So what about this year's major rugby event in the northern hemisphere? Well, my main prediction has come true: namely that Wales would win the contest. Overall, they had looked the best European team in the World Cup, and they clearly maintained this impression by winning all their 5 games in this year's European tournament.
The Welsh team celebrate their grand slam victory after their game against France
Of course, support like this can help a bit
Apart from that, we have had a couple of surprises, with France, who are after all the reigning World Rugby vice-champions, showing poorly, and a new-look England team, whose previous version had looked pretty dismal in the World Cup event last September/October, finishing strongly and looking quite impressive in their last three games. Both the Welsh and the English teams have a lot of young players and this is to me the major lesson to be retaiened from this tournament: coaches need to look to the future and give younger players, who have everything to prove, their chances. There were quite a few of these who came to the fore during this tournament and I have spoken about most of them in previous articles. Enthusiasm and energy both count for quite a lot in this game. Experience is not all.
Jamie Roberts, for Wales, breaks through the French defense
This failure of France, one of the tournament's favourite's and recent finalist in the World Cup, needs some explanations. The aftermath of their surprising and somewhat chaotic effort in reaching that final is probably one of them. I can remember the dismal 6-nations campaign of England just after their World Cup victory in 2003. FRance have also changed coaches since then, and the new coach was over-cautious in his introduction of new and younger players. The French rugby season is long and hard and these players have been on the front, with the build-up to the World Cup, non-stop since early July. As a contrast, the equally new English trainer, Stuart Lancaster, opted for radical changes, giving the capataincy to a young player hardly ever previously capped, and introducing a massive injection of new blood. This approach, together with the new team spirit that he manged to conjure up, clearly worked well. The English rugby powers would be crazy not to give him the role of manager up to the next World Cup (the decision is still pending a the time of writing).
Tom Croft, the English flanker, makes a break in the Irish defense
One of the suprises to me was the strength of the English scrum. We all know that scrums are key phases of European rugby and the French, in particular, were touted as being top dogs in this department. Yet the English scrum dominated the French and totally destroyed the Irish 8, getting a well-deserved penalty try for their pains during their 30-9 victory last Saturday. Rugby is very much a collective game and, although individualities can be important in key moments, it is nearly always the collective spirit and energy that comes through. Wales and England showed this, but also, to some extent, less favoured teams (through lack of ressouces) like Italy and Scotland. France has the individual talent at most posts, but their new coach, Philippe Saint André, needs to try more younger players and give them greater urge to win. The scores were very close on the whole, so one could say that there is probably less between the teams than in previous editions.
The English team hold together