Ireland and France clear of the field – what we learned from the Six Nations

Ireland were crowned Grand Slam champions with a hard-fought victory over England in Dublin, bringing to a close a captivating Guinness Six Nations.

Here, the PA news agency examines five things learnt from the tournament.

The table doesn’t lie

The final Six Nations table mirrors the global rankings, providing an accurate picture of the balance of power in Europe. Ireland and France will lead the northern hemisphere’s charge at the World Cup this autumn, Scotland are a quality outfit but not equipped to topple the giants, England and Wales are mired in crisis and rapidly-improving Italy just lack the composure at critical moments needed to be truly competitive. As a spectacle the 2023 Six Nations delivered lavishly with the round-two collision between Ireland and France international rugby at its thunderous best.

Ireland and France carry the flag

Europe has never been better positioned to produce a second World Cup winner after England’s vintage of 2003, but important questions still hover over both the main contenders. Ireland showed against England that they possess the resolve to match their tactical precision, but can they overcome a history of peaking before the global showpiece to the point they have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals? And France are also carrying psychological baggage as while worthy favourites, there remains a gnawing doubt over their ability to cope with the pressure of performing at a home World Cup that was given fuel by their wobble against Scotland in round three.

England in the doldrums

Steve Borthwick faces an almighty challenge
Steve Borthwick faces an almighty challenge (Adam Davy/PA)

Sexton strides the Six Nations pantheon

Johnny Sexton is to retire after the World Cup
Johnny Sexton is to retire after the World Cup (Brian Lawless/PA)

Red card divide

Freddie Steward is sent off by Jaco Peyper
Freddie Steward is sent off by Jaco Peyper (Brian Lawless/PA)

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