How was your nation performed?

It’s that time of year again – grey, cold and wet, it appears Spring is still playing hard to get. But not all hope is lost, for rugby season is upon us.

When life gets you down, there’s nothing quite like a friendly pint (of Guinness) and a few brutal tackles to warm the cockles of our winter-stricken hearts. With three rounds down and only two to go, step inside the half-time huddle, and join our global team as we regroup on what has been an eventful Six Nations so far…

England – Adam Dye, Communications Executive

It was a slow start for Eddie Jones’ men this Six Nations but after the win against Ireland, the doubters have been silenced.

After the first round, losing to the solid Shaun Edwards defence of France and then making very hard work of Scotland in poor conditions, the rugby media were asking questions of England, following defeat in the World Cup Final.

However, looking at the players, this is a good English team that just hasn’t played well for two games.

In round three England faced Ireland, a team still on for the Grand Slam.

Pre-game, there were questions asked about the selection of players out of position. With five second rows in the matchday squad, England finally brought the physical rush defence that was promised ahead of the French game.

This brought momentum and gave England the platform to manipulate Ireland’s backfield, drawing mistakes in the opposition’s half. The game finished 24-12 with England fans on a high.

England are now hoping for an Irish victory over France on the last matchday of the tournament and high scoring wins against Wales and Italy. Thankfully the Wales game is on the hallowed turf of Twickenham next weekend, which should make for a cracking contest.

Scotland – Beth McGuire, Insights Executive

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Two defeats in, but a comfortable win against Italy shows we are yet to reach the end of the road.

We have had a rocky start to this year’s Championship. There has been a sense that the first two defeats were compounded by the Finn Russell saga. The Racing 92 fly-half has been exiled from the squad for breaching team protocol and he is unlikely to feature at all during the tournament. It drives us all to question: Is Russell the missing piece?

Team unity should always prevail. We might only have one win in the Championship but there is an undeniable sense of togetherness within this squad, supported by fans who will be with them throughout the highs and lows.

We are a side whose confidence is low, but whose spirit is always high. In the words of Stuart Hogg, we “can’t wait to get back out there and put things right.”

Next up, we welcome the unbeaten France to Murrayfield. There will be some apprehension, but also hope that the home advantage can carry the team through to another win.

Wales – Steffan Lloyd, Account Manager

One win and two losses, resulting in a miserable 4th place after Round 3 –you could say we are feeling the after-effects of the Gatland era. After all, us Welsh have had it pretty good over the last twelve years thanks to Gats, with three Grand Slams (2008, 2012, 2019), a Championship Title (2013), twice RWC semi-finalists, and a brief period as no.1 in the world rankings (2019).

But hey, it’s not all doom and gloom! Former Llanelli Scarlets head coach, Wayne Pivac, and his side kick, Stephen Jones, built a brand of free running rugby which earned the West Walian side’s first major trophy in thirteen years.

“Okay, but can he do it at international level Steff?”, I hear you say!

With the likes of Ken Owens, Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies, it took Pivac three years to lay the foundations at the Scarlets, and when it paid off, it was done in a style which the rugby purist would savour. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Pivac’s free running blueprint is a contrast to ‘Warren ball’, and it will take time to adapt.

We were inaccurate when the opportunities were there, but at least we competed against the Irish and French. Both attack and defence need improving but don’t need a drastic overhaul. Anscombe, Jonathan Davies & Liam Williams are side-lined, but we have Faletau, Adams & now Tompkins providing a spark (thanks to his Welsh Grandmother-Enid). While we won’t regain our Six Nations title, we should allow Pivac time to stamp his mark.

Twickenham in Round 4 will be a tall order, but we always relish the journey down the M4 (or in my case, from Clapham Junction).

Ireland – Caoimhe Flatley, Account Coordinator

The new era of Irish rugby led by Andy Farrell could not have got off to a better start. Two wins from two reminded the northern hemisphere what the men in green are capable of.

The critics will argue that Ireland were lucky against Scotland, who were not only without the mercurial Finn Russell but also saw their new captain Stuart Hogg drop the ball over the line. However, it is much harder to be critical of a team who secure a bonus point victory against the defending Grand Slam champions.

The brilliant back three of Stockdale, Larmour and Conway exposed the narrowness of the Welsh defence in Dublin, and CJ Stander picked up his second man of the match award in as many weeks for another outstanding display at the breakdown.

Twickenham sadly was a day to forget. Plagued by unfortunate bounces of the ball and Sexton’s misfiring boot, the Grand Slam dream died in London. But dreams of a title live on.

With respect to Scotland, Ireland are surely the only team who can spoil France’s party. Hopefully a try-fest against the Italians will precede a thrilling encounter against Les Bleus, with everything still to play for.

Italy – Nino Pettinato, Head of Strategy & Insights

I wouldn’t describe myself as a rugby fan. I’d say 3 on a 5-point scale. But in February each year this rises to 5 (“very interested”) because there’s something special about the Six Nations.

And then there’s the Azzurri–pride of Italy, the ‘best of the rest’. It just happens that in the Six Nations ‘the rest’ are just the Azzurri (and occasionally the Scottish).

As for this year’s championship, you’d think it would be hard to find the positives. That’s true, if you’re enjoyment comes only from the results. Mine, of course, does not.

The record books will register the two shutouts, a 25th consecutive Six Nations defeat, and our best opportunity of the 2-year cycle missed (Scotland in Rome). Yet I saw passion, commitment, teamwork, perseverance, and for long periods, beautiful rugby. We made the French work hard for the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy and had a hugely entertaining scrap against the Scots. Wales in Cardiff, I forget.

Inevitably, many will again question the Azzurri’s inclusion in the Six Nations, but they fail to recognise the potential coming through in the U20s. And with young talent like Jake Polledri and Matteo Minozzi already in the squad, I feel Italy are on the verge of a big tournament.

France – Nicolas Fonant, Partnership Development Executive

Since the beginning of the tournament, Les Bleus have come out strong, playing well in the first half of the game, but struggling to maintain the level of intensity throughout the second half. The recent addition to their game plan, however, has had a tremendous impact on their play. Switching up running patterns to move the ball from the outside of the field to the inside –as opposed to inside to the wings – has helped breakdown their opponent’s defensive system.

More than that, le XV de France was rejuvenated with the addition of upcoming players such as Romain Ntamack (20 years old) and Antoine Dupont (23 years old), who were both decisive against Wales on Saturday. Like Kylian Mbappé in football, these talents are being discovered in real time by their adversaries, gifting them the element of surprise.

Since 2000, every time France has won their first three games in the Six Nations, they won the tournament. Only once the Grand Slam was missed… There’s hope yet, so Allez les Bleus!