The final weekend of the 2022 Six Nations didn’t fail to provide its share of dramatic results as France reigned supreme amongst Europes’ elite.
Italy End Their Losing Streak
The most dramatic result of the final weekend came in Cardiff as Italy ended their 36-game losing streak in the competition with a last-minute try to claim a 22-21 victory over Wales. The victory produced wild celebrations, despite Italy finishing in last place once more. Having not won in the competition since a 22-19 victory at Murrayfield against Scotland in 2015, Italy’s win in Wales represented a marked improvement from the first 3 games of the tournament in which they suffered heavy defeats art the hands of France, England and Ireland.
Amongst the celebrations however, there was a moment of pure class from Josh Adams who, after being voted as the Player of the Match, sought out Italian player Ange Capuozzo to give him the award in recognition of his play throughout the match. Despite the gesture, Wales found themselves in a disappointing 5th position after claiming just one victory from their 5 games; a 20-17 victory over Scotland.
Wales’ loss ends a miserable defence of their title in which that single victory represented the only marked positive of an otherwise poor run of results. Wales Captain Dan Biggar highlighted the loss as potentially being the last international match of some of his teams’ careers as he acknowledged that the result “was simply not good enough”.
England’s 2022 Six Nations
Alongside Wales, the backlash that has accompanied the conclusion of the Six Nations tournament has not been restricted to the western side of the Severn Bridge.
The 2022 Six Nations concluded with a whimper for England as they succumbed to a 25-13 defeat in Paris to Grand Slam Champions France on the final day of competition. The hosts came into the contest knowing that a victory would secure a famous Grand Slam, made possible with a hugely impressive and gritty victory in Cardiff a week earlier. For England, they succumbed to a third loss of the competition for the second year running; failing to improve on their results from the previous competition.
As a result, there has been significant pressure on England Coach Eddie Jones as his position comes under threat since the sides’ struggles this side of their 2019 World Cup performance. Claims that England have made ‘solid progress’ have been met with significant backlash as the side claimed only two wins in the competition for the second straight year.
Despite the pressure, Jones has insisted that he has seen positive signs with a new squad and that he continues to build towards the 2023 World Cup. A significant focus on the World Cup has subsequently been questioned that England has failed to give the necessary attention and respect to the Six Nations competition, leading to two disappointing campaigns in succession. The support from the RFU in the immediate aftermath of the event hasn’t been universally well received from Rugby fans and the the governing body is still to conduct a campaign debrief.
The Leading Two Teams in the Six Nations
At the expense of all others, the dominance of ‘Les Bleus’, led by World Player of the Year Antoine Dupont, was evident throughout such an impressive campaign. With the pivotal clash coming in week 2, Ireland were still able to push the eventual winners right through to the last game, actually leading the championship as France warmed up to face England in Paris on the final weekend after their Bonus Point over Scotland in Round 5.
As a result, only a victory would assure France of the championship trophy and tournament whitewash, a goal that they achieved courtesy of a dominant first half performance securing a 25-13 final score.
Both sides enjoyed relatively comfortable victories outside of their meeting, with France pushed hardest in their penultimate game of the tournament in Cardiff.
For Ireland, an impressive comeback in Paris fell 6 points short as they ran out comfortable winners in each of their other 4 games. That single loss to the eventual Grand Slam Champions in week 2 proved to be the difference between first and second in the competition as the French side swept through the tournament in impressive fashion.
Next Years’ Six Nations
With the 2023 World Cup taking place in France in September of next year, the hosts have laid down a statement of intent ahead of their highly anticipated curtain raiser against the All Blacks of New Zealand. Having made the Quarter-Finals and securing 3 wins at each of the last two tournaments, this years’ Six Nations dominance will give them confidence that they will be able to replicate their success on the sports’ biggest stage next year.
For the Six Nations itself, England have been accused of showing a lack of respect for the competition by targeting the World Cup to come. In Wales, their gritty performance agains eventual champions France was witnessed in the Principality Stadium by a crowd that had left 11,000 seats vacant for the clash. At the same stadium, Italy’s heroics on the final weekend gave life to the idea that they could be far more than simply an easy win for their opponents, providing the prospect of a more competitive tournament in years to come.
Whilst this tournament ultimately proved to be an unsuccessful one for the home nations, next years’ edition will prove to be a vitally important tournament in the build up for the impending World Cup.
The criticism of England for appearing to concentrate on a tournament more than 12 months away will once again come to the fore when they compete next year. With eyes on France at the end of the summer, rectifying the previous two disappointing finishes at the Six Nations tournament will need to be addressed alongside those preparations if Eddie Jones’ side are to address some of the criticism that has been slowly building around the squad.