Best Of The Weekend: England Consigned To Fifth As Ireland Win Grand Slam


Ireland Rugby

Twickenham witnesses the cold efficiency of Irish

And so the 2018 Six Nations passes into the history books and there will be two notable features when analysing the final table: Ireland won only their third ever Grand Slam and England succumbed to their worst ever finish in the present format. This was all confirmed on a freezing last day at Twickenham, when Ireland raced into an unassailable half-time lead to leave the English reeling and give the travelling fans plenty of cause to sing Fields of Athenry, filling the stadium with noise like it was in Dublin.

It started ominously, when Johnny Sexton sent a bomb onto the try line, which Anthony Watson spilled (a hint of a grab at his arm whilst still in the air?) and Gary Ringrose pounced onto the loose ball for the first try. Matters got worse soon after, when Bundee Aki was put through a gap by the majestic Tadgh Furlong and the centre found CJ Stander inside to crash in against the base of the post. It was 14-zip and Irish dominance was the theme. Ireland got away with one when Aki shoulder charged the head of England’s best player, Elliot Daly, only to get off with a penalty. England did manage to pull a try back before the interval, with Owen Farrell grubbering through for Daly, but they couldn’t hold out – Jacob Stockdale scored yet another wonderful solo effort with the last play.

The second half played out in similar fashion. The hosts started to get a foothold after Connor Murray had extended the lead with a penalty, but by the time England genuinely threated, it was again too little, too late. Daly went over for a second and Johnny May scored in the very last moment, but even that couldn’t put a gloss on England’s first home defeat under Jones, nor take away the shine of an Irish Grand Slam.

Were England better than the last couple of weeks? Yes, marginally. Were they anywhere near the level required to seriously compete with the best team in the Northern Hemisphere? Definitely not. Ireland were ruthless and efficient, clinical in a way that England had been not 4 months ago. How quickly the sport world changes. Ireland have worked their way to this level and have a sustainable model for the success. Now it is time for England to prove that they can do the same and that this dire tournament has been just a randomly placed speedhump in the middle of the M1.

Italy edged in thriller, Wales hold on

Scotland found a new way to win, whilst Italy discovered a fresh method of losing in what was, bizarrely, probably the best game of the 2018 tournament. Not many people had the Azzurri down to do anything against a Scotland side in desperate need of an away victory, but they dominated the vast majority of the game before losing out 29-27 at the death. The hosts managed to get everything they have shown in patches to click when they led 24-12 with 20 minutes to go, courtesy of a couple of Tomasso Allen tries and one for Matteo Minozzi (a wildcard for player of the tournament?). Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg then looked to have rescued it for the Scots until Allen slotted a penalty with minutes to go. Then, disaster. A Scotland maul was pulled down and the radar that is Greig Laidlaw slotted the resulting penalty. Scotland had finally won when playing poorly away, whilst Italy had proven everything they have the potential to do, yet still lost.

Unfortunately, the very last game turned out to be a damp squib. Wales needed victory to assure second place, whilst France had the possibility of doing the same if they won. The hosts were woefully under par, but managed to hold on with the 14 points they had amassed in the first half, resisting the one-dimensional French barrage. A Maxime Machenaud penalty in the second half was not enough for France as they went down 14-13.

What happened elsewhere?

In the women’s tournament, the Red Roses finished second to Grand Slam winning France by beating Ireland 33-11. The French beat Wales, whilst Italy defeated Scotland.

France edged England to the U20s title, with the former hammering Wales and the later beating Ireland, but not by enough points. Italy also beat the Scots.

Edinburgh kept the pressure on in the Pro14 with a vital win over fellow contenders Munster. Meanwhile, Cardiff were victors over Benetton 31-25.

Toulouse claimed a vital win over Montpellier, whilst Racind edged the Parisian derby and La Rochelle edged Lyon.

Lions were tested by Sunwolves at home, eventually overcoming them 40-38. Waratahs brought the Rebels back down to earth and Highlanders won the battle of the South Island.

Hero of the week

It would be remiss of me not to give it to Joe Schmidt’s Ireland this week. They have been full value for their Grand Slam and to win it in Twickenham was extra special. However, I would like to add Tomasso Allen as co-winner of the award this week. He was sensational in defeat to Scotland and (I know he’s been on the scene a while, but) he has been one of a three or four real finds for Italy this year and probably the second best fly-half in the Six Nations.

Villain of the week

Francois Trinh-Duc. What was he thinking? An outrageous flap at the ball that gifted Liam Williams a try, a forward pass in his own half (when France needed field position) that was as needless as sunglasses indoors and a horrible miss from in front of the posts that would have won his side the game and assured second place. A disastrous day at the office.

Try of the week

In a game of little flair, there was one moment of magic in Gael Fickou’s try. A break down the left and quick recycling of the ball saw the centre flying through. If France can get it together and attack like that, whilst defending as they have been, they may be contenders once more.

Discussion points

What do England do now?

How would you rate each side’s tournament? What are the next steps?

Who were the players of the tournament?

What would constitute progress for each team next year?

by Joe Large

15 thoughts on “Best Of The Weekend: England Consigned To Fifth As Ireland Win Grand Slam

  1. Overall I think the 6 nations this year has been a bit of a let down. I can’t think of many games that were that exciting. I think the bonus points took a lot away from it and made some games irrelevant that previously could have changed the final table.

    As for the teams I think England have fallen off a cliff. The whole team needs resting and better player management is needed (also as a side note get rid of the Lions! ).

    Ireland deserved winners who have played to their strengths and been clinical when they have needed to.

    In my opinion Scotland have gone