It’s strange to think that the Championship may have already been won before the whistle for half-time was blown by Nigel Owens in Twickenham last Saturday. England already secured the bonus point by exploiting the acres of space behind the French defensive line and having the fastest man on the field chase the ball down, Jonny May. Speaking of May, I’m glad to see one of my predictions for player of the tournament scoring surely the quickest hat trick in Six Nations history. May wasn’t the only player to impress. The half-back partnership of Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs was on fire while the forwards, in particular Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola, demonstrated how not allowing their opponents reach the gain line can neutralise an attack and force them into kicking possession away. It makes it easier that the French chasers were always a few meters from the English player receiving the ball, allowing for England to launch their counter-attack and punish Les Blues.
It was clear last year that England needed to change their losing ways with having a 50% win rate in 2018. This was 3.8% less than the Springboks win rate in 2017 where Allister Coetzee was replaced by Rassie Erasmus as head coach at the end of the season. Although, Coetzee being replaced probably has more to do with South Africa’s dismal 2016 season. Nevertheless, after the placing fifth in the Six Nations and losing the summer series to a rising South African team, the RFU warned Jones that they were expecting a successful Autumn series in Twickenham. Jones mostly delivered on this with wins over South Africa, Australia and Japan and a narrow loss to the All Blacks in the Autumn. Nevertheless, there was still plenty room for improvement.
This improvement was on display in the Aviva stadium in the first week of the competition against an Ireland. A dominant display by the English forwards allowed Farrell to exploit both his father’s defensive system and Robbie Henshaw’s inexperience at playing full back at test level. It also didn’t helped that Ireland were clearly not at their peak performance. This was clear in the Scotland game also. A more clinical Scotland would have finished of the men in green but too many handling errors and poor defensive decisions cost them that opportunity. Unfortunately for the competition, the Scots and Irish nations aren’t the only teams not firing on all cylinders. As we seen in Paris, neither Wales or France, well France in the second half, looked like considerable threats to the English. From traditional French attacking flair to contemporary French idiocracy, France served up the match to Wales on a platter and said “Bon Appetit”.
Unfortunately, les Bleus brought their contemporary playing style to Twickenham and surprise, surprise, they were walloped.Wales didn’t do much better, leaving behind a four-try bonus point in Rome in a match that was still relatively tight upto the 60 minute mark. Playing Italy is an opportunity for teams to rack up points in case teams are tied at the end of the competition and the points difference is the only measurement that can decide a deserving winner. Wales did not take this opportunity. However, a Wales at home in front of Welsh crowd may be the only team left that can prevent England claiming the Grand Slam. All non-England fans are hoping of a performance similar to when Wales thrashed England by 30 points to 3 at the end of the 2013 Six Nations. I can’t see the Scots derailing the chariot in Twickenham and unless Conor O’Shea has another trick up his sleeve like 2016, Italy won’t be causing an upset.
So really it comes down to this weekend with the big one, Wales vs England. Even if Wales win, they will have to face Scotland in Murrayfield and Ireland at Cardiff. Losing either of those matches will result in England claiming the championship if not the Grand Slam due to the bonus points. Hopefully, Wales can bring back their recent form from the Autumn internationals and defeat the English in Cardiff. However, after England’s display against Ireland and France, I feel that England have this championship already in the bag. As an Irish fan, I am hoping that our Celtic brothers prove me wrong.
Written By James O’Connor