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Six Nations 2024: England aren't back, Ireland's title should be cherished

By Ben Smith
England team huddle/Conor Murray and Peter O'Mahony of Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images and (Photo by Dan Mullan - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

The 2024 Six Nations is over with Ireland crowned champions once again after success in 2023.

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France came in with high expectations but missing Dupont and Ntamack they were a shell of their previous side. There is optimism for Borthwick’s England after a strong finish, while Wales were underwhelming.

Scotland were Scotland, but change is in the wind with Italy delivering a stellar campaign which is great news for the championship.

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Here are five takeaways from this year’s tournament.

Don’t take Ireland’s success for granted

Ireland’s back-to-back titles in the Six Nations feels like it is surrounded in disappointment after grandiose expectations of a walkthrough Grand Slam. If it seems crazy that’s because it is. Every title should be taken with two hands as a campaign can go perilously wrong in a heartbeat.

Peter O’Mahony has been an international player since 2012 and this is his fifth title in 12 years. Only two of them have been Slams. His red card against Wales in the opening round of the 2021 Six Nations derailed their campaign and a two-point loss to France the next week ended it.

Ireland have set themselves up for a chance at a Six Nations three-peat in 2025, something not achieved since the expanded tournament started in 2000. France won four consecutive titles from 1986-89 but two of them were shared. There have been many repeat champions but three outright titles consecutively has never been done since 1883.

And no, Ireland do not need to win a Rugby World Cup to be considered great on the international stage. The All Blacks team for most of the 2000s were feared, respected and considered great but did not win either the 2003 or 2007 World Cups. They won the Tri-Nations in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, churned out multiple World Players of the Year and beat everyone in between.

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Conversely this current Springboks group achieved a singular great feat going back-to-back but had next-to-no substance in between. They were good, but went title-less in the Rugby Championship, couldn’t win rivalry trophies, lost too much at home, and produced a shocking win-loss record against other top Test nations. Greatness is not just measured in World Cups.

When Ireland meet the Springboks, one win on South African soil will prove they are the better side. Two wins by South Africa is expected while losing at home would be a shock and embarrassing for the world champions.

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Italy’s rise is great for the championship

Italy could have finished with a 4-1 record this year which is remarkable. They beat Wales and Scotland, had a last-gasp chance against France fatefully taken away with the ball falling off the tee, and were in with a chance to beat England eventually only losing by three. Their match against Ireland was the only uncompetitive fixture.

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The U20 side has been building for years and the top side is now bearing the fruits of that hard work. Inside centre Tommaso Menoncello is a freakish prospect. The defence led by openside Michele Lamaro and Sebastian Negri has a real edge to it that has been missing. Ange Capuozzo was the golden boy last year and this year was largely irrelevant, which shows that actually have some depth. Capturing Louis Lynagh was just a bonus.

A stronger Italy is great news for all in the tournament. Hopefully it is sustained and the results at U20 level continue.

Six Nations

P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Ireland
5
4
1
0
20
2
France
5
3
1
1
15
3
England
5
3
2
0
14
4
Scotland
5
2
3
0
12
5
Italy
5
2
2
1
11
6
Wales
5
0
5
0
4

France’s bad World Cup hangover 

France were this year’s disappointment after failing to rebound from the Rugby World Cup quarter-final exit. Their balloon was popped in round one by Ireland highlighting just how much they have been impacted. The question being circulated now is, have they wasted one of the best French teams ever? And the answer is yes.

Aside from the pain of the Rugby World Cup, they have won just one Six Nations title in 2022. They should have had the spoils in 2020 and 2021 with Dupont playing at a level unrivalled in the game. They had dominant Toulouse and La Rochelle teams to build from. This should have been a dominant era for French rugby with multiple Six Nations championships even before the Rugby World Cup.

But they blew those opportunities with losses to Scotland in 2020 and 2021, despite beating the winners in those years (England and Wales).

With all the talent they’ve had in the 2020s under Fabian Galthie, they haven’t even come close to the French teams of the 2000s. Serious underachievers.

England aren’t back 

While England are a ‘proper’ rugby nation, their former reputation has not been restored. It takes sustained success, of which England don’t have any currently, to earn that right. And what’s more is England’s own players should be thinking the same way, down the same line of thought that Jamie George is.

They showed they are improving with two proud performances to finish their campaign against Ireland and France. The backs started to click and show some exciting play. They can say they prevented Ireland getting a Grand Slam. That is the highest achievement of their Six Nations campaign, which for England, is a failure. Wales were awful, they nearly lost to Italy, they were dismal against Scotland and they got pipped by France.

But “we stopped Ireland from getting a Slam” is miles away from collecting the trophy on the podium, something Ireland actually did.

They travel to New Zealand in July to face the first All Blacks side of the Scott Robertson era. If Borthwick can bottle the Twickenham magic from a fortnight ago and bring it with him, they will be competitive.

If they are a tired bunch of souls mentally not ready, they will be put away like the side Borthwick captained himself in 2008. Having lived it, he is the right man to prepare the side for what is coming.

