Sir Clive Woodward has warned that Wales’ dismal home defeat to Italy will throw a long shadow over the sport.
While Wales was celebrating Alun Wyn Jones’ 150th cap and Dan Biggar’s 100th, the Azzurri were ‘quietly fancying their chances’ at the Principality Stadium, according to the England World Cup winning coach.
He claimed that the Six Nations had devolved into a two-tiered competition, with champions France and Triple Crown winners Ireland competing separately. Wales, England, and Scotland, he believes, will join Italy in the second division.
In a commentary for the Mail, Woodward expressed his concerns for Wales, writing:
“Until Saturday I thought they were punching above their weight in an injury-ravaged season, but that defeat will cast a long shadow. They looked flat.
“What a boost for Italian rugby. I can’t claim that I anticipated the win but Italy have unquestionably been improving this season.
“But for a couple of unkind calls in Rome last week they could have run Scotland very close and on Saturday you could see they had a good mindset.
“While Wales were celebrating various player milestones, Italy clearly fancied their chances. I am 100 per cent opposed to South Africa replacing them in the Six Nations, which is a European competition and must remain so. For Italy to start becoming competitive would be a huge boon.”
Judging the tournament as a whole, Woodward said:
“My take is that there are manifestly two divisions. There are France and Ireland and then there are the rest.
“France and Ireland are forging ahead in their understanding of the modern game, their skill levels and attacking intent and the tempo they attempt to play the game at. I still believe in promotion and relegation but it would be great if it wasn’t always Italy having to run that gauntlet.”