Sport writer Dan Hague reviews the final weekend of the 2020 Six Nations, as the tournament that started in February reached its climax at last
The rugby played in the final weekend of the 2020 Six Nations Championship was symptomatic of the rest of the tournament. It was absurd and baffling the majority of the time, but included moments of brilliance.
Scotland played Wales in the first game of the weekend. The outcome of this game was determined largely by the weather and Wales’ indiscipline. Rather than the traditional Principality Stadium, this game was played at the smaller, more open Parc y Scarlets, and this contributed to baffling weather conditions. The Storm Aiden wind seemed to swirl bizarrely throughout the game and the lineout became a non-event. At one point, a stunning spiral kick by Stuart Hogg was held up in the wind so much that it floundered and travelled backwards, whilst elsewhere a Dan Biggar clearance kick was carried far beyond what would have been expected.
Nonetheless, it was costly penalties that allowed Scotland to build a score and robbed Wales of both territory and pressure. A last-minute Stuart Hogg penalty was an appropriate end to the match. This took Scotland to a 14-10 lead and meant they registered their first win in Wales for 18 years.
The second game of the weekend was equally as baffling, as England travelled to Rome to play Italy hunting as big a win as possible to bolster their points difference. Eddie Jones’ started perfectly, with a brilliant pass from Mako Vunipola sending Owen Farrell through a gap, before the captain found Ben Youngs to score on his 100th appearance. Italy fought their way back into the game largely due to absurd tactical decisions by England. Rather than persist with what allowed them to score their first try, England resorted to trying to force Italy to play from their own 22-metre line. However, costly penalties and England’s inability to counter-attack off Carlo Canna’s long range clearance kicks meant that Italy built field position and looked the better side.
The second half saw England persist with their bizarre kicking strategy, but emerging Italian indiscipline meant that England won penalties in the Italian half and scored off the resulting lineouts. Ben Youngs broke the Italian defensive line to score a magnificent solo effort, and was rightly awarded Man of the Match, while Jamie George rumbled over on his 50th appearance. The game finished 34-5 in England’s favour.
Ireland played France at an eerily quiet Stade de France in the final game of the championship. To win the title, Ireland had to beat France either with a four-try bonus point or by a six-point margin. In a game as absurd as this year’s Six Nations as a whole, Ireland never seemed to be ahead on the scoreboard, but France never seemed to be in the ascendancy. The Irish managed sustained periods of pressure and typically scored after an extended number of phases through Cian Healy.
Nevertheless, the men in green were always outpaced by France who, in a typically French fashion, would randomly score after an individual moment of brilliance. The beginning of the second half saw France score two quick tries and Ireland were suddenly chasing the game. Gael Fickou looked dangerous throughout and Antione Dupont was once again the best player on the pitch. Dupont’s performance underlined his credentials as the best scrum-half in the world. Eventually, the match and the championship slipped away from Ireland who looked short of the x-factor players that France could field, with the hosts winning 35-27.
This loss handed England the Six Nations title, and they received the trophy not inside a packed stadium, but back at their training base in London. It was an anti-climactic end to an anti-climactic tournament.
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