this would be a bit of a drubbing, but it turned out to be anything but. Before the game I said France by 12, and I was completely wrong as in the end it was France by 13, absolute howler from myself there. The Welsh team came to Paris with nothing really to play for, yet they still took it to the French. In what will probably be the last dance for many of the Welsh pack including heroes like Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, and Leigh Halfpenny to name just a few, they went straight for the French jugular early. Instead of opting for a more conservative approach, they tried to beat France at their own game with a high intensity attacking display, culminating in George North’s 44th try for his country. As it went on, France predictably grew into the game as Wales struggled a bit to keep up with the sheer quality of some of the French players, and there’s absolutely no shame in that. Any hopes of an upset were quashed fairly quickly with how ruthless France were throughout the first half and most of the second, but to give Wales their credit they didn’t give up or feel sorry for themselves. Was it the way that some of the older players would’ve wanted to end their Six Nations careers? No. But can things be taken from this performance as a bit of a learning curve? Absolutely yes. Although overall it’s been a disappointing tournament to say the least, maybe it can act as a way of getting these performances out of the system before the World Cup. I know that’s beyond optimistic at the moment, but I need something to grasp on to, because lord almighty that tournament needs to go better than this one.
Match grade: C-. Just a difference in quality at the end of the day, didn’t disgrace yourselves by any means.
Tournament grade: F. I wasn’t expecting wonders but even still that was disappointing. Much to work on.
Ireland: History makers
For the first time in their history, Ireland have won a Grand Slam in Dublin (which seems like a mental stat). The game basically summed up how well they’ve been all tournament. It was quite a nervy start for the Boys in Green with maybe the pressure of the occasion getting to them slightly. After two early England penalties, they managed to get back with a very well worked try for Dan Sheehan and another from Gary Ringrose to lead by 8 at the break. There’s also the small issue of the Freddie Steward red card to talk about but I’ll get into that later. With the English team wounded and down to 14, some gaps started to appear in an otherwise tight England defence leading to Sheehan to score another try before Rob Herring got the last of the game to confirm the bonus point. They’ve been a league above any other team during this tournament and are the world’s best ranked team for a reason. Even though France played as well as they did at times this year, even they didn’t look like they’d threaten Ireland for the title this year. Now all eyes will be on the World Cup where they will undoubtably be heading to France as favourites. Ireland have never made it further than the last 8 of the World Cup, and there’s a very real chance that the first time that they do so will be the time that Andy Farrell’s men end up taking the Webb Ellis trophy to Dublin to kick start a potential golden generation in Irish sport, but that’s a post for another day.
Match grade: A-. Star of the week for winning the Grand Slam. Let’s see if you can do it again in the Autumn.
Tournament grade: A*. Grand Slam winners, and the best team in this year’s tournament bar none. A cut above the rest.
England: Was it a red though?
I don’t like to be that guy who says that single instances of a game lose it, but the Freddie Steward red card certainly didn’t help. Up until that point England were well in it. They were strong in defence and made Ireland concede some penalties whilst Owen Farrell kept the points ticking over from penalties. Then came the red card… For me, I thought it was a yellow. Hugo Keenan was straightening himself up whilst still bent over, Steward had nowhere near enough time to avoid collision so was naturally bracing for impact, and it was bicep, not shoulder or elbow, to head. There alone are three mitigation points that should’ve been considered, but I digress. It unfortunately overshadowed what was an otherwise good England performance. Sure, they didn’t get the win, but they kept it tight for most of the game, before and after the red card, and were miles better than their performance against France. It was a resilient display for a team that were up against it for the last 40 minutes, and their grit was rewarded with a Jamie George try in the second half. A bit like the Welsh game, there was just an obvious difference in quality between the teams on the day. Ireland have been in a league of their own, so to perform like England did is by no means a disgrace. While it may have been an underwhelming Six Nations overall, there have still been signs that things will continue to improve under Steve Borthwick and co. As for the World Cup, I have absolutely no idea how it will go. That’s just England rugby at the moment, nothing surprises me anymore. They could go out in the pool stage, or they could win the entire thing, and I’d be equally unsurprised. Well maybe a little bit surprised if they won it.
Match grade: C+. Gutsy display against the world’s best when you were up against it. Well done.
Tournament grade: E. Pretty underwhelming as a whole, but there were a few glimpses of what the team can achieve. Be patient and stick with it and I’m sure the good times will come back.
Class Clown of the Week: The entire officiating team for the Ireland-England game. This one was hard as nobody did anything particularly stupid or funny, or maybe they did and I don’t remember because there was a lot of rugby played by the end, so I have no choice but to beat the Freddie Steward red card dead horse a bit more.