It was a fabulous Guinness Six Nations Championship and while Ireland deservedly claimed the Grand Slam, there was much to ponder elsewhere.
England took their first new steps under a new Head Coach, Scotland were electric, Wales a team in transition, France sublime and Italy developing game on game.
As Rugby World Cup France 2023 approaches, there is plenty to look forward too when the tenth global tournament kicks off later this year.
But that only tells a fraction of the story as they re-set themselves under new Head Coach Steve Borthwick. As Rugby World Cup 2023 looms into view there is work to be done but the lessons and experiences learned already will set England in good stead.
Currently, there are better teams in the world as wins against Wales and Italy would testify – as would their defeat against France at Twickenham – but the resources are there to make them competitive in France.
Should they reach the quarter-finals, they could face either Wales or Australia and then it’s anyone’s game. The hard work doesn’t stop for Borthwick as the countdown begins.
Head Coach Andy Farrell has a clear-eyed strategy and a gameplan that can take on the best in the business. Their series win against New Zealand last summer was a watershed moment and they deservedly won the Grand Slam.
Heading to France they will be one of the favourites and could become only the second northern hemisphere team to lift the trophy? What’s stopping them? Injuries to key players, the like of New Zealand, South Africa and France all have even chance which is why this tournament is one of the most open ever.
He will be their man in a few months’ time too – the greatest player in the world will be looking to capture a home win – and it would be a brave punter to bet against them. They combine remorseless forward power with an enviable cutting edge that makes them the all-round real deal.
And with Shaun Edwards, the king of the defence, master-minding their assault on the trophy, they arguably have one of the best coaches in the world. The opening game of the tournament, when France face New Zealand, could be one of the matches of the ages.
It had been a trying and difficult season for the Red Dragon but there are few better than Gatland in understanding and getting the best out of what’s available.
If they reach the quarter-finals then in a one-off contest they have the ability to shock the very best. The game needs a strong Welsh team and with an ageing squad and challenges within the domestic game, Gatland has his work cut out – but don’t bet against a bit of magic from the former British & Irish Lions Head Coach.
Thanks to the brilliant coaching of Gregor Townsend and the mercurial witch-craft of Finn Russell, Scotland are once again trading with the very best. Their Rugby World Cup is hellish however. On the same side of the draw as Ireland South Africa, they will need to produce something incredible to topple them.
But suddenly there is belief, conviction and a thrilling cutting edge in the shape of giant wing Duhan van der Merwe, who scored the try of the tournament against England at Twickenham. There is something about Scotland and their pool progress will be compelling viewing.
But dig a little deeper and you will see genuine green-shoots of progress. They were magnificent against Ireland in Rome for 60 minutes, they were arguably robbed of a famous win against Scotland in the final fixture and were brave and committed against England.
Can they really compete in France? It would only be a fool to suggest they couldn’t hold their own but are likely to come up short against the very best – but watch them go in next year’s Guinness Six Nations Championship.