Best Of The Weekend: England Cut Loose Late On

Anthony Watson

Jones’ men romp to Roman victory

The second day of the 2018 Six Nations provided a delightful result for champions England. They put in a competent and, at times in attack, exhilarating performance to see off Italy 46-15.

The visitors raced into a 10-0 lead through two brilliant Anthony Watson finishes, but the Italians showed a lot of cutting edge that has been missing from their play for so long to drag the score-line to 17-10 at the interval. The azzurri were going at the roses relentlessly and threatened to cut them open at times, but were completely undone by their indiscipline in crucial areas, which allowed England a platform to score some neat tries. Moments after Italy had a try ruled out for a forward pass that would have taken the game to within a few points, Sam Simmonds was under the sticks for the first of his brace. The hosts responded with another well worked effort, but the game felt too far out of their reach and England cut loose in the final twelve minutes to take the game comfortably.

For the Italians, if they can cut out the indiscipline and tighten their defence in the closing stages, they may just be able to claim their first victory in the competition since 2015. Although, that is very unlikely to happen in next week’s encounter with Ireland. England, meanwhile, will be very happy with the start they have made in their quest for a third title in a row. The defence was solid in the tight and the line-speed gave Italy few real opportunities. The attack was clinical and creative and the discipline was mostly quite good. The only real worry was a fragility in defending the wide channels, which will have an exciting looking Wales licking their lips.

Welsh wonderous, Sexton self-assured

Depending on who you were gunning for, the opening match of the Six Nations was either 80 minutes (and the post-match evening) of celebration and partying, or bitter disappointment. It was an immensely tough one to call, but the 34-7 Welsh victory over Scotland made the pre-match discussion turn on its head. For Scotland, it was integral to come away with victory in order to push on in their quest to challenge for the trophy this season. Whilst the same could be said for Wales, it was more of a case of seeing if using so many of the flying Scarlets could work on the international stage – and how it did. Gareth Davies kicked off proceedings when he hared away after a well-timed intercept. The brace from Leigh Halfpenny that followed completely rocked the Scots and a wonderful Steff Evans try put the game beyond all doubt before Scotland got a late consolation through Peter Horne. The Scots must now regroup to host France in a must-win game. Meanwhile, Wales will be relishing a trip to Twickenham – who would have thought that before the tournament began?

The second game on Saturday seemed to be plodding towards a hard-fought, if a little dull, Irish win. All of a sudden in the last ten minutes, it seemed like the match jumped on a rollercoaster. Persistent, predictable Irish attack had met stern French defence, but the visitors had still managed to build a 12-6 lead due to French indiscipline allowing Johnny Sexton pots at goal. Then, the game burst into life. Teddy Thomas scored a try out of less than the contents of a Saharan River, leaving a number of defenders chasing shadows. It looked like France had stolen victory at 13-12 and with a penalty opportunity. They missed and Ireland reclaimed possession. With patience, they worked through the phases, Sexton nailed a Crossfield kick to Keith Earls with the clock in the red to gain field position. It had taken time, but the fly-half was confident of nailing a seemingly optimistic drop-goal from 45 metres out. He struck it and sent his team mate into raptures, leaving the French disconsolate and sending a very clear message to all the other nations.

Hero of the week

It was a magnificent performance from Leigh Halfpenny in his return to try-scoring form, but there is only one place that it can go this week and that is to Johnny Sexton. Rob Kearny mentioned his team-mate’s ‘stones’ after the match and it is hard to argue against him having more minerals than any other player in the world. The confidence to pick a Crossfield kick to aid field-positions, followed by that monster drop-goal showed why he is so integral to Ireland’s chances in the tournament this year.

Villain of the week

It would seem that France are still abusing the Head Injury Assessments after last year’s debacle. Is that the fault of the laws? Maybe. I believe that a solution could be to just have ‘Injury Assessments’ as player welfare in general shouldn’t require decisions to be made on the spot just because it’s not a head injury. It wouldn’t slow the game down particularly (and may even speed up any time spent assessing minor injuries) and it would also stop this kind of needless controversy.

