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Ollie Phillips: England can take encouragement from Six Nations

Englasnd lost in France on Saturday but look a different team to the one which began the Six Nations
Englasnd lost in France on Saturday but look a different team to the one which began the Six Nations

I love the format of Six Nations Super Saturday and once again it didn’t disappoint, even if it was a slight shame that the championship didn’t go down to the very last game between France and England.

The result didn’t quite go England’s way but I have to say I’ve been really impressed with Steve Borthwick’s team in their last couple of games. Having been bang average at last year’s Rugby World Cup and the start of the Six Nations they now look dangerous in attack – something they’d been missing and which is essential in the modern game.

Consistency of selection has helped – they now have an established unit of George Ford, Alex Mitchell, Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade – while new coaches Andrew Strawbridge and Felix Jones have really helped. England’s defence has looked ferocious at times, and on the whole they are starting to look like a formidable team.

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Ben Earl has been out of this world at No8, Lawrence a revelation at centre, and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso looks like he’s here to stay. England still lost two matches and finished third in the table so they will be disappointed with the results but their performances offered plenty to be encouraged by.

Ireland might have won the title again but I think they’ll be disappointed that they missed the chance to become the first team to win successive Six Nations Grand Slams. They had an opportunity to do something extraordinary and right the wrongs of the World Cup campaign, so they’ll be kicking themselves over that defeat to England.

They are a fabulous team and Andy Farrell is a top notch coach. The fact that they almost expected the Grand Slam illustrates the level that Ireland are at. But having routed the French in the first game of the competition, they’ll feel that it was there for the taking.

France clinched second place thanks to their last-ditch 33-31 win over England, meaning they ended what was otherwise a fairly average Six Nations for them on a high note. At first they looked rudderless in the absence of Antoine Dupont and following a major shake-up of Fabien Galthie coaching staff, losing to Ireland and then drawing with Italy.

Finishing runners-up and beating English will give Galthie and the guys lots of grace, but there were some worrying signs for France. The inconsistency which has always been Les Bleus Achilles heel had largely been eradicated but has reared its head again. Their aim now has to be to reverse that trend.

Scotland took fourth after demonstrating again that they have really talented individuals and can put in some big performances. They have a stable group, they know how they play, are super entertaining to watch, but my concern is that they seem to have lost sight of what is needed to be the best in the world.

They will feel like they should have beaten France and ran Ireland close, but the hard facts are that they lost both of those games – and to Italy – so the Six Nations was a bit of a failure for Scotland. Finn Russell wants to play and be a maverick but sometimes you have to be boring, take the points and starve weaker opponents.

Italy were my standout performers of the tournament. It wasn’t long ago that some people were calling for them to be kicked out of the Six Nations for being uncompetitive but this time they won two, drew one and should have beaten France but for that late missed kick. And it doesn’t feel like a flash in the pan.

Under Gonzalo Quesada, the future is looking bright for Italy. Their club sides are performing well and the Under-20s appears to be a good pipeline of talent. Nobody expected fourth, but now people will expect more. The question is whether they can deliver consistency – that is always the challenge for the lower teams.

Ireland retained their Six Nations title but missed out on the Grand Slam because of defeat by England
Ireland retained their Six Nations title but missed out on the Grand Slam because of defeat by England

Taking home the wooden spoon were Wales after Saturday’s loss to Italy made it five defeats from five. I don’t want to twist the knife but I think the problems in Welsh rugby are pretty severe.

Some will say the players should have performed better, but they simply aren’t as good as previous squads – that’s just a fact. You can’t polish a turd. Warren Gatland has been a master at rolling them in glitter but the truth is the players aren’t there.

In stark contrast to Italy, Welsh club sides are garbage at the moment and the Under-20s aren’t doing well either. To make matters worse, players are leaving and I don’t see how they can maintain their current selection rules. I don’t see a solution on the horizon for Gatland. Hopefully he proves me wrong but I think there’ll be some short-term pain.

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development behavioural change and executive coaching support. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn @OlliePhillips11