This week we re-visit our predictions, comments and columnists and look at the report card for each of the Home Unions.
In the last Expert Witness for this year, Planet Rugby's James While catches up with a group of former international stars to get their views on the end-of-year Tests. This week we re-visit our predictions, comments and columnists and look at the report card for each of the Home Unions.
At the outset of the campaign, Lewis Moody felt that one scalp from the big three of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa would be par for the course. However, falling at the final hurdle against both the Wallabies and the Boks, against all the odds, England produced a brand of attacking, high tempo rugby that caught even the World Champions off guard.
Dean Richards, a man not known for hyperbole, was impressed by England's display.
“We created havoc. Their forwards and some of the backs at times were hitting rucks as if their careers depended on it. England competed in the tight/loose better than any side against the All Blacks in at least a year”, he explained.
“New Zealand were rocked; they started to commit more numbers into the areas, which opened holes for England to create pressure and score points.”
However, Moody pointed out from a long term view, as exciting as England's NZ display was, they will rue missed chances over both South Africa and Australia
“Despite the manner which we played and the scoreline, there's a lot of work to be done around the error count. Stuart Lancaster has been clear this is a building process to 2015 and naturally, there will be peaks and troughs”, explained Moody.
“You need backs who play in the face the opposition and challenge them, and England have done, exactly that. Some of the young guns really came in from nowhere and made a big difference.”
Former Leicester Tigers' back rower Martin Corry agreed: “The team have been very honest and also focused on where they believe England are as a team. He's building and creating an environment for international players to succeed. I know there's a good group of players there with the right character, and this is about a journey for them, where they learn and gain experience on the job'”
So, two from four, and perhaps a feeling that three from four or indeed, a clean sweep, just evaded England's grasp. With the displays of Joe Launchberry, Manu Tuilagi and Tom Wood, England have shown they are on the right course.
The All Black win pushes them a shade over par for the campaign, England get a B-, but it could have been an A-.
If ever there was a team that flattered to deceive this winter, it was the men from the Emerald Isle. A thumping of the ever-improving Argentina was a welcome sight; however those that witnessed the South Africa game, will wonder just what Ireland were thinking, as they gave away a massive opportunity to dispose of the World Cup semi-finalists.
As Corry observed: “Ireland v Argentina always seems to be an epic battle! Although Argentina are playing a more fluent game these days, their first tactic is always to stop the opposition from playing, and this will be no different. They've got a superb pack in both tight and loose. Ireland met their physicality up front, but increased tempo behind and execute. You don't get many chances against the Pumas, so you need to make sure you take every point, as many sides know to their cost. Argentina are improving all the time; they know their limitations, play low risk rugby and hit hard around the forwards.”
This was a massive win for Ireland and the form of Cian Healy is warming for them, and 27-year-old Johnny Sexton continues to impress with his astute game management.
With one win and one loss against Rugby Championship opposition, Ireland are around par, but will be disappointed. A solid C for them.
Has there ever been one more significant event than that of Sam Warburton's tip tackle in the Rugby World Cup semi-final? Since that defining moment, Wales' fortunes have plummeted faster than a spent rocket. Shorn of Warren Gatland, on sabbatical before his Lions adventure, many, including Newcastle Falcons coach Dean Richards, believe it's the lack of opposition experience that is holding Wales back:
“I have to say they're missing Warren Gatland's strong hand on the tiller more than they admit” observed Richards.
“Rob Howley, whilst an exceptional player and an exciting and emerging coach, doesn't have the experience of dealing with the players in that situation. It takes strong personalities with the reference points that only coaching at the highest level brings. Warren has that, Rob, as of yet does not.
“Everyone is learning as they play, and whilst Wales have had a particularly tough experience this winter, they must work their own way out of it.
“On the plus side for Wales, Leigh Halfpenny showed what an emerging talent he is. He's a very intuitive type of player; high quality goal-kicker with a long range, quick and very powerful in both tackle and ruck
“Gatland's return is the thing that's sorely needed though, and it will bring the experience to analyse both the play and the players themselves. They have proven they have the personnel, it's a case of belief, decision, selection and tactics now.
With catastrophic losses against Argentina, and Wales' perennial bogey side, Samoa, all things rugby in Wales are at their bleakest.
Without one win in their campaign, even accounting for the industry shown at times against both Australia and New Zealand, it's hard to give Wales anything more than a D. An absolute nightmare end to their season.
Humiliated by New Zealand, battered by South Africa and then the ignominy of a loss to Tier Three nation Tonga, Scotland's highly-regarded coach Andy Robinson, decided at last to fall on his sword.
The Scots' plight is even more perplexing when people consider the power and resource in the back five of their pack; Denton, Rennie, Barclay, Gray, Brown and Hamilton are all players that would challenge to get in virtually any side in the world, but for some reason the Scottish displays have never matched the potential of the personnel.
As England flank Richard Hill, reflected: It's always sad when someone you know and respect as a coach is forced to quit. Andy mentored me as a youngster, and I'm fully aware of what he can offer. It's typical that he will hold up his hand and shoulder the blame.
“But Andy is technically strong and he'll be back in rugby very soon. In the meantime, Scotland have a strong pack, useful, halfbacks and an improving backline. This maybe a watershed for them and I am sure they'll turn their fortunes around soon.
Although the results didn't go their way, often, even in the best teams, a new voice is needed in the dressing room and on the coaching field. Scotland have the opportunity to do both this, and to use the immense talent at their disposal to move