Oval Talk

Six Nations: Grading the teams so far

Kieran Beckles of Yahoo! Contributor Network grades each of the Six Nations teams on their performance so far as we approach the third round of games.

1. Ireland - A

Joe Schmidt could hardly have envisaged a better start to his first Six Nations campaign as Ireland head coach. There were positives signs coming into the championship after coming close to beating unbeaten New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium. And Ireland have built on that performance instead of wallowing in self-pity. Admittedly, Schmidt's men were expected to beat Scotland in their opener but the Irish still did so with aplomb. The biggest litmus test of the New Zealander's reign so far came against defending champions Wales. Ireland were relentless against Warren Gatland's men as they notched up an emphatic 26-3 win. The form of Peter O'Mahony and Jamie Heaslip is a particular plus heading to Twickenham this weekend.

2. France - B+

It is ironic that the two sides who propped up the Six Nations table last year are leading the way in the current campaign. It could be much different for Philippe Saint-Andre and France as the Stade de France was noticeably quiet as England appeared to be heading towards an opening win. Gael Fickou rescued Les Bleus in dramatic style to inflict on Stuart Lancaster only his third Six Nations loss in charge of the Red Rose. France weren't at their flamboyant best against Italy either until Wesley Fofana turned on the style in the second half. Next up for France is a test against a Wales side smarting from their loss in Dublin. At the Millennium Stadium, we should really get an idea of which France side will see out this championship and if they're genuine contenders.

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3. England - B-

Stuart Lancaster's men are in third place behind early pacesetters Ireland and France. The England head coach is building towards the 2015 World Cup on home soil and Lancaster had a chance to see how his blossoming side would fare in the Stade de France cauldron. For 35 minutes, the Red Rose struggled to get going as France soared into a 16-3 lead, before scrum-half Danny Care came to the fore and helped mastermind an England comeback. First England tries for Mike Brown and debutant Luther Burrell left the visitors on the brink of a famous win before a last-gasp Gael Fickou effort cruelly denied Lancaster's men victory. It was the third defeat of Lancaster's England tenure in the Six Nations and like great (or potentially great) sides should, England responded against Scotland. The Red Rose steamrolled their way to victory to secure a 20-0 win, their first win of the championship and the Calcutta Cup. Like Wales did last year, England will hope to win the Six Nations title despite a losing start.

4. Wales - C

The reigning Six Nations champions have made a poor start to the defence of their title following an unconvincing win against the Italians and a hammering in Dublin. Warren Gatland will have be worried by his scrum after a stodgy 23-15 win against the Italians at the Millennium Stadium in their Six Nations opener. After a decorated spell at the top of European rugby, the Red Dragon look tired and lack a plan B, which was ruthlessly exposed by Ireland. Schmidt's men replicated a performance similar to the one which left them on the brink of a first-ever victory over New Zealand last autumn, and Wales had no answer. With mounting injury concerns, Gatland needs a rethink to salvage their championship. Let's not forget Wales lost to the Irish in the opening game last year and still won the title.

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5. Italy - C

Not faring quite as badly as Scotland, albeit due to a better points difference, the Azzurri are residing in fifth place. Like the Scots, Italy finished in a credible fourth place last year thanks to memorable wins over France and Ireland at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Italy were commendable losers at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff as the visitors came from 17-3 down to eventually lose 23-15. In particular, Michele Campagnaro was a standout for Italy as he scored two tries to make the defeat look more respectable. Next up was Les Bleus and Saint-Andre's men exacted revenge for their 2013 defeat. Despite a commanding-sounding 30-10 win, France failed to move up the gears until the second half thanks to tries from Louis Picamoles, Fofana and Hugo Bonneval after a 9-3 half-time score. For Italy, it will be a case of winning their home games against Scotland and England to show progress.

6. Scotland - C-

It isn't too surprising to see the Scots propping up the Six Nations table. Scott Johnson's men were widely tipped to struggle following a strong showing in last year's championship. There is no doubt that the Tartan Men were aided by the struggles of Ireland and France as they secured a third-placed finish. Scotland faced a very different Irish side in their opening game. Joe Schmidt has revitalised Heaslip and company, and the home side were comfortable 28-6 winners at the Aviva Stadium. What will be of greater disappointment for Johnson and Scotland's supporters is their performance against Lancaster's men. England were fresh from a morale-sapping last-minute 26-24 loss to France at the Stade de France. After expending so much energy for little reward, Scotland had a chance to spring an attack on a potentially wearisome England side. However, the Red Rose ran out emphatic 20-0 winners. With Johnson supposedly rebuilding, it isn't going to plan at the moment.

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