A win on New Zealand soil will truly indicate the mettle of this team and whether they are capable of winning the Six Nations anytime soon.

Wales will get kicked Down Under

Wales may have won 40-6 less than six months ago against the hopeless World Cup Wallabies, but Australia will turn the ship around very quickly.

Their Super Rugby sides have been extremely competitive against New Zealand sides meaning Joe Schmidt can pick a strong homegrown Wallabies team.

Openside flanker Fraser McReight isn’t just the form player in Australia, but the entire competition. He’s a future 100-cap Test player just coming into the peak of his powers. Harry Wilson has to play No 8 alongside him. Josh Flook isn’t the flashiest centre but he is the best one available. Schmidt can pick a side based on form and chemistry out of his top Super clubs, the Reds, Brumbies and the Waratahs and mould them with his game plan.

The Wallabies don’t need the overhyped stars and Schmidt isn’t likely to give them selection preference anyway. Wales aren’t the same team from six months ago either, and that’s why the two will collide for a World Cup reversal.

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Comments

25 Comments
W
Werner 120 days ago

Very poor reporting. You don’t even know that Wales got the wooden spoon and actually lost against Italy. But you want to comment on how South Africa as World Champs have got nothing to brag about!

F
Flankly 122 days ago

A year ago Ireland and France looked impressive. In this 6N neither looked special. Both have lost good players, but more importantly teams have figured out how to shut them down.

In particular the Irish loss to a rebuilding England and the home game struggle against a brave Scotland did nothing to prove that the Irish RWC result was undeserved.

If the Scots can shut down the Irish attack, then SA can do so with interest. Rassie will have watched that game with confidence. Farrell is smart, and the Irish team is talented, so we should expect a more creative game plan in SA. But if all they bring is what they showed against Scotland then Ireland is going to struggle against the Boks.

It was a fun 6N tournament, but the win for Ireland was as much about weak competition as about Irish brilliance. It was mostly due to France being off the boil, Wales and Italy not being contenders, and Scotland being a home game. England are looking much better, but “much better” should not be enough to topple a team that is supposed by some to be The Best in the World.

I hope that Ireland can bump it up a notch or two for the Bok tour. A year ago they were fantastic to watch. It would be great to see that again.

R
Red and White Dynamight 122 days ago

Ben Smith and Ireland live rent free in Safa’s heads. Their comments only triggers because its true. If the Boks had dismantled a 14 man AB’s, then there would be more respect. But they didnt, in fact quite the opposite, the 14 man NZ were clearly better. And the Bok have always been ordinary between RWC’s, thats why their supporters are now ‘only RWC’s matter’. They know thats BS. Its BS to both AB’s and Bok’s due to their history. But now its all the Safas have. Now we’ll hear excuses when they lose “oh we didnt have all our players available, the ABs/France/Eng/Irel were at full strength”, forgetting for a minute that its because of their own dumb policy. Oh well, makes a change from blaming ‘cheating refs’.

S
Si 123 days ago

This is a poor article, essentially just trolling six nations teams

D
Diarmid 123 days ago

Editor: could you put together a piece on the Six Nations, 2024, Ben?BS: Sure; What about “The All Blacks were better in the 2000s than the Springboks were between 2019 and 2023 World Cups”?Editor: No, the Six Nations.BS: Sorry; “If England don't play well against the All Black we’re gonna teach them a lesson!”Editor: Ben, the Six Nations.BS: Oh, Ok [looks up historical data on Five Nations] “France won four consecutive titles from 1986-89”Editor: FFS, the Six Nations, 2024BS: Right, “Italy were brilliant! No one else is as good as the All Blacks, not even the Boks!”Editor: Seriously? That's it? That's your contribution? Thanks again, Ben.

B
Brunhildes 123 days ago

To sum up your article: everyone was rubbish but Italy.

P
PDV 124 days ago

“Next-to-no substance in between” - shows just how poor Ben Smith’s rugby knowledge really is. The Boks beat the B&I Lions during that time in the toughest possible conditions (more than half the team suffering from Covid, no crowds, no games at altitude). Also the period was curtailed with one full year of the Boks not playing and the impact that had on the timeline of the team’s development. Many of the losses the Boks suffered were a direct result of experimentation with Rassie readily admitting everything was geared towards winning the World Cup. Not mentioning these things is either because of a) laziness and ignorance or b) another attempt to get a rise out of Bok supporters. Either way you can’t take anything Smith says seriously. Man has absolutely no credibility.

P
PDV 124 days ago

Ha, even when Ben Smith writes about the Six Nations he can’t help but troll Bok supporters. Pathetic in its predictability.

M
Mike 124 days ago

One last comment on IRE. ENG are still the greatest NH rugby nation as they are the only team from there to win a WC. IRE can win every six nations for the next 3 years but until they get crowned World Champs they are behind ENG in the pecking order.

w
walter 124 days ago

If Scotland given try against France they finish second

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Jon 44 minutes ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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f
finn 9 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

12 Go to comments
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