Rugby World Cup 2019: Where do home nations stand after Six Nations?

The battle for the Six Nations has only just reached its conclusion, but attention has already shifted to 2019's showpiece event - the World Cup.

The final day had just about everything as Wales cruised past 2018 champions Ireland to win the Grand Slam, and Scotland produced a memorable fightback to almost beat England at Twickenham for the first time in 36 years.

So where do the four home nations stand before the World Cup? BBC pundits review last weekend and look ahead to autumn's tournament in Japan.

Wales - 'genuine contenders for the World Cup'

Past, future and present
2015 World Cup: Knocked out in quarter-final by South Africa
2019 World Cup: Pool D v Georgia, Australia, Fiji, Uruguay
Final Six Nations position: 1st

Former Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies: "Wales' defence has been awesome and the discipline has been good, but they can improve offensively. They still have Leigh Halfpenny's boot to welcome back and Taulupe Faletau to improve that pack, because he is a world-class number eight. I think mentally they have toughed up as well. After years of narrow defeats by the southern hemisphere sides they put away South Africa and Australia this autumn, and they never looked like giving up that game against Ireland."

England scrum-half Danny Care: "Before the tournament, everyone was saying Ireland would smash it like last year, and Wales just went about their business quietly. They haven't played particularly well but the second half against England and the entire Ireland match were genuinely world class. They can't make it the same atmosphere in Japan as in Cardiff but their fans will go out there and support them. They have got a target on their heads now but they are genuine contenders for the World Cup."

Former England and British and Irish Lions centre Jeremy Guscott: "Wales are a squad that are all playing well as individuals. Every member of their team showed up in a big way in the big matches and that temperament stands them in good stead for Japan. The first half against France and the second half against Scotland were the only periods where they were slightly below par. Their defence is superb and they conceded 35 points less than anyone else across the Six Nations."

Player to watch in Japan - Josh Adams (winger)

Josh Adams
Guscott: "Considering the size of some of the backs in the tournament, he is a relative lightweight, but he has been brilliant. After a couple of early mistakes, he bounced back with that superb leap, juggle and score to seal the win against England and then a lovely side-step past Blair Kinghorn to score against Scotland."

England - 'they can do some special things in Japan'

Past, future and present
2015 World Cup: Knocked out in pool stages
2019 World Cup: Pool C v Tonga, USA, Argentina, France
Final Six Nations position: 2nd

Former England and British and Irish Lions winger Ugo Monye: "I wanted to see someone manufacture a moment of quiet on the pitch against Scotland, where you pull people together. They have the leaders and it needed Jamie George, George Kruis, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly to all come together and work it out. They had to break Scotland's scoring pattern and stunt their rhythm with a drop-goal or a penalty because they scored five unanswered tries. Eddie Jones has to have a conversation with his leaders and understand what happened on the pitch because they will be on the plane home if it happens in Japan."

Care: "You would much prefer to have these things happen now so they can be addressed and fixed, than in the pool stages at a World Cup. You don't want to peak now and we have seen that they can beat anyone on their day, and yes there are still things they can work on, but you want to peak on 2 November [World Cup final]. I'm confident they can go to Japan and do some special things."

Guscott: "To let a game go, like England did against Scotland, is almost unforgiveable. For whatever reason they thought the game was done and once the tide started flowing the other way, they could not regain that momentum. That is a habit they have to kick before the World Cup. However, I love the gameplan that England came into the tournament with. With accurate kicking and a fast chase, they dictated that the game would be played in the opponents' half and field position was preferable to possession. It put lots of pressure on the opposition and it was very well thought out. When it went wrong for England it was not the tactics, but the execution."

Player to watch in Japan (if selected) - Danny Cipriani (fly-half)

Danny Cipriani
Monye: "As much as we celebrate Finn Russell and his ability to change a match, England have one of those players that isn’t in the squad. George Ford was brilliant off the bench and Owen Farrell is great, but when we talk about game-changers, I just wonder why we don’t make more of these talented players. When defence is ruling the roost, and the best defensive side have won the Grand Slam, you need players that can unlock the door and Danny Cipriani is one of those guys."

