Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

5 things we learned from the 2016 RBS 6 Nations

England secured their first Grand Slam since 2003 as head coach Eddie Jones made a pivotal and immediate impact in his new job.

Here, Press Association Sport examines five key things we have learned from this year's RBS 6 Nations.

1. Rugby has lost the moral high ground

From the plush fields of Eton to the dockyards of Grimsby, whatever the level, whatever the atmosphere, rugby has always claimed moral superiority. No longer. Even if Joe Marler's "gypsy boy" slur towards Wales' Samson Lee truly was purely "in the heat of the moment", this is no excuse. Six Nations chiefs missed the chance to discipline Marler, and send the right message that racism or bigotry of any kind will not be tolerated. Warren Gatland misread the mood when branding Marler's actions "banter", and later apologised. Had the very same circumstances occurred in Premier League or international football, the offending player would have most likely faced a swift ban. As it was both the Six Nations and England accepted Marler's full apology as sufficient, clearing the Harlequins prop to return to action. World Rugby is investigating and could impose a retrospective ban next week. But the damage is already done.

2. Wales need to sharpen their attack not abandon "Warrenball"

Forget Wales' 67-14 demolition of Italy on the tournament's final day; this year the Italians have been so poor their matches hardly count. Warren Gatland's famed robust and direct gameplan has come under fire at times throughout the Six Nations, as Wales have botched a high number of promising openings. The method still works, it is merely the execution that requires attention.

3. Conor O'Shea has a monumental job on his hands to turn Italy into credible Six Nations performers

The former Ireland full-back will leave his Harlequins coaching post this summer, and should shortly be confirmed as Italy's new head coach. O'Shea has performed administration roles in the past, working with England's academy in the Rugby Football Union (RFU). He knows how to build infrastructure and nurture young talent, and he will need to bring all of that acumen to bear with the struggling Azzurri. O'Shea can certainly improve matters, because frankly, Italy could hardly fall any lower. Italy shipped the second-highest number of points in Six Nations history, but this was their worst campaign to date. Calls for promotion and relegation grow louder by the minute, to allow the likes of Georgia and Romania to progress. O'Shea will have to turn matters on their head sharpish in order to whip Italy back into some kind of co-ordination.

4. Maro Itoje can become the best in the world

Saracens lock Itoje spent the start of the tournament unable to squeeze into England's matchday 23, with new boss Eddie Jones keen not to overload the 21-year-old. By the end of the campaign the politics and philosophy student was central to England's first Grand Slam since 2003. The studious second row has quickly made himself indispensable to taskmaster head coach Jones and can now install himself among the world's best locks moving forward.

5. Ireland state case for the defence coach

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt did so much right in his first two years at the helm, spearheading successive Six Nations triumphs, that the former Leinster coach almost had carte blanche with his next moves. He shouldered the burden of coaching both defence and attack in this Six Nations, as Ireland wait for Andy Farrell to end his gardening leave before starting his new defensive post. Farrell will start in April once all the loose ends from his previous employment with England are all tied up. And the former dual-code international's start probably cannot come soon enough for Schmidt and company. Ireland suffered several defensive problems throughout this tournament that previously would not have occurred under Schmidt, and ex-defence specialist Les Kiss. Farrell's robust style will suit Schmidt's outlook well and will most likely add further steel to Ireland.


From Belfast Telegraph