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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 March, 2004, 23:11 GMT
Six Nations: End of term report
By Jonathon Moore
Rugby union editor

As the 2004 RBS Six Nations comes to a close, BBC Sport considers what each country can take away from the championship.


FRANCE: POWER WINS THROUGH

There was little evidence of their traditionally expansive running game but France still finished top of the pile to claim their fourth Grand Slam in eight years.

France struggled to get above second gear
France struggled to get above second gear
Despite looking almost bored at times, Les Blues came to life in Paris against England to gain revenge for their World Cup semi-final defeat in Australia.

With a menacing pack led superbly by the 'dream team' of Olivier Magne, Serge Betsen and Imanol Harinordoquy, France sucked the life out of their opponents by denying them possession.

And what they lacked in flair, they more than made up for in passion and commitment.

Italy and Scotland were dispatched without scoring a point and only in the second half of Saturday's decider against England in Paris did Bernard Laporte's team ever look truly troubled.

Top of the class: Centre Yannick Jauzion was at the heart of everything France did behind the scrum.

Bottom of the class: Christophe Dominici was labelled "imbecilic" by his own coach after cruising over the try-line only to fumble the ball against his own knee.

FINISHED: GRAND SLAM WINNERS
MARK: 8.5/10


IRELAND: WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

Ireland's fans will end the season frustrated, despite winning the Triple Crown.

Their victory over England proved beyond all doubt they were capable of the Grand Slam - but they lacked belief when it mattered in Paris.

Ireland impressed hugely this term
Ireland could - and probably should - have won the Grand Slam
That loss aside, the current Ireland crop is as good as any in history and, in centre Gordon D'Arcy, they have uncovered another midfield genius.

As Wales discovered to their cost, a trip to Dublin is now a match to be feared and with their regional sides also continuing to impress, the future of the game across the Irish Sea is as rosy as ever.

Strong in the set piece, the Irish pack rarely takes a backward step. And with finishers of the class of Geordan Murphy, captain Brian O'Driscoll and the incoming D'Arcy, they should now be rightly regarded as one of the world's top five teams.

Top of the class: Centre Gordon D'Arcy is the find of the year and his midfield partnership with captain Brian O'Driscoll is the most exciting in the world game.

Bottom of the class: A harsh choice, considering his match-winning try against England, but full-back Girvan Dempsey still looks well below his best.

FINISHED: SECOND
MARK: 8/10


ENGLAND: WORLD CUP HANGOVER

England never managed to live up to their billing as world champions and badly missed both retired captain Martin Johnson and injured fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.

England suffered the worst of World Cup hangovers
England badly missed their retired captain Martin Johnson
Against Ireland their set piece took a battering, while Wales exposed their vulnerability out wide.

Despite flashes of brilliance from Jason Robinson and some superb individual tries from Ben Cohen, England looked bereft of ideas going forward and will need to improve considerably ahead of their summer tour to New Zealand and Australia.

But despite all that, they came within a whisker of defeating France in Paris after trailing 21-3 at half-time.

Top of the class: Captain Lawrence Dallaglio refused to take a backward step .

Bottom of the class: Prop Phil Vickery failed to live up to his billing as one of the world's best.

FINISHED: THIRD
MARK: 6/10


WALES: THE GREAT ENTERTAINERS

Wales end the championship as they started: potentially deadly but woefully inconsistent.

Wales lit up the championship with some sublime back play
Wales lit up the championship with some sublime back play
Their backline play is often sublime and they have also unearthed some impressive bulk in lock Michael Owen and number eight Dafydd Jones.

With perhaps the quickest back three in European rugby, they have the firepower to cut through any team - but find themselves handicapped by a poor set piece.

Time and again they were shoved back in the scrum and their line-out play was equally embarrassing.

The good news is, when they do get the ball, they are capable of attacking from anywhere.

Kiwi coach Steve Hansen may have left for home, but should Mike Ruddock prove capable of building on his legacy, Wales could be capable of a serious title challenge next season.

Top of the class: New Welsh try-scoring record-holder Gareth Thomas is in the form of his life, despite being played out of position.

Bottom of the class: Sublime or ridiculous? Former league hero Iestyn Harris remains frustratingly inconsistent.

FINISHED: FOURTH
MARK: 7/10


ITALY: NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PACE

Despite their 44-10 defeat against Wales, Italy remain one of the most improved sides in the world game - thanks to coach John Kirwan.

In Martin Castrogiovanni and Andrea Lo Cicero they have two impressive props and Fabio Ongaro has shone at hooker.

Italy failed to grab their first ever away win in the championship
Italy failed to grab their first ever away win in the championship
Behind the pack, however, they have struggled to assert themselves and have lacked any cutting edge in attack.

Paul Griffen bosses the match well from scrum-half but neither Roland de Marigny nor Rima Wakarua have led with distinction at fly-half.

Victory over Scotland in Rome was another example of how dangerous the Azzurri can be in Italy.

But Kirwan failed to achieve his real aim this season - his side's first Six Nations win away from home.

Top of the class: Fiery scrum-half Paul Griffen could provide Italy with a long-term replacement for Alessandro Troncon.

Bottom of the class: Denis Dallan is more plodder than paceman and looked ill-at-ease on the wing all season.

FINISHED: FIFTH
MARK: 6/10


SCOTLAND: ON THE ROCKS

Scottish rugby is in a woeful state. Not only did their international side finish the season with the Wooden Spoon, but their three regional sides are propping up the bottom of the Celtic League table.

Scottish rugby is in dire need of a lift
Scottish coach Matt Williams has the most difficult job in world rugby
New coach Matt Williams inherited a team devoid of experience, but his side's campaign this term has been among the worst in Scottish history.

Despite putting up a brave showing in Dublin, the Scots lack fire up front and pace behind the scrum.

Worryingly for the fans, there are no quick fixes for the national coach, whose cupboard remains all-but bare.

Top of the class: Flanker Jason White has impressed in a pack that has looked well below par all season.

Bottom of the class: Fly-half Chris Paterson struggled to direct the backline with any distinction and finished the championship at full-back.

FINISHED: LAST
MARK: 3/10




RBS SIX NATIONS 2004


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RBS Six Nations table
Tuesday 26 Apr
    P PD PTS
1 Wales 5 74 10
2 France 5 52 8
3 Ireland 5 25 6
4 England 5 44 4
5 Scotland 5 -71 2
6 Italy 5 -124 0

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