Wednesday 20 September 2017

Six Nations takeaways: Bonus points add little and France expose HIA

Rabah Slimani (centre) at the front of a French scrum against Wales on Saturday. Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
Rabah Slimani (centre) at the front of a French scrum against Wales on Saturday. Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It was supposed to be the beginning of a new kind of Six Nations, but the tournament unfolded like most of those before.

It was competitive until Round Four, when the chasing pack cannibalised each other and England won with a week to spare, before failing in their Grand Slam mission.

Many hailed it as a classic tournament as standards rose across the board and while the end-game lacked the final day drama, events in Paris and Dublin made up for it.

What to make of it all?

1 - Bonus points underwhelm

Heralded as a positive incentive to go and play attacking rugby, bonus points ultimately had little material effect on a tournament that produced in different ways.

Even before they got a chance, Six Nations chief John Feehan suggested the trial was doomed to fail and there seems little merit in continuing given the skewed nature of the schedule with teams playing a different number of home and away games.

Ultimately, the tournament continued as if the bonus points weren't in force and there's no reason to keep them.

2 - France expose the HIA

An investigation into events in Paris on Saturday is underway, but even if no wrong-doing is found to have transpired, Rabah Slimani's re-introduction for Uini Atonio exposes how teams could potentially abuse the Head Injury Assessment (HIA).

While Harlequins needed a blood capsule to exploit the blood substitution rules, there is no need to display visible signs of concussion to an official before coming off.

Slimani is a better scrummager than Atonio and his introduction strengthened their chances of winning. Referee Wayne Barnes was powerless to do anything, while France protested their innocence.

Whatever happened, World Rugby have a job on their hands to stop such incidents from happening again because the ramifications can be huge.

3 - Physicality takes toll

Speculation is rife that the Six Nations window will contract by a week after 2019 as part of the global calendar which will put strain on the countries with less strength and depth than England or France.

Crucially, it will also place greater strain on players' bodies. Scotland's seven concussions in two away games must surely have set alarm bells off in the corridors of power.

4 - No one touches greatness

So it turns out this England team were not quite at the level of greatness they thought they were, Ireland can't sustain their highest standard, Scotland were found out and Wales are standing still. France are careless, but getting a bit better and Italy are still rubbish.

It was a competitive and compelling tournament that saw some strides made by most teams, but ultimately New Zealand won't be losing any sleep about what they saw this spring.

5 - Gatland learned little

Warren Gatland sat down with his Lions selectors and picked a prospective squad in December and it is unlikely that his mind would have been changed too much by what he saw during the Six Nations.

Rather, he will have added a layer of ink over the names he pencilled in as the likes of Sam Warburton, George North and Johnny Sexton confirmed that whatever doubts existed over their fitness or form, their class remains permanent.

Players will get one last chance to impress in the European Champions Cup quarter-finals, but he'll have a fairly good idea and the Test team might look something like this.

Possible Lions team for the first Test v New Zealand: S Hogg (Scotland); A Watson (England), R Henshaw (Ireland), O Farrell (England), G North (Wales); J Sexton (Ireland), C Murray (Ireland); J McGrath (Ireland), R Best (Ireland), T Furlong (Ireland); M Itoje (England), AW Jones; S Warburton (capt, Wales), S O'Brien (Ireland), B Vunipola (England).

Irish Independent

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