Four issues to ponder in wake of Six Nations

Questions raised by this remarkable championship

Mon, Mar 17, 2014, 09:57

Joe Schmidt effect to run and run

There had always been something false about Ireland’s final standing last season – the lowest since the Five Nations has become Six – given the ridiculous scale of their injury list. Even so, to climb from fifth to first in one fell swoop is remarkable and there’s no doubt that the turnaround has largely been down to the appointment of a clever, knowledgeable and diligent coach who is, quite possibly, the best around.

Ireland have developed a relatively low-risk but ultra effective brand of rugby which is founded on huge work-rate from all involved and, at its core, revolves around the all-round effectiveness of their work at the breakdown. The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts and those most familiar with his methods have been entrusted in carrying them out, but others will increasingly add to the mix.

On the back of this there is “big accountability” as Brian O’Driscoll put it, while expressing his mock relief that he won’t have to be a part of reviewing a “far from a perfect performance” on Saturday. “I think he has instilled a big confidence in those around him with his philosophy, game-plan strategy and detail. People buy into that product. Coupled with the natural ability of the guys playing today I think that’s a good formula.”

Tellingly, O’Driscoll also said Ireland under Schmidt were still a work in progress.

Pointers toward the World Cup

England can arguably take the most from the tournament given Stuart Lancaster has remodelled a young English side into a very efficient unit which has – critically given they will be playing their World Cup games at home– begun to generate a feel-good factor and a fortress mentality on and off the pitch at Twickenham. They also have a host of players to return to the mix.

As Paul O’Connell stated, Ireland can also use this Six Nations title as a launching pad for the World Cup, not least as it is next door in favourable conditions and with huge travelling and ex-pat support guaranteed. They have also ended their hoodoo against France – their main pool rivals in a bid to avoid New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

Wales looked leg-weary and drained of emotional energy by being bulk suppliers to the Lions, yet they should still have a more experienced side than England or Australia come the World Cup in what will be the most intriguing group of all. A genuine contender will go out before the quarter-finals.

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