Six Nations report card

Julian Guyer
·3-min read

A 2021 Six Nations many feared would be a sterile spectacle as a result of being played entirely behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, ended in thrilling fashion on Friday.

Wales were crowned champions after lone remaining title challengers France suffered a last-gasp 27-23 defeat by Scotland in Paris -- a match postponed from last month by a Covid-19 outbreak in the French camp.

Below AFP Sport assesses the performances of all six teams in a remarkable tournament.

1. WALES

Even though they were missed out on a Grand Slam in a last-ditch 32-30 defeat by France last week, four wins from five was a result few would have forecast for Wales.

They came into the tournament having won just three out of 10 matches in 2020 under coach Wayne Pivac.

Wales had their lucky breaks -- three of their Six Nations opponents had a player sent off and referee Pascal Gauzere admitted after their 40-24 win over England he had erred in awarding two Welsh tries.

But Wales, led by veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones, also demonstrated an impressive ability to maintain their composure in the closing stages of tight games.

2. FRANCE

Arguably the most exciting team in the tournament, an inability to seal victory when ahead late on cost France dear in defeats by England and Scotland.

But those reverses could yet provide valuable lessons for a youthful side featuring star scrum-half Antoine Dupont as France continue to build towards a 2023 World Cup on home soil.

3. IRELAND

Ireland finished a tournament of mixed fortunes with a 32-18 win over England -- their best performance since Andy Farrell took over as head coach after a disappointing 2019 World Cup.

Doubts had been expressed about whether experienced half-backs Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton could be as influential in years past but the duo looked at their best against England, even if concerns remain about Ireland's strength in depth.

4. SCOTLAND

A Six Nations that started with Scotland's first win over England at Twickenham in 38 years and their first against France in Paris in 21 years still saw the Dark Blues finish fourth despite those landmark results.

The Scots exemplified the pros and cons of a Six Nations without fans at grounds -- it made playing away from home easier yet it also meant they were denied their usual passionate support at Murrayfield during narrow home defeats by Wales and Ireland.

Both of those reverses owed much to self-inflicted errors and, for all the resolve they showed on the road, Scotland were left with a feeling of what might have been.

5. ENGLAND

England coach Eddie Jones was left facing an uncertain future after his reigning champions finished a lowly fifth.

England were too often out thought and out-fought as they gave away a slew of penalties, with defeats by Scotland, Wales and Ireland meaning they had lost to all three Celtic nations in the same Championship season for the first time since 1976.

Jones is meant to take England to the 2023 World Cup but he is understood to have a break clause in his contract.

The stubborn Australian will hope it's a case of 2018 all over again.

He oversaw a fifth-place finish in the Six Nations that year as well before taking England to the 2019 World Cup final, although they were then beaten by South Africa.

6. ITALY

Italy, all too predictably, finished bottom and winless.

The Azzurri have now gone 32 Six Nations matches without a victory in the tournament, a run dating back to 2015, and they ended his edition with a points difference of minus 184 -- the worst in Six Nations history.

Tournament chiefs appear to have no interest in introducing promotion and relegation, so the hope for Italy must be that talented young players such as half-backs Stephen Varney and Paolo Garbisi are not permanently scarred by their experience this year.

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