Six Nations 2014: Ranking 20 Biggest Disappointments so Far

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2014

Six Nations 2014: Ranking 20 Biggest Disappointments so Far

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    Two weeks into this year's Six Nations and we're coming upon our first break week of the tournament, leaving no better time to stop and look back over what we've seen thus far.

    However, it's not a unanimously positive venture, despite the fact that Europe's biggest rugby powers coming to one forum has produced some of the best on-pitch quality one's likely to see.

    Indeed, there have been sourer notes, disappointments more specifically; whether it's a player failing to live up to their potential or a team who's simply not doing a good enough job.

    Read on for a rundown of the 20 biggest disappointments to have emerged from the competition so far, with magnitude of the situation and size of the issue—whether it be on an individual or team scale—paying particular significance.

20. Rob Kearney and Mike Phillips Don't Come to Blows over One Direction

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    Wales' 26-3 loss to Ireland in Dublin last week would have been a bitter pill to swallow for any Welsh fan, let alone a player, so the last thing scrum-half Mike Phillips needed was a member of a boyband getting on his case.

    However, that's precisely what happened as One Direction's Niall Horan waded in on Phillips' performance, an insult to which the No. 9 didn't take too kindly:

    Mike Philips is like a child throwing his toys out of the pram! his attitude is terrible, looks like a right arrogant idiot

    — Niall Horan (@NiallOfficial) February 8, 2014

    .@NiallOfficial come down to training in the week big boy. Bring the rest of The Beatles with you

    — mike phillips (@mikephillips009) February 9, 2014

    Luckily for Horan, he's got a high enough profile to see one of Phillips' Irish counterparts come to his rescue, this time in the shape of Rob Kearney. Unfortunately, Kearney deleted his tweet, but the Irish Independent have the entire affair in detail.

    Unfortunately for boxing fans, not a punch was thrown between the British and Irish Lion buddies, although that could have been a matchup worth paying for.

19. Distinct Lack of Mathieu Bastareaud Bruisings

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    At club level it's become a regular occurrence, in this season as much as any other, to see Mathieu Bastareaud bulldozing his way through Top 14 defences as part of a supremely talented Toulon line-up.

    However, sat alongside Wesley Fofana as one of the more experienced centre partnerships in the tournament, second only to Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, Bastareaud hasn't yet hit his stride in terms of picturesque collisions.

    With a maximum of 240 minutes left for the 120-kilogram machine to change that, one can only hope fans are soon treated to a more frequent display of the behemoth's powers.

18. Maxime Medard Unable to Translate Heineken Cup Form

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    This season, French winger Maxime Medard has managed to cross over for four Heineken Cup tries in just five outings for Toulouse, not to mention another quartet of scores in the Top 14.

    However, one of Les Bleus' most respected finishers and among the pre-contest favourites heading into the Six Nations, Medard hasn't picked up his international form with the same tenacity.

    After failing to impress in the opening win over England, the speedster was released by Philippe Saint-Andre for club duty in Week 2, and it's as of yet uncertain if the star will make a return.

17. Warren Gatland's Centre Woes Linger on

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    With Jonathan Davies out of action right now, Wales were lucky to see Scott Williams re-adapt to the international game so comfortably in November, an ease which he appeared to have continued in the Week 1 match against Italy.

    However, Jamie Roberts now sits as the only fully-fit centre staple in Warren Gatland's team, with Williams coming off the worse of the two following a collision with Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll during the second round.

    Davies will hope to make his return to the pitch in Week 3, and if it was up to any neutral, we'd have all six teams competing with six squads each boasting a clean bill of health for the sake of entertainment.

16. Rabah Slimani and Michele Rizzo Butting Heads

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    It's a fairly small point given the physical nature of rugby, but Rabah Slimani and Michele Rizzo let their tempers verge from respectable and into the embarrassing last weekend.

    Ten minutes from the end of France's 30-10 win over Italy, the forward pair become involved in a tussle of heads, and they earned a red card apiece for their headbutting antics, the first red to be seen in a Six Nations match since 2006.

    Rugby may have a reputation for the violent, but even this kind of immature turn is disappointing at international level.

15. Leigh Halfpenny Not Living Up to His Billing

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    Leigh Halfpenny's impending summer move to Toulon would look to confirm the Welshman as one of the premier full-backs in world rugby. However, the Cardiff Blues star hasn't quite been producing at such a world-class level so far.

