Six Nations 2019 verdict: Guardian writers on their highs and lows

first_imgThe same again in many ways, as intense, entertaining, and unpredictable as this tournament always is and yet very different in others, with new coaches in charge of Wales and Ireland, as well, you guess, as a couple of others, and, I’d wager, a world champion team among the contenders. ABCompletely different without Warren Gatland (we think), Joe Schmidt, maybe Eddie Jones and someone new – possibly with a clue as to what they are doing – at the helm of France. It feels like this year’s competition was the end of an era, roll on the next one. After the small matter of the World Cup, that is. GMWales’s first as world champions, Warren Gatland’s first as England coach, Eddie Jones’s first in charge of France. Ryan Wilson and Billy Vunipola to kick the CVC Calcutta Cup down Prince’s Street and World Rugby the can of growing the global game. MAA leap year into the unknown. There will be no Warren Gatland, who says he will resist any overture from England, or Joe Schmidt. And, perhaps, no Eddie Jones, Jacques Brunel and Conor O’Shea. PR Six Nations Maro Itoje celebrates during England’s win over Ireland in Dublin on the opening weekend. Photograph: Matthew Impey/Rex/Shutterstock Alun Wyn Jones the pain-defying warrior needed for more Wales battles Six Nations’ team of the tournament: Wales and England dominate best XV Twitter Six Nations 2019 Share on Facebook Facebook Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Read more Share on Twitter Alun Wyn Jones. Wales’s Six Nations was defined by the steady nerves, strength of character and savvy game-management they showed in winning from behind against France and England, fighting off Scotland and bossing Ireland when the grand slam was on the line. Jones epitomises, and inspires, all three qualities. They could not have done it without him. Andy BullAlun Wyn Jones. Tempting to say Jonathan Davies, in part due to tipping him at the beginning, but the debate starts and ends with Wales’s colossal captain. Leadership, presence, inspiration – Jones has the lot. He has 134 caps now and it is staggering to think you could count the number of bad performances on one hand. Gerard MeagherLiam Williams. Wales are twice the team when he plays at full-back. He rules the air and defends like no other. Only Stuart Hogg compares in attack. Why pick anyone else? Alun Wyn Jones, Josh Navidi and Hadleigh Parkes influential too. Tom Curry was England’s best player. Michael AylwinAlun Wyn Jones. On behalf of his Wales team, the supreme leader. Paul ReesMatch of the tournamentImpossible to beat Cardiff for atmosphere or Twickenham for thrills on a dramatic final weekend but England’s opening weekend demolition of Ireland in Dublin should not be entirely forgotten. If they ever want to remind themselves they can perform under pressure, this is the game to re-watch. RKEngland’s win in Dublin was the best performance they’ve turned in since Eddie Jones took over, and if they could reach that peak every week they’d be the best team in the world. But the most enjoyable match I saw was Wales against Scotland. I’m still not really sure how the Welsh won it. ABEngland 38 Scotland 38. Bonkers. Having to file copy on the final whistle put years on most journalists in attendance but it was worth it to witness one of the most remarkable Test matches in recent memory. England’s victory over Ireland wins in terms of best performance, Wales’s triumph over England for atmosphere, but the finale was something else entirely. GMIreland v England. England v Scotland was fairly remarkable, but it didn’t quite feel real. Dublin in round one did. Finest England performance under Eddie Jones. It has not been a great Six Nations. Wales superb in defence, England in attack, Scotland shot through with injury. Everyone else all over the place. MA featurescenter_img Topics Pinterest Read more Share on WhatsApp Reuse this content The opening night in Paris when Wales clambered off the ropes in the second half, the only one of the top three teams comfortable playing catch-up. PRFavourite momentTwo moments: Henry Slade’s back-of-the-hand flick to set Jonny May away for his try against Scotland was world class but so, too was Finn Russell’s clever no-look pass that enabled Sam Johnson to slice through a shell-shocked English defensive line. Russell and Slade in the same backline really would be fun. RKAlun Wyn Jones giving his tracksuit top to Wales’s shivering mascot as the teams lined up for the anthems in the wind and rain in Cardiff last Saturday. In terms of action, Henry Slade’s pass out of the back of his hand to Jonny May against Scotland. PRDarcy Graham’s try against Wales at Murrayfield, for the way Finn Russell made it with an inside pass that only he seemed to see. You could just as well pick out dozens of touches Russell made in the games he played, good and bad. He’s the most inventive, unpredictable, fly-half to play in the Six Nations since his boss retired. ABDeleting half of a 900-word match report at around 6.25pm on Saturday evening. Twenty-five minutes to write a new one. In Paris in round one the report needed to be filed five minutes before the end, but at least they had the decency to stop scoring with nine to go. MAIt is hard not be taken by how much Manu Tuilagi loves playing for England and his beaming smile after Henry Slade’s try in Dublin was the enduring image of a breathless opening weekend. Finn Russell’s no-look pass is a close second. GMBiggest surpriseHaving tipped Ireland before the tournament it was bizarre to watch so many good players playing with the zing, energy and imagination of a sack of spuds. Was it purely an All Blacks hangover thing or was there another underlying reason? Maybe they were playing a clever long game: the weight of public expectation heading into the World Cup will be much lighter now. RKThe difference between the Irish team that beat New Zealand in the autumn and the one that got trounced by Wales in the spring. Joe Schmidt has been making comparisons with the ups and downs England have been through, but given that it took Eddie Jones a year to get his team out of that slump, Schmidt’s argument is not all that reassuring. ABThat it is even up for debate whether the Six Nations stays on free-to-air TV considering 8.9million people are tuning in to watch Wales v England. Noteworthy mentions include neither Ireland nor France seeing fit to play a full‑back at full-back against England, how poor Ireland were in Cardiff and that France named the same 23 for consecutive matches. GMOwen Farrell’s wobble. Wouldn’t expect it to last too long, but Farrell seems to be struggling with something at the moment. Maybe he doesn’t like being captain, maybe he’s not altogether sold on playing fly-half. England will need their most influential player to rediscover himself soon. MAThat Wales were ranked as outsiders to win the title. Despite his impressive record, Warren Gatland has too often been underestimated. PR2020 will be …The survival of the fittest. Any team bouncing straight into a tough Six Nations campaign after the World Cup without breaking stride will be doing incredibly well. By then, hopefully, there will be a better structured global season in place that does not merely pay lip service to player welfare. RK Support The Guardian Since you’re here… Player of the tournamentVery few of the captains involved enjoyed a serene Six Nations but Wales’s indomitable Lion Alun Wyn Jones was at the heart of his country’s deserved success. Wales’s set-piece did not top many statistical lists but intangibles such as passion and soul are equally crucial. Three grand slams as a player has cemented his hall of fame inclusion and lending his tracksuit top to a shivering mascot on Saturday was a further touch of class. Robert Kitson … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many new organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But we need your ongoing support to keep working as we do.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. 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