Try of the week

Multiple contenders in the first week. Teddy Thomas’ individual effort certainly deserves a mention for a superb finish from a long way out, as does Leigh Halfpenny’s second for a wonderful batted pass to set him up, as well as a couple of England tries and that wonderful Tommaso Benvenuti one. However, for the team cohesion and terrific dive for the line, it must go to Steff Evans’ try that rounded off Wales’ scoring.

Go to 3m45s in the video below:

Discussion points

What areas do England need to work on for next week?

Who are likely to be their main rivals?

Can Wales push on and upset the apple cart with a victory at Twickenham?

What do Scotland need to change to avoid another disappointing Six Nations?

Is any player more integral to their team than Johnny Sexton for Ireland?

Will Italy come away with a victory in the competition?

What do you make of France?

What were your highlights and lowlights of the opening weekend?

by Joe Large

7 thoughts on “Best Of The Weekend: England Cut Loose Late On

  1. Simmonds is one hell of a find. I expect he’ll play 7 long term, with Vunipola coming back in. Robshaw will join them in the back row for the WC, with Underhill coming through to fill Robshaws shoes in the long term. Underhills workrate and big tackling will help him fill that role, with the pace of Simmonds making him more suited to the 7 shirt.

    Gutted to see Youngs injured, and whilst I’d love to see Robson come in, I assume it’ll be Wrigglesworth which is a bit depressing…

  2. Head injuries. I’m not quite sure what happened, but on both occasions, the players knee buckled meaning that they fell into a tackle against their head area. I might need to see the replay, but both times I thought that the player held their head. Now this was almost certainly as a result of the pain in their knee which is a normal human reaction, but you can see why the match doctor wanted a check for a HIA. Was it the French doctor who called for the HIA or the independent match doctor. It certainly seemed to be the latter for the scrum half as was queried by Nigel Owens. Is that France’s fault? Would any team not take that stroke of luck if offered to them in a tight game? They may not be as villainous as we think? Or maybe they are?

    1. Maybe you’re right on the first one. But you’re wrong on the second, controversial one, however. I’ve rewatched, and if he took a concussion-level injury from that fall, then so do I every time my head hits the pillow at night.
      I can’t look past the feeling that France will have told their players to create a vague worry for their head every time they go down for another injury, as it is tactically better if they get away with it (they can get already-substituted players back on that way) – the Official Match Doctor can hardly say no when there’s such scrutiny of the area currently (what would happen if they got it wrong? they’d be crucified in flames). It’s an open door in the current rules that you assumed teams would ignore as it isn’t within the spirit of the game. Now I worry that a certain team is.
      I won’t be so brutal as to say that this is the French playing dirty for the sake of it (unless proven otherwise!), but I will say that their current world ranking, etc, means that there may well be a lot of pressure from above on the side to start winning again, at all costs if need be. Hardly an excuse, but it may explain why they’re prepared to risk controversy…
      Again, need to say at this point that nothing is proven and so yes, maybe I have got it wrong. But I’ll say it a third time; it stinks.
      I shall await the enquiry results with interest…

      1. Not that much different to Wales pretending they had no fit props to bring back on against Georgia, or Bloodgate. Cynical misuse of the intention of the law in order to gain an advantage is against the spirit of the game and should be stamped out. If Owens had really wanted to be difficult he could have insisted on speaking to the match doctor before allowing the game to continue. It was quite clear that the bloke he asked hadn´t got a clue who had made the decision.
        To other matters. Wales played well but to be honest didn’t have a lot to beat. With the Scots missing eight or nine forwards and a couple of starting backs their lack of strength in depth was severely exposed, and if they don´t get a few back soon it is going to be another difficult year for them.
        It will be interesting to see who England bring in at 9. Most people seem to think Wigglesworth, but I am not sure he fits Eddie´s mould. Ford and Farrell definitely seem to have more room with Care´s quicker pass serving them, so in some ways I don´t see Youngs as too much of a loss. Perhaps he´ll move Courtney to 9, Itoje to the back row and Isiekwe to the bench so that all his second rows can play! Simmonds looked really good. I´d love to see him at 7 with Mercer at 8 within a couple of years if Billy doesn´t recover. Even though there would not be much bulk or experience there, I reckon the sheer pace of them would put the wind up a lot of sides.

        1. Its Wigglesworth (smh). Jones stating he wanted a replacement who was a good kicker maybe gave it away earlier.
          Lawes at 9 would be interesting ;)

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