We've reached the fourth week of the 2016 Six Nations and there have already been some big developments among Europe's best sides. With plenty still to play for, here's our evaluation of their performances so far:
Italy: Grade C
Starting at the bottom of the table; with three defeats from three games, it would appear to be all doom and gloom for the Azzurri once more.
Italy began their Six Nations with a spirited display in Paris. Just a two-point margin separating them from the French at the Stade de France and it looked like they might have finally found the formula to compete with the elite.
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However, the early optimism for Jacques Brunel’s side soon withered away with a resounding defeat against England and further misery against Vern Cotter’s Scottish side.
Currently propping up the table, anything except the wooden spoon for the Italian’s would surely be deemed a success; unfortunately for the Azzurri, trips to Ireland and Wales respectively on the final two weekends of the tournament would appear to offer little hope of picking up the much needed points.
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Ireland: Grade D
With Joe Schmidt’s side searching for a third consecutive Six Nations title, their performances so far have been somewhat uninspiring.
An electric start for the Irish saw an early 13-0 lead at the Aviva Stadium against a somewhat more experienced Welsh side. However, Schmidt would have cause for concern from that moment onwards.
A 16-16 draw after holding such a resounding lead was followed by two defeats on the road against France and England and although they Ireland will undoubtedly have opportunities for two victories as they welcome Scotland and Italy to the Aviva, hopes of a third consecutive title have all but evaporated after just three matches.
Scotland: Grade B
Following an incredibly successful World Cup Campaign, 2016 promised to be the year that Scotland could finally finish in the upper half of the table.
Opening with a highly anticipated Calcutta Cup match against England in which the neutral would have only narrowly backed Eddie Jones' side for the victory, Scotland’s hopes of such a triumph held true until the latter stages of the fixture when their old rivals narrowly left Murrayfield with the two points.
Defeat in Cardiff in round two, once again proved that Scotland were far more prepared to put up a contest against the best of the Northern Hemisphere than they had previously been able to.
A comfortable victory back at Murrayfield against Italy was expected and certainly welcome. That triumph looks to have put Vern Cotter’s side in a good position to take on France and Ireland in rounds four and five.
France: Grade C
With two victories from their three matches, the French can be relatively pleased from their start to the campaign. Nevertheless, those points have been amassed in less than convincing fashion.
With a new coach and an inexperienced starting XV, the Stade de France witnessed an extremely tight contest on day one, as the hosts unconvincingly defeated Italy 23-21.
Since that victory, another narrow win over Ireland in a less than entertaining contest saw France maintain their 100% record and remain level on points with table-toppers England.
Round three however, ended with a sobering defeat against a Welsh side who appeared to be finding their feet in the competition. It's a result that means Guy Novas’ side need to attain full points from their remaining two fixtures - which includes a daunting home tie against England - to secure the championship.
Wales: Grade B
After collecting five points from their opening three matches, Warren Gatland’s side will feel that a victory at Twickenham in round four should be enough to walk away with their first trophy since 2013.
As the most established side in the competition and on the back of a reasonably successful World Cup, Wales were arguably entering 2016 as the tournament’s favourites. However, a slow start against Ireland on day one looked to convey that ‘experience’ may instead be viewed as players continuing beyond their best.
Still, two improved displays against Scotland and France have suggested that Gatland and his captain Sam Warburton may enjoy further success together after all.
England: Grade A
Written off by many after a disastrous World Cup on home soil, England have shown the benefits of keeping together a core of experienced names and simply adding players to the squad who have displayed high levels of form throughout the domestic campaign.
There is little doubt that a second consecutive victory at Twickenham against Wales, after defeating Ireland two weeks earlier, would all but assure England of a joint-record fifth Six Nations trophy.
Nevertheless, there is also little doubt that defeat against Gatland’s side on Saturday would spark further media scrutiny for a nation who have underachieved for some time now.
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