England Grand Slam, Wales finish second with win over Italy

So there we have it, another Six Nations reaches it’s conclusion. Where have the last seven weeks gone? Sometimes I think they need to introduce home and away legs in order to lengthen the series and possibly make it even more competitive – then I look at the gruelling programme of fixtures as it already is, and think better of it.

England beat France in Paris to seal a (quite unbelievable) first Grand Slam in thirteen years. Needless to say, Emily was delighted, and rightfully so as they looked good value for it in this tournament. Wales have finished second, apparently for the first time since 1980, despite being crowned champions three times in the last decade – itself an interesting statement on a newfound consistency during Warren Gatland’s tenure.

Following a flat opening forty minutes against England in Twickenham last weekend, Wales came storming out of the blocks against the Italians on Saturday, recording their record championship winning-margin in a stylish nine-try victory. Superb scores from man-of-the-match George North, Rhys Webb and Jonathan Davies were complemented by a wonderful performance from young open-side Ross Moriarty. Replacing the injured Justin Tipuric early in the game, Moriarty already looks comfortable on the international stage, having made his Wales debut during the World Cup warm-ups last summer. He scored two tries on Saturday and has surely put his hand up for Wales’ summer tour to New Zealand.

While the 67-14 win over Italy was definitely reflective of the quality and attacking intent of the home team, I must point out that the Italians are at the end of a long and gruelling championship which has seen a couple of key injuries.

Italy are still an enigma. They lack the depth and resources of the other Six Nations teams, but on their day are capable of a big upset, having defeated Ireland and France (twice) in the last few years. In Sergio Parisse, they have not only a captain but a passionate talisman who, despite being a little past his best, is still the envy of most teams. He embodies the spirit of the Italian team. A true warrior, he leads from the front and fights to the end, even in a team which is too often on the back foot. I feel that Italy are ready for the management change that is coming over the summer and to start afresh.

It’s with this in mind that I think Wales will face a different calibre of opposition come June. A warm-up against England at the end of May is followed by three tests against World Champions the All Blacks (gulp). In many ways, Saturday’s try-fest was perhaps just the confidence boost Wales need ahead of their summer schedule. New Zealand will provide the sternest of tests in the most hostile of environments. And history is in their favour, too.

Wales, however, will be up for it. This is very much a transitional time for the All Blacks. The June test matches will be New Zealand’s first of the season, and their first without retired heroes Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. Perhaps it’s now or never for Wales. We now have class in every position, and our replacements bench has been the strongest ever this season. George North is making a timely return to form. The signs are good.

So, as the Six Nations 2016 draws to a close, Wales can reflect on a campaign of mixed fortunes and performances, but can ultimately look forward with positivity to a massive summer of fixtures.

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