Wales win Six Nations as Scotland stun France in Paris
A last gasp try from Duhan Van Der Merwe gave Scotland their first win in Paris since 1999, as Wales win this year’s Six Nations.
by Calum Robert Nelson
Courtesy of SNS Group via Getty Images
On Friday night, Scotland defeated France 23-27 at the Stade de France, bringing the 2021 Six Nations to a close. Coming into the game, France needed a bonus point and a winning margin of at least 21 points to prize the title away from Wales, but it proved too great a challenge. Their defeat saw Wales crowned champions as they claim their 6th title since the competition’s inception in 2000.
The match was originally due to be played on the 28th of February but had to be rescheduled following an outbreak of COVID-19 in the French squad. From the start of the game, Scotland flew out the blocks, pinning France in their own 22 for much of the opening half. They went ahead through a Van Der Merwe try, before Brice Dulin responded against the run of play to give the hosts a 13-10 lead at the break.
In the second half, a brilliant chip and chase try from Damian Penaud rounded off a well-crafted team move to give France hope, but with Scotland showing resilience it soon became apparent the French would not open a 21-point gap. A late sending off for Finn Russell looked to have ended the Scot’s chance of victory. But right at the death, with 85 minutes on the clock and France leading 23-20, Scotland made their relentless pressure count as Van Der Merwe dived across the line to seal the historic victory.
The match was an extraordinary finale to an extraordinary tournament. With no supporters present in the stadiums, you could be forgiven for thinking this year’s Six Nations might have been a drab spectacle. It turned out to be anything but, with many exciting and closely contested matches full of drama. So, with the tournament wrapped up, let’s look back at how each nation fared.
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This year’s champions. The last week has been a rollercoaster for Wales, going from the heartbreak of their Grand Slam loss against France, to the jubilation of winning the title. They were largely dismissed as contenders before the tournament, but you can never write Wales off in the Six Nations. After having lost 4 of the 5 games last year, they have made remarkable progress and were the deserving champions this time around. So many Welsh players excelled, such as George North, Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau and Dan Biggar, to name just a few, with a special mention to 20-year-old Louis Rees-Zammit. The winger has been the break-out star of this year’s tournament, after scoring a try on his Six Nations debut in the opening match against Ireland. He then followed this up with another against Italy and two more, including the winning try, in his man-of-the-match performance against Scotland. He looks a very special talent, with a big future in the game.
Les Bleus started the tournament by putting seven tries past Italy and followed with a clinical performance against Ireland, defending well and taking their chances when it mattered. The game against Wales was one of the most incredible Six Nations matches of recent times, with France putting in a fantastic performance to come back and win 32-30 in injury time, keeping their title hopes alive. Despite their losses against England and Scotland, the French are building a very strong squad, and look like serious contenders heading into the World Cup in 2022. Scrum-half Antoine Dupont is already a star of world rugby, and had another stellar tournament, providing 3 tries and a further 5 assists. Arguably the player of the tournament, he is so influential to everything France does.
Third-placed Ireland have had an inconsistent tournament, starting with back-to-back defeats at the hands of Wales and France, before finding some form in the following three matches. The final game against England showed an Ireland side performing at their very best, as they convincingly won 32-18 to give CJ Stander the perfect send-off in his final game. 35 -year-old Johnny Sexton topped the scoring table with 65 points, showing he still has more than enough quality to pull the strings for Ireland after some people wrote him off for being too old. Robbie Henshaw provided constant energy and defensive quality while Taidhg Beirne had a colossal tournament, winning man of the match against Italy and Scotland.
Scotland’s tournament has been one of breaking hoodoos. Beginning with a famous Calcutta Cup victory over England, their first at Twickenham since 1983, and ending with the history-making win in Paris. The 52-10 victory over Italy at Murrayfield was their biggest ever Six Nations win. They will, however, look back on the tournament as a missed opportunity to achieve their best ever Six Nations finish, having lost out by just 1 point to Ireland and 3 to Wales. But Scotland will be very happy with the big strides they’ve made this year. It was another fantastic Six Nations for captain Stuart Hogg, but Finn Russell and Hamish Watson have also showed great consistency throughout. Winger Duhan Van Der Merwe will attract the headlines though, as the competition’s top try scorer with 5 tries.
It was a disastrous 6 Six Nations for the previous holders, who came into this year’s tournament as slim favourites. England conceded a record number of points over the five games, with poor losses to Scotland, Wales and Ireland. They did come back to show some grit and resilience to edge a gripping contest against France. But the win was followed by another disappointing showing as they were comfortably beaten by Ireland in the final match. Anthony Watson was a bright light in an otherwise abject team as he managed 4 tries, while Maro Itoje showed glimpses of his quality despite a lack of discipline at times. England have a squad laden with undoubted quality but looks in need of a freshening up. There will be serious questions asked as to where they go from here, with calls for coach Eddie Jones to leave. The Australian has been in charge for 6 years now and perhaps a new direction is needed.
Italy are always up against it when it comes to the Six Nations, but this has been a particularly dismal tournament for the Azzurri. This year really highlighted how far behind the other nations they are at the moment, underlined by harsh calls for them to be removed in the future. The defeat to Scotland in their final match was their 32nd successive defeat, having not won a Six Nations match since 2015. The young squad attacked well but a lack of discipline and organisation hampered their defence throughout the competition. It is difficult to pick a standout performer, but captain Luca Bigi racked up an impressive 73 successful tackles over the 5 matches and got on the scoresheet with a try against Scotland.