Six Nations 2015

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Tom Hamilton

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Tom Hamilton was brought up near the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in 2011. He is now Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
Follow him on Twitter @tomESPNscrum

Rugby World Cup
Six Nations prospects for the Rugby World Cup
Tom Hamilton
March 23, 2015
Ireland will go into the championship as Six Nations holders © Getty Images
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It was meant to be the championship where the six teams showcased their World cup claims. ESPNscrum's Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering, starting with champions Ireland...

Ireland

Out of all the six teams, Ireland's game plan is most attuned to a World Cup. In the last three finals, a total of four tries have been scored. It is a statistic that paints a picture of territory-based, tactical rugby with no margins for errors. Do not expect to see a duplication of the Harlem Globetrotters-esque final day of the Six Nations in the knockout stages of the World Cup. Ireland showed they have both strings to their bow with the kicking masterclass of their win over England dovetailing nicely with the brutality they overwhelmed Scotland with.

One cautionary tale will be their loss in Wales where they failed to convert spells of domination. That will give Joe Schmidt food for thought but a team who wins back-to-back Six Nations titles is clearly on the right path. The fitness of their key protagonists Sean O'Brien, Paul O'Connell, Jamie Heaslip, Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton is vital while Robbie Henshaw will need to continue his upward curve of form. Ireland are looking good for a spot at least in the final four.

England

Jonathan Joseph breaks through Stuart Hogg's tackle to score for England, England v Scotland, Six Nations, Twickenham, London, March 14, 2015
Jonathan Joseph's form was a huge positive for England © Getty Images
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They are a frustrating bunch. For all the endeavour they showed against Wales and the free-flowing brilliance of their win over France, the squandered chances against Scotland and their struggles in Dublin paint a picture of a team still developing.

Stuart Lancaster is pinning much on their pre-World Cup training camps and such is his belief in the competition for places, he feels the 15-v-15 matches in training will give him enough of an indication for just who should make their final 31-man squad. Players like Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt and Joe Launchbury will be given chances to stake their claims while George Ford, Billy Vunipola and Jonathan Joseph have done enough in the championship to ensure their stock is as high as ever.

England need to work on handling - knock-ons were far too frequent - and their clinical play when the opposition is scrambling. There are plenty of positives for England but it was another championship where they finished in second. The World Cup may just come too soon for them.

Wales

Liam Williams bursts through for Wales' first try of the second half, Italy v Wales, Six Nations, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, March 21, 2015
Liam Williams announced himself on the Test stage © Getty Images
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It all seemed so grim after they fell at home to England. But then came the green shoots of recovery. You sense Wales are keeping a few things up their sleeve for the World Cup. There are several positives for Wales. Liam Williams has lived up to his potential - his performance against Italy was fantastic - while Alun Wyn Jones continues to ignore any bumps and scrapes to lead from the front. Taulupe Faletau had a great championship, as did the half-backs, while they will take heart from the fact Sam Warburton played all five games. And then there is Leigh Halfpenny who missed most of their win over Italy due to a bang on the head but he had another fantastic campaign.

If Wales start the World Cup well, they could go far but in the most competitive of pools - alongside England and Australia - they may need more days like their Italian jaunt when they come up against Uruguay and Fiji. The only concern is the front row. If Samson Lee misses the start of the tournament, they need their other tight-heads to come of age, quickly.

France

Philippe Saint-Andre looks on, France v Wales, Six Nations, Stade de France, February 28, 2015
Philippe Saint-Andre has much to ponder © Getty Images
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Finally we saw the France we know and love, but they look to be so far off the World Cup pace. But as we know from yesteryear, even an out-of-sorts France is a dangerous beast. Philippe Saint-Andre's neck has been on the block throughout the whole championship and although he looks to have been granted a stay of execution, France still look confused.

They attacked with intent against England but were so porous in defence. Vincent Debaty's try will go down as one of the great outliers in Six Nations history but alongside those remarkable double-blink moments are the memories of their dire game plan against Scotland.

The South African influence has been evident with Scott Spedding and Rory Kockott playing throughout but it is the former who has more chance of being a mainstay in the team. The form of Guilhem Guirado and Thierry Dusautoir has been a positive but there are those lingering doubts over just what France will turn up. That old cliché is more pertinent now than ever. They could still be a force in the World Cup but they need to find some consistency and a way to bridge the club-v-country scraps.

Italy

Sergio Parisse roars with delight at the full-time whistle, Scotland v Italy, Six Nations, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Scotland, February 28, 2015
Sergio Parisse was again Italy's best player © Getty Images
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Without a decent fly-half, Italy will never trouble the top table of international rugby. Kelly Haimona looks more suited to inside centre as at present he is one of the world's few crash-ball fly-halves while Tommaso Allan never had a chance to impress due to injury. Luciano Orquera is little more than a competent club-level fly-half. That is one thing Jacques Brunel needs to solve ahead of the World Cup but they do have talent elsewhere on the field.

Leonardo Sarto had a great tournament as did scrum-half Edoardo Gori and lock Joshua Furno. Matias Aguero acquitted himself well while the ageless Sergio Parisse put in a shift until injury ruled him out of their final match against Wales. If they had a team of 15 Parisses, they'd be some side.

The task at the World Cup will be tough. They are alongside Ireland and France in Pool B and at present, Ireland should win that group comfortably leaving the Azzurri and Les Bleus fighting for second place. They could do it, but it seems unlikely.

Scotland

Greig Laidlaw leads Scotland from the field, Scotland v Italy, Six Nations, Murrayfield, Six Nations, February 28, 2015
More Wooden Spoon misery for Scotland © Getty Images
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One step forward, two back for Scotland. For all the endeavour they showed against France and Wales, they flopped at home against Italy, should have been hammered by England and folded against Ireland. Blair Cowan, Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and the two centres Mark Bennett and Alex Dunbar had good championships but Scotland were left to collect the Wooden Spoon yet again. The World Cup will see them face South Africa and Samoa; it is the latter match-up which will decide whether they reach the knockout stages.

Vern Cotter will have been impressed with some aspects of their play but the true magnitude of the task he faces at Scotland will have now hit home. They need to have a hugely effective pre-World Cup training camp if they are to trouble the knockout stages of the tournament.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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