There's no point pretending, not if you are an England supporter. There were few consolations to be unearthed in a disappointing English campaign. We have been here before though. The last time England slumped to 5th place in the Six Nations, they bounced back a little over a year later to beat the All Blacks before succumbing to South Africa in the World Cup final. The world will not be in any hurry to write off the men in white.
The highlight of the England campaign was undoubtedly that narrow and thrilling win against France. Here was revealed a team bursting with ability. I sat in the press box, regretting the absence of a crowd. What a treat it would have been a treat for English fans to fill Twickenham. Both sides went at it with ball in hand. Thrust and counter thrust and some stunning rugby, especially in the first half. Those first 40 minutes were a reminder to the rest of the world that England and France are both potentially major players in France 2023. In the wake of the pandemic the World Cup promises to be quite some party whatever the result. Hope to see you there...
...anyway, 2021. After the French thriller it was back to earth with a bit of a bruising bump in Dublin. England, playing as they had against France, would still not have guaranteed a win but with Eddie Jones defaulting to a low risk kicking game which frustrated so many England fans this season, they didn't give themselves a chance. That was a pity because there were plenty of improving players who would have relished a high tempo ball in hand eighty minutes.
It is developing into quite a battle for the hooker's Number 2 shirt. Jamie George has been usurped by the all action game of Luke Cowan-Dickie, one of England's most impressive performers in the recent championship. But George is a fine player and will probably be selected for the Lions tour where – it if goes ahead – he may well have the perfect showcase for his talents. The lack of matches for the Saracens contingent didn't help the hooker or his club team mates. That must be factored into any evaluation of the England effort.
Yes, they finished 5th, but they were improved on the Autumn where they won the tournament without getting near their best. In truth they were not that much worse than the previous Six Nations. It kicked off badly as they were caught cold by a superbly organised Scotland side. The 5 point margin did no justice to the visitors superiority. Winning at Twickenham and Paris was quite an effort from Gregor Townsend's men.
England bounced back with an easy win against Italy. Anthony Watson was outstanding as England played with more width and ambition. The loss in Cardiff followed that home win. For all the short term discipline issues discussed post match, there were strong hints of something much better with ball in hand. England conceded 40 points and those 14 penalties but the seeds of recovery were evident. George Ford and Owen Farrell found a few passing rhythms in midfield while Elliot Daly was his old self off the bench.
The win against France was no great shock, not based on the nature of their attacking performance rather than the result in Cardiff. Ben Youngs remains Eddie's first choice scrum half and enjoyed a fine outing, eclipsing Antoine Dupont, arguably the world's form rugby player. He made many and scored 3 tries for France in a tournament also memorable for Louis Rees-Zammit's expertly taken chip and chase try in Edinburgh for Wales against Scotland.
There is no begrudging Wales their title. There was a hullabaloo about their luck and the red cards issued against Scotland and Ireland. If you get the luck, you have to take it. Scotland managed to prevail without Finn Russell for the last nine minutes in Paris. There is no overwhelming evidence Wales would not have found a way to win both these games. Even had Scotland and Ireland not been a man down.
Wayne Pivac's team showed immense discipline, resolve and a forgotten habit of scoring tries; a lot of them and some very fine ones in the bargain. Their attack has already improved on the more brutal approach of the previous regime. Wales experimented in the Autumn and benefited in the Six Nations.
Worthy winners, yes, but a great team? The number of nail biting finishes made for fabulous entertainment – especially had fans filled the stadiums - but rather like a bunched finish to a middle distance horse race, it suggests a lack of brilliance. The form lines between Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France and England were tight.
England finished 5th but it takes no great leap of the imagination to see them pushing for the title next season. Such is their strength in depth. Yes, of the Big Five, England were most disappointing but the line between being winners and losers was a thin one. This year has been a dip but expect an immediate renaissance.
Wales, from their 2020 doldrums, showed how quickly a team can rise; a Triple Crown, another Six Nations tournament. Rapid progress. Scotland, Ireland and France all won 3 games. It was definite improvement for Scotland while Ireland accelerated well towards the end of the competition. France will have been disappointed but the talent is obvious. They have steadied as opposed to slowed down in the race to the 2023 World Cup.
Eddie Jones needs to recalibrate. England possess power and pace. They need to rebalance their game between hard carrying, kicking, running and passing. The will exists. There is definitely a way back for England. There is also plenty of time before the World Cup. Two autumns, two Six Nations...time for England to rediscover their edge and head to Paris as one of the favourites. As I wrote earlier, folks, I'll see you there.