    That's not to say the 25-year-old hasn't been one of Wales' more impressive backs in his two outings, but "safe" doesn't really speak as highly of a player who last summer broke the British and Irish Lions single-tour points record.

    At his current level of production, one would certainly have to put the likes of Israel Folau, Israel Dagg, Rob Kearney or Willie Le Roux above the soon-to-be Top 14 player.

    Fine kicking always at his side, Halfpenny needs to open up and impress his doubters on a more individual scale, with any critics currently boasting a healthy bit of material on which to base their claims.

14. Dave Kearney Denied Try of the Tournament Contender

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    At every rugby fan's heart lies the thirst for great tries, where even those scores put against their team can be applauded should it be of a good enough standard.

    The TMO was needed in order to decide whether or not Dave Kearney's close call against Scotland, attached, was a try or not, and unfortunately for the Irishman it was the latter that turned out to be true.

    If it stood, it would have resembled Michael Jennings' insanely well-timed try in the National Rugby League Grand Final last year and staked a claim for Try of the Tournament, but it was not to be.

13. Michele Campagnaro's Man of the Match Debut Just Shy of Fairytale

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    Michele Campagnaro couldn't have hoped to make his Six Nations debut in far more spectacular a manner. The 20-year-old Italian centre rampaged to two tries against Wales, earning Man of the Match plaudits and a carrying total of more than 100 metres in the process.

    It was a very balanced, assured display from the youngster, and a Week 1 upset at the Millennium Stadium would have added some extra spice to the tournament.

    However, a 23-15 loss was as far as things got for Campagnaro, effectively meaning his individual wonders were all for nought.

12. English Pain in Paris

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    England arguably hold the most rivalries of any Six Nations participant, whether it be due to their rugby prestige or the contest that teams have with the actual nation, teams love to get one over on the side currently led by Stuart Lancaster.

    Again, for the sake of competition, an English win at the Stade de France in the first round could have helped make the tournament a more open forum, but Gael Fickou's late try ruled out any such hopes.

    Even those who don't get along with the English could sympathise with that utter devastation, following on from what was a very impressive display for the experimental outfit.

    Undoubtedly, there are those out there who won't feel quite the same amount of compassion.

11. Rhys Priestland Not the Answer to Wales' No.10 Drought

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    In the months prior to the tournament, Rhys Priestland, Dan Biggar and Rhys Patchell were heading a tight race for Gatland's No. 10 spot in the Six Nations, whittled down to two after Patchell was ruled out of the contest through injury.

    And Wales could have used another option, too, with Rhys Priestland not exactly cementing his place in the team just yet.

    A superstar fly-half in addition to the other fine backs in Wales' arsenal is the missing piece in making the team truly "world beater" standard, and the search for a successor to the staples of years gone by will assuredly continue before next year's Rugby World Cup.

    The Scarlets star's weaknesses were exposed, alongside a raft of his teammates' in the loss to Ireland, but Priestland must add a touch of the sensational to his game before the fly-half spot is even close to becoming his for good.

10. Murrayfield's Maggot Manifestation

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    Murrayfield and, in turn, the Scottish Rugby Union, came under heavy fire last week due to the condition of the Edinburgh pitch, which some felt clearly wasn't of an international level and had no place hosting a Six Nations clash.

    The Daily Mail's Mike Dawes discussed an alleged maggot infestation which will require the turf to be dug up and remade for competition to continue, but it's really not an excuse for the board.

    Moreover, this issue, and the fact that Scott Johnson's side failed to even put up a fight on their way to a 20-0 drubbing at the hands of England, has led The Telegraph's Paul Hayward to even discuss the option of kicking Scotland out of the tournament.

    Given the quality of their company, it might be considered a justified viewpoint, with "embarrassing" the most apt term to describe Scotland's international setup of late.

9. Les Bleus' Half-Back Pairing Not Yet Up to Speed

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    France have been a well-oiled and impressive machine in their opening rounds, with Philippe Saint-Andre finally assembling a squad that fans can get on board with and, more importantly, is winning matches.

    However, the half-back partnership of Jules Plisson and Jean-Marc Doussain remains one of the more contentious in the squad, even if it has been working well for periods in this championship.

    The pairing is the 10th different combination that Saint-Andre has had between his scrum-half and fly-half selections in 22 matches, averaging a shake-up just under every other game.

    Against Italy, there were times when Les Bleus lacked fluidity or a calming mood, and if one were to nitpick over an area of the squad that needs level heads, the No. 9 and No. 10 jerseys would be it.

