We caught up with our ambassador, England and Lions legend Lawrence Dallaglio OBE to get his thoughts on this years’ tournament.
What is your assessment of the 6 Nations this year?
It hasn’t been a vintage year but overall, it was a fascinating tournament nonetheless with no single team really exerting true dominance. Scotland’s first victory at Twickenham since 1983 and their first defeat of the French in Paris since 1999 were pivotal moments in the tournament. That last gasp Duhan van der Merwe try ended French title hopes and handed the tournament to Wales.
In what was one of the most memorable games in recent tournament history, France denying a Welsh Grand Slam in the final moments in Paris was dramatic and tense in equal measure. Overall, France played with an attractive blend of flair and physicality and despite blowing both a Grand Slam and championship opportunity for the second year running, they’re building nicely towards a home World Cup in 2023.
Coming into the tournament on the back of seven consecutive defeats, Wales have been the real winners and are worthy champions. In Louis Rees-Zammit they’ve found a star winger capable of breaching even the most miserly of defences.
In terms of Ireland, that final performance against England looked as though they’d shaken the spectre of Joe Schmidt and with regards to Italy, 32 6 Nations losses on the spin doesn’t make for good reading.
How would you rate England overall?
Going into the tournament as champions and then finishing fifth simply isn’t acceptable and the team have a lot of work to do. It was also the first time since 1976 that England have lost to Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, which really shows how unsatisfactory the performances were from an English perspective.
Their defence of the Championship started badly against Scotland…perhaps it was the fact that key Saracens men like Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Elliot Daly and Jamie George all came into the tournament a bit undercooked after hardly playing any rugby since the end of last year.
I thought the turning point for England had maybe come against the French – for me that 2nd half was the best they’d played since the Rugby World Cup 2019 and we need to see more of that attacking intent if England are to match Australia and South Africa in the Autumn Internationals later this year. A comprehensive defeat to Ireland in their final game cemented what was really a very disappointing tournament for England.
Italy have been handed the wooden spoon yet again, do you think it’s time for a promotion/relegation system to be introduced into the 6 Nations?
After showing some real signs of improvement, in recent years Italy haven’t looked close to beating one of the established five nations. The gap between 5th and 6th seems to be growing ever wider but there isn’t an obvious replacement. Would it be any different if a team like Georgia were promoted? Personally, I think the games could be even more one sided which completely defeats the object. For me the solution is a much longer-term strategy, which includes World Rugby giving Italy the opportunity to host a Rugby World Cup in say 8-12 years’ time. This would allow funding to flow into the Italian game and help increase the profile of the sport. It’s no use changing coach every four years and expecting serious development – there needs to be a long-term plan and with that, I’m sure we’ll see Italian rugby back on the up.
Which players have caught your eye in this year’s tournament?
As mentioned, Louis Rees-Zammit has been an exceptional find for Wales – serious pace, good finisher and if he stays fit is surely a Lions contender this summer. England’s Anthony Watson is playing some good rugby after a long injury; Alun Wyn-Jones continues to defy his age, France’s Antoine Dupont and captain Charles Ollivon were simply outstanding, and in a poorly performing England team, flanker Tom Curry has really stepped up. The Scottish 7 Hamish Watson has been excellent and a man who plays in my old position, Welsh No.8 Taulupe Faletau looks like he’s getting back to somewhere near his best. Irish centre Robbie Henshaw also played with the guile and skill that earned him a Lions call up in 2017.
It would have also been interesting to see more of young Scotland centre Cameron Redpath - after a dream debut against England, the knock he picked up in that game, unfortunately, ruled him out of the rest of the tournament. England’s Jack Willis was also really unlucky after suffering a terrible knee injury against Italy - I would have liked to see more of him too.