As far as Six Nations tournaments go, 2022 was a pretty good one. Some brilliant rugby, nail-biting contests and the everything coming right down to the final game combined to make it a very memorable. Looking back on all five rounds, here are some of my standout performers and moments.
Antoine Dupont is the obvious pick here but he gets enough plaudits already. As a forward, I always keep my eye on the players having the biggest impact without necessarily getting the headlines. With that in mind, it’s hard to look past Alldritt. He was everywhere in all five matches and he will be an indispensable part of this French side’s success for many years to come. He made 65 carries in this year’s tournament – the highest in this category. To put that in context, every eight times a French player carried into contact, Alldritt was responsible for one of them. In comparison, the forward with the second highest number of carries was Tadhg Beirne with 45, which accounted for one out of every 15 Irish carries.
While high carrying numbers are exactly what you want from your big back rows, there is so much more to Alldritt than simply dropping the head and running into brick walls all day, as important as that is. He also threw 28 passes in the competition, meaning he touched the ball an average of 18 times in each match. Combine that with his 53 tackles and six turnovers and you start to get an idea of how much work this guy gets through.
At 24, he’s only going to hit his peak in 3-5 years. A frightening prospect for everyone else.
Cyrill Baille, Gael Fickou, Tadhg Beirne.
I highlighted this try in an earlier column and used it to illustrate how France are operating on a different level to other sides when it comes to moving the ball wide with limited time and space and keeping it alive post contact. Any player or coach that wants to see how devastating an attack can be when a team’s handling skills, mutual awareness and anticipation are honed into a collective weapon need only watch this try on repeat.
Forwards linking with backs, players shifting the ball on instinct because there is no time to think, chancing and sticking offloads that had no business being thrown; this try epitomised what free flowing attacking rugby – much coveted by supporters of every team in the world – looks like.
In the space of a few seconds and one phase of play, the ball goes through eight pairs of hands, five passes and two offloads to bring France from touchline to touchline and over the line in the right-hand corner.
Every French back touched the ball on the way to Moefana dotting down and loosehead Cyril Baille of all people – one of the standout performers of the tournament – popped up to throw the final offload after scampering 65 metres across the pitch. The try happened in the 13th minute and is worth a few looks in the YouTube highlights, even if you saw it as it happened.
: Edoardo Padovani (Italy) v Wales, Paul Willemse (France) v Scotland
You have to feel for the Italians. It must be demoralising and infuriating in equal measure to have your pedigree as a Tier One rugby nation called into question at every opportunity. That kicked into overdrive in recent weeks when a totally unsubstantiated rumour about South Africa joining the Six Nations at their expense was widely reported as a done deal, despite no evidence of that being the case.
Italy’s progress has been minuscule in the last decade. A succession of coaches including Conor O’Shea have come and gone without making much headway. I wouldn’t blame them; whipping Italian rugby into shape is almost as big a task as cleaning up the Irish health service. And just like the ministerial portfolio for health, the Italian job seems to be a bit of a poisoned chalice at times.
Despite these difficulties, no rugby supporter enjoys seeing the Italians get trounced every weekend and we were all willing them to end their desperately unenviable losing streak. Until the final 12 minutes against Wales, it looked like they might grind out the win. Then Josh Adams scored a wonderful try and the hope of all neutrals watching evaporated.
Things looked even bleaker when Wyn Jones crashed over shortly afterwards. Thankfully, the grounding wasn’t clear and Italy stayed within seven points. Then Ange Capuozzo happened. I played with Ange at Grenoble, where he was playing regularly with the first team at 18 years of age. The 22-year-old could probably still get into a Junior Cert disco given that he looks about 12 but his baby face shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking he’s not the real deal.
Grenoble are having an awful season in France’s second division, sitting in 13th and just seven points clear of the drop zone with six matches to play. As such, selecting Ange to play probably raised a few eyebrows, given the step-up required to go from that base to test rugby. He caught many eyes two weekends ago when he came off the bench to score two well taken tries on his debut against Scotland and was rewarded with a start last weekend.
After conjuring up a linebreak out of nothing and leaving Welsh scrum-half Kieran Hardy swinging at fresh air with the best step of the competition, he put Edoardo Padovani under the sticks. The image of Paolo Garbisi collapsing in tears after knocking over the conversion to win the match would warm even the coldest of hearts and maybe, just maybe, this is the start of a better period for Italian rugby.
France winning their first title since 2010; Ireland’s bonus point win in Twickenham
Those poor Italians. The opening ten minutes had already made it look like it was going to be a bleak afternoon for them. Then substitute hooker Epalahame Faiva was sent off for a dangerous tackle and Italy were forced to go down to 13 men to go to uncontested scrums. This immediately sucked all life out of the game and made me and many others wonder whether we would have been better off spending our Sunday afternoon doing something more interesting.
The rule exists for a good reason; it’s designed to stop teams that are getting wrecked in the scrum from telling their props to feign injuries so scrums can become uncontested. A protection like this is good to have but surely exceptions should be made when there is a red card involved. Quite rightly, it cast a negative light on the intricacies of rugby’s laws and surely, a review of this one is on the to-do list.
The dire spectacle of England v Wales
In case people were wondering if there was anything Tadhg Beirne couldn’t do, his perfectly executed 50/22 off his left foot in the final quarter against France proved that no, there is nothing this man cannot do.
Ange Capuozzo’s assist v Wales; Andrew Conway’s almost impossible finish v Wales
Finn Russell is one of the most exciting players to watch in world rugby and I would argue, one of the most likeable too. The stonemason-turned-international’s carefree attitude both on and off the pitch is a breath of fresh air (he once said he doesn’t like eating pre-match meals, he prefers to get a Five Guys burger earlier in the day and leave it at that) and I don’t understand the hate he gets from some quarters.
He doesn’t help himself, however, and getting in trouble for breaching team regulations to go on the sauce again was an avoidable clanger. It doesn’t make him a bad person or player though, which some people could do with bearing in mind.
It’s important to be confident in any sport. I enjoy seeing a plucky underdog Scottish side pull a big result out of the bag as much as the next guy. But the Scots seem to have a unique capacity to go from plucky underdog to self-declared world beaters in the space of 80 minutes. This year was no different, and there was much talk of Scotland challenging for the title after their brilliant win against England. Of course, they went out and lost to a poor Welsh side the following week and ended up finishing the tournament in fifth.