8. Italy Lose out on Trademark Scrum Advantage

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    Even if their on-pitch quality has never truly been up to par with the rest of their Six Nations combatants, Italy have always been able to compete in one very particular area—the scrum.

    However, with new scrum rules now firmly in play, the Azzurri have at times struggled to match their foes at the set piece, which is somewhat damaging given that Jacques Brunel's team need every advantage they can get.

7. Nigel Owens Can Only Referee One Match Per Week

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    For some years now, Nigel Owens has been regarded as one of the finest referees in world rugby, and, just two games into this year's fiesta, he's already validating precisely why.

    With a background in stand-up comedy, the Welshman continues to handle matters with a tough approach that sometimes verges on the funny, not necessarily for the players, but certainly for those at home, with the attached video being one such example.

    As long as Owens continues to take his same, stiff attitude with the monoliths of the rugby world, there's nobody that can be upset with the quality of the official's work, it's just a shame he isn't able to take charge of more matches.

6. Italy's 10-Minute Paris Capitulation

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    By the time we had reached the midway mark in Paris last weekend, Italy were just 9-3 down to France, having missed out on a couple of kicking opportunities and looking like they might be able to cause an upset.

    However, between 42 and 52 minutes, the Azzurri conceded 21 points to rule out any such claims.

    French sympathisers will undoubtedly have found it a relief to see such a fine response to their first-half profligacy, but, to the average viewer, it meant that a David vs. Goliath story unfolding was no longer on the cards.

5. Azzurri's Youngsters Struggling to Inspire

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    In a bid to stage an Italian revolution, coach Brunel has placed an immense amount of faith in several members of his squad this year, bringing the uncapped duo Guglielmo Palazzani and Angelo Esposito into the fold, not to mention another four players still with single-digit cap tallies.

    Along with Esposito, Tommaso Allan and centre Michele Campagnaro will have been some of those starlets around whom a lot of high hopes were placed, but those hopes have so far come to nothing.

    The loss to France was easily the more incriminating of Italy's disappointments thus far, and, while heart and determination count for a lot, results are all that matter in the end.

    As of right now, this Italian crop simply isn't earning such results just yet, regardless of how promising some of those aged 23 and under may be for the years to come.

4. Captaincy Conundrums

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    As previously mentioned, any rugby fan simply wants to see the best of the best compete for their entertainment, but securing the presence of those stars has been a difficult feat this year.

    Almost every participating nation has had to deal with some sort of absence in their captaincy, which has led to some unfortunate omissions from the competition.

    Thierry Dusautoir was ruled out before the tournament could even begin for France, while Sam Warburton's recent recovery from injury saw him miss playing time in Week 1, and some are of the disposition that it should be Alun-Wyn Jones leading the Welsh.

    What's more, Paul O'Connell's illness meant he had to wait until Week 2 for his return, and Kelly Brown was an audacious drop for Scott Johnson to make in the second round.

    It's been far from the steady ship that some would have enjoyed viewing in terms of what leaders we see on the pitch; it's just as well the rest of the talent on show is enough to make up for it.

3. Scotland's Loss of Attacking Impetus

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    Under Johnson's tutelage, Scotland have come on in their quest to once again become an attacking power among Europe's elite, bringing tries back into their game after a period of barren offensive strategy.

    However, that progress hasn't been anywhere in view in recent weeks, with the team yet to touch down for their first score of the tournament, albeit against the stiff competition of Ireland and England.

2. Brian O'Driscoll's Last Six Nations

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    Ireland have looked highly impressive in their opening weeks of this year's contest, but there's likely an overriding feeling of disappointment in the Dublin camp that this is the last Six Nations to feature Brian O'Driscoll.

    At 35 years of age, the Irish legend has opted to retire from rugby this summer, and, with that thought in mind, every touch of magic and flair that he impresses upon the game only makes it that much harsher a fate to accept.

1. Wales Fail to Fight in Dublin

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    In search of a historic third successive Six Nations title, Wales entered the 2014 rendition as one of the hot favourites to once again claim top spot.

    However, a gutless display in Dublin, devoid of tactical nuance or the ability to fight strategy with strategy, has left some in doubt of Gatland's side.

    A 26-3 mauling by the Irish wouldn't have been on the predictions of many, but it was nevertheless an embarrassing way for the Welsh to take to the Aviva Stadium, and it will have left others feeling that Gatland's side are wholly beatable.

    Granted, this was a very fine Ireland team that Wales lost to, but it was the kind of display that brings to mind the old parental cliche: "I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed."