Six Nations: Ten things we’ve learned

Date published: March 6 2015

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Over the halfway mark in this year's competition, our writers pick out ten points of interest as we approach the final two rounds.

We haven't just stuck the boot into France or bowed to Ireland, below is an assessment of where teams are at and what is or isn't working six months out from the World Cup.

France need a ball carrier

The current French back-row just doesn't work. Thierry Dusautoir remains one of the best flankers in the world and Bernard le Roux works very hard, but their combination with Damien Chouly has left les Bleus desperately short of a man who can make hard yards with ball in hand à la Billy Vunipola or Duane Vermeulen. The return from injury of a certain Louis Picamoles for Toulouse this weekend will be keenly watched by the French staff. 

A good coach really does make a difference

It might seem obvious but if ever you wanted proof of the importance of a good coach, the contrasting fortunes of France and Ireland show the impact of the man in charge. Joe Schmidt has turned Ireland into a well-oiled machine that look like genuine World Cup contenders, having taken over a team that had avoided the Wooden Spoon on points difference. France on the other hand, well, Philippe Saint-André has overseen the worst period in their history, taking a talented bunch of players and making them look clueless.

Scotland need more time

While we're talking about coaches, Vern Cotter would have imagined a better start to his Six Nations career. Despite the three defeats, you can see what Cotter is trying to do, and for once Scottish optimism might be justified. This World Cup will come too soon, and don't be surprised if they go out in the group stages. Provided Cotter remains for the four years that follow though, they can make up for it in Japan in 2019.

Warrenball feeds off hesitation 

Wales' tactic of simply throwing bulk at the advantage line has had it's critics of late, but it's highly effective against a flat defence, as France learnt the hard way. Give the likes of Jamie Roberts and George North time to build up a head of steam and you can consider the gain line as good as crossed. Line speed on defence is the key ingredient to cutting Welsh momentum.

England can't just rely on Jonathan Joseph

The star of the tournament over the first two weeks with his tricky feet and outside break, Joseph couldn’t do anything in Dublin feeding off scrappy passes and shut down instantly by the hounding Irish defence. Not all teams will do that as effectively as Ireland but it showed the way to keep the Bath man quiet, while highlighting England’s need for multiple attacking threats. Expect him to open up against Scotland.

Sergio Parisse, Leigh Halfpenny and Jonathan Sexton are the MVPs

Every team has its star players, but these three seem more than vital to their team's hopes – they are indispensable elements. So much of what the Azzurri do reloves around their skipper while Welsh victories in Edinburgh and Paris were largely thanks to Halfpenny's deadly-accurate boot. Much has been made of Ireland's recent successes against heavyweight opposition, but would those wins have been possible without Sexton?

Stuart Hogg is the competition's best attacker (statistically)

The number don’t lie and Hogg has dominated all categories so far after three rounds of action. After a real annus horriblis last year (remember his red card against Wales?) the young Lion is back on form. Hogg has made the most carries (38), metres (304, over 100 more than the next best), clean breaks (5) and beaten the most defenders (13). The wins aren’t coming for Scotland but Hogg is really giving his all.

It's a dangerous time to be a veteran

Four years ago Yannick Jauzion and Sébastien Chabal were dumped six months from a World Cup, this year we could be seeing the end of Nicolas Mas and Martin Castrogiovanni, not to mention Adam Jones who's already bowed out of Tests. Desperate coaches are looking for magic solutions, some experienced veterans are going to pay the price. Don't be surprised to see another big name jettisoned before the Six Nations is out.

Henshaw isn't BOD, but he's very good

Robbie Henshaw’s performance against England was enormous, scoring the only try of the game with his athletic leap and once again impressing with his defensive work-rate. The new BOD though? Not really – there are big differences between the players. Instead of BOD’s flair Henshaw brings power, and lots of it. Only Hogg has beaten more defenders than Henshaw’s 11 so far. Coincidentally he's also missed 11 tackles, the most in the tournament,

England's injuries do matter

Pre-Dublin the lack of experience in England’s second-row and at fly-half hadn’t mattered, but how it showed with Ireland dominating the line-out and at the breakdown. Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes were both outstanding the year before at Twickenham when England won and were missed against Devin Toner and Paul O'Connell, while George Ford buckled under Ireland’s close attention. A learning curve for the younger players, a reminder that experience counts for more in big matches.`

 

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