Ireland - 'they have been slightly worked out'

Past, future and present
2015 World Cup: Knocked out in quarter-final by Argentina
2019 World Cup: Pool A v Scotland, Japan, Russia, Samoa
Final Six Nations position: 3rd

Care: "Ireland have got the players, the coaches and the gameplan to get back on track. We saw them comfortably beat the very best team in the world in November. I think they are having a rocky patch similar to England the year before. It's hard to back it up and it's almost like a second-season syndrome. I would not be overly worried if I was an Irish fan."

Monye: "You don't turn into a bad team overnight but Ireland haven't got out of gear in these championships. If Ireland have a point of difference it's their attack and the moment Joe Schmidt wanted the roof closed, I thought that was a tactical error because we knew Wales would front up and play a smart game. The best thing to happen to these Irish players is going back to their provinces and playing club rugby because they could have played another four or five games and I'm not sure it would have changed much. They are in a little bit of a rut and they need some energy from elsewhere."

Guscott: "I don't think anyone can believe how far off the cliff Ireland have fallen from their 2018 standards. It was only November when they beat New Zealand. I think they have been slightly worked out. If you stop CJ Stander, James Ryan, Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy, you can slow them up. Neither Johnny Sexton nor Conor Murray looked comfortable and there was a stream of basic errors and indiscipline, which is so unlike what they were doing last year."

Davies: "Ireland seem to have lost their mojo. They were very good in execution last year but they got manhandled and bullied by England and they have not looked the same since. They have not had the same platform for Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton and the forwards seem to have lost some of their go-forward. Ireland have a history of underperforming at World Cups as well, which adds a bit more weight and pressure to them."

Player to watch in Japan - Cian Healy (loose-head prop)

Cian Healy
Guscott: "He challenges the gain-line, with strong, aggressive carries. He has that animal streak as well; if he starts going backwards, it provokes a reaction from him."

Scotland - 'a match for anyone' at full strength

Past, future and present
2015 World Cup: Knocked out in quarter-final by Australia
2019 World Cup: Pool A v Ireland, Japan, Russia, Samoa
Final Six Nations position: 5th

Davies: "Scotland need to clear the medical room and get their big names back in the team, because then they are a match for anyone. They fall off too many tackles and they were dreadful in that first half against England on Saturday. If they can cut out the errors and do the basics better it will result in a huge improvement. Finn Russell is playing well at the moment, Hamish Watson is back and Stuart Hogg will give them a massive lift when he comes back."

Guscott: "Finn Russell is the Scotland team, whether they like it or not. His style of play though may not be conducive to winning tournaments. It can win you games, but over a whole campaign you have to be more conservative than his high-wire act. Even New Zealand, with the individual skills that they have, cannot play wide, wide, wide all the time. There has to be some tight, straight play to draw in the defence. Russell is just Marmite for people - he has moments of brilliance and brain freezes and you either love that or don't. That is the nature of how he plays. When his passes stick, they are brilliant, but when they don't he is a liability."

Monye: "Finn Russell is the quarterback and fair play to him for standing up to Gregor Townsend at half-time when he said they were going to stop kicking the ball because England kept running it straight back and scoring. He has moved to France and he is just getting better. The pass over the top and the no-look pop to Sam Johnson was brilliant. He lies with his eyes and because he has such a brilliant skill-set, it makes him one of the best numbers 10s in the world. To go out and produce that after a disappointing first half shows how good a player he is."

Player to watch in Japan - Finn Russell (fly-half)

Finn Russell
Care: "It was horrible to watch him pick apart the England defence in the second half at Twickenham, but you have to applaud him. He knew Owen Farrell was going to throw the middle pass and he backed himself, under pressure on the biggest stage, to step up and intercept the ball. It was an unbelievable half by Scotland and by Finn Russell."


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