The 2021 Six Nations (Men’s) ended with Wales winning the title after Scotland beat France in Paris to snuff out France’s attempt to win the title for the first time since 2010. Wales let a Grand Slam slip after conceding a try in injury time and as an England fan who was there at Wembley in 1999 I know exactly how the Welsh feel!
The Final Table in 2021
This was Wales 6th title and the 2nd where they did not achieve a Grand Slam. France were runner ups again and Italy received their 6th successive whitewash.
All Time 6 Nations Table
England continue to top the all time table in all metrics bar Grand Slams after 22 seasons and 110 games.
Note the Points column excludes Bonus Points and is calculated as 4 points for a win, 2 for a draw and none for a loss. The For, Against, Tries & Boot (points from) columns are all averages per game.
This table is the order I will review each nation’s 2021 performance by comparing it with how they performed in the previous 21 seasons between 2000 & 2020.
For the first time ever, England’s average score 22-24 was a loss. They had their worst ever season for defence which combined with a below par attack resulted in them finishing 5th.
2021 was England’s 4th losing season in the history of 6 Nations and the second under Eddie Jones. Unlike 2018, when England’s issues were more to do with the boot (Owen Farrell’s had a very poor kicking season by his standards) rather than attack, this time they need to address their defence. They had well documented issues with discipline and of course if you are constantly giving away penalties, you are first giving the opposition the chance to kick for goal or for the corner and you are also spending less time in attack.
By finishing 3rd, Ireland maintain their standing as the most consistent nation in terms of top half finishes with 20 out of 22. They also recorded their 19th winning season and now overtake England who have 18.
With that level of consistency, Ireland really should have won more titles than the 4 they have won. Over the last few seasons, their defence has been very consistent so their final placing has been a function of their attack. In 2021, they scored 1 fewer try per game but this was compensated by 6 more points per game from the boot of Jonny Sexton. Together this suggests that if Ireland can get both their try scoring and goal kicking above average in the same season, they will win more titles.
By finishing 2nd in 2021, France have had two successive winning seasons and top half placings for the first time in 10 years. They equalled their best ever try scoring season scoring 1 more try than last season which is another metric showing that France are back after a dismal two world cup cycles.
In terms of points & tries, France are now matching the Bernard Laporte reign of 2000-2007 when France won 4 titles including 2 Grand Slams. However, their defence is not yet back to that standard. If they can find a way to concede 1 converted try fewer going forward, and with Shaun Edwards in place it should be possible, then they are going to win titles again. If they want to be challenging for the World Cup in 2023, then England’s history tells France they need to set new try scoring records as well.
Wales won their 6th title with an average of 4 tries per game, the first time they have done this in the 6th Nations. Losing the Grand Slam at the death will hurt but after a poor 2020, this season shows they have successfully made the transition from the Gatland/Edwards era.
With a reliable boot, Wales also recorded their highest average points per game of 33. History suggests that if they can maintain this and tighten up their defence, they will win more titles and could be competitive at the 2023 World Cup.
Obviously some people will point to 3 of Wales’ opponents in 2021 having players sent off and being the beneficiary of the two worst ever refereeing decisions in the history of rugby (I’m not biased honest!) in another game. But the points and tries scored in 2021 speak of a team with a strong attack so that’s why I say 2020 should be regarded as an aberration reflecting a strong team in transition.
Scotland were 1 point away from a top half finish and 2 more points against Wales at home would have given them their first 6 Nations title. I am sure Scotland will spend the next month muttering “if only, if only!”.
What is now beyond doubt, is that Scotland are now genuinely competitive and capable of winning titles. They have only had 5 winning seasons in the history of the 6 Nations and 4 of those have come in the last 5 years. With the hoodoos of Paris and Twickenham toppled and winning in Wales last year in the Nations Cup, Scotland are justified in looking forward with confidence and working on the details needed to cross the winning line. 2021 was their best ever 6 Nations seasons for try scoring and their defence over the last 2 seasons is typical of title winners. The biggest barrier to them winning a title is that there are 4 other teams capable of winning it!
For the 6th successive season, Italy failed to win a game. They are going backward and my call to introduce promotion & relegation in the 6 Nations that I made 3 years ago has only been reinforced.
Italy have reverted in both defence & attack. They had thei worst ever season for defence conceding 48 points per game, more than the 46 per game they conceded in 2000. The difference back then was that Italy could score points but now they are barely averaging one try a game and they still cannot find a decent kicker.
Italians might try and say that all of the other 5 teams have improved over the last few years which is true. It is also true that is just the same as saying that they have made no progress at all since their high point of 2013 when they won 2 games and finished 4th. It is time they were relegated.
France are back, Scotland could have won the title, Wales did, Ireland are still consistent and England were poor but are still the same team that could have won the 2019 World Cup. In other words, for the first time in 6 Nations history, any one of 5 teams could win the 2022 Six Nations based on present form.
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