World Rugby

Guinness Six Nations: Five Key Takeaways From The 2024 Championship

Guinness Six Nations: Five Key Takeaways From The 2024 Championship

A recap of the 2024 Six Nations. Ireland claimed back-to-back titles, France finished second, England third, Scotland fourth, Italy fifth and Wales sixth.

Mar 18, 2024 by Philip Bendon
Guinness Six Nations: Five Key Takeaways From The 2024 Championship

The 2024 Guinness Six Nations has been and gone, through all the twists and turns, bumps and bruises and endless analysis, the table shook out just about as many predicted.

King of Europe for another year, Andy Farrell’s Ireland closed out another impressive campaign, with a one-point loss to England as the lone blemish.

In second place, an up-and-down French side closed out the Six Nations in magnificent fashion - a last-minute Thomas Ramos penalty to down England.

England’s progression from a trudged opening three rounds to a sparkling final fortnight has quelled fears that they were on hiding to nowhere, as they pulled off an out-of-this-world transformation.

Quite possibly the most disappointing of finishes was a two-win Scotland, which saw a Championship that had so much promise slip away once again.

In fifth position is another two-win team, but one that will be far more positive about its campaign in Italy. 

Gonzalo Quesada’s side ended the final three rounds unbeaten and, in reality, should’ve capitalized on a vulnerable England in Round 1. Outside of its loss to Ireland in Round 2, Italy could, and probably should have, won all of its fixtures.

Bringing up the rear with a first winless season in 21 years, a significant blow for the proud rugby nation, was Wales. Moments of promise were evident at the beginning of the campaign, but worryingly, the Welsh regressed each week to the point of being utterly uncompetitive in the final round.

With a quick rundown in the books, here are five key takeaways from this year’s Six Nations Championship.

Ireland Wins, But There's More To Come From Farrell’s Charges

A simply magnificent opening-night win in Marseille had Irish fans the world over dreaming of a historic Grand Slam double. In the end, it would take a herculean English performance against an out-of-sorts Ireland to deny the men in green the title they so wanted. 

Perhaps the biggest mark of where this team is in its development, outside of Round 1, is that it did not play its best rugby and still finished with a +84 points differential. 

Questions about the one-point loss in Twickenham had many pundits feeling this team is incapable of winning when it matters. The reality is, this is a narrative being pushed by those who envy this exceptional side that, like the other teams in this competition, was undergoing a period of transition. 

Yes, the team lost a Rugby World Cup quarterfinal and a big Six Nations match in the last six months, but anyone who does not believe Farrell and his team will grow from the experiences are naive. 

Most promisingly, the men in green have unearthed, or rather elevated, a handful of potential stars to replace either already departed, or soon departing veterans. 

Leading the charge in this department are fly-half Jack Crowley, second row Joe McCarthy, utility forward Ryan Baird and utility back Ciaran Frawley. 

Let's start with Crowley, who had the unenviable task of replacing the iconic Jonathan Sexton as Ireland’s chief playmaker. In short, Crowley was superb and learned from any mistakes he made in an instant, as he firmly established himself as the man to drive this team forward. 

In the pack, McCarthy and Baird are dynamic forces unlike any Irish Rugby has seen before and will be key contributors as Farrell and his staff develop the Irish game going forward. 

Finally, the uber-talented Frawley has afforded Ireland the flexibility to employ a 6-2 bench split, given his ability to play across the backline in what feels like a crucial development ahead of Ireland’s tour of South Africa in June.

England Is Back 

Yes, three wins in the Six Nations Championship do not signal a major step forward in terms of results, but only a fool would not see the major strides Steve Borthwick's side took in the final two rounds. 

Halting an Irish side that had swept all before them, before backing it up with a heart-breaking late loss in Lyon, showed the potential this team possessed. 

Rebuilding in key areas with the likes of George Furbank and Ollie Lawrence and Tommy Freeman and Ben Earl to the fore, England has a platform to build off. 

Facing calls of Borthwick out in the wake of their trudged loss to Scotland, England stood up and was counted when it mattered most. 

Next up for Borthwick’s band of brothers is a major challenge, as they look to tackle the All Blacks in their own backyard in June. 

For the positivity of this year’s Six Nations to mean anything, a competitive series, and ideally a win, must be achieved.

Italy Is A Threat 

This year’s feel-good story is that the Azzurri have begun to benefit from the hard work being done at the lower levels of the game. 

Bolstered by a squad of young, talented and hungry players, new head coach Gonzalo Quesada built on the platform left by the likes of Kieran Crowley and Conor O’Shea in magnificent fashion. 

Achieving an all-time high world ranking of No. 8 is nothing to be sniffed at and comes directly as a result of their unbeaten run through the final three rounds. 

Outside of a heavy loss to Ireland, Italy had a real chance in every match this year. 

Throw into the mix a highly impressive U20 squad, and Italian Rugby feels to be in the footsteps of an exciting and fruitful journey heading into the summer tests.

Wales At The Beginning Of Dark Days

If the Six Nations was the stock market as Italian stocks rose, Welsh ones tanked in a terribly worrying way. 

Normally, Warren Gatland squads get better as the Six Nations Championship continues, but in 2024, they got worse and, outside of two late consolation tries, Wales was severely outclassed by Italy in Round 5. 

Such is the level of this Welsh side at the time of writing; fans were taking positives from a 31-7 drubbing at the hands of Ireland. This is simply not acceptable for such a proud rugby nation that is paying for years of mismanagement by the Welsh governing bodies of the professional game.  

Perhaps most concerning for Welsh fans is the thought that little is being done to turn the tide in what feels set to be a dark few years.

Scotland And France Underperform 

Both sides finished the Championship with decent performances, but in reality, neither side got close to its potential this year. 

Two wins for a side that stated its ambition was a Grand Slam is a rather dismal return, as Scotland once again over-promised before under-delivering.

France, on the other hand, clearly was suffering from a World Cup hangover but, more worryingly, proved it may well be a one-man band. As Antoine Dupont was tearing up opposing defenses for Toulouse and the French 7s team, his teammates looked rudderless without his wonder plays. 

What this Championship unfortunately revealed for both sides is that the men at the top (Fabien Galthie and Gregor Townsend) may well have run their respective races. 

Both sides looked at times disorganized and, not for a lack of want, looked unclear of their game plan when put under pressure. 

Relatively tame summer tours likely will see both countries take inexperienced squads in what might prove to be a reset for two sides that need to re-evaluate their long-term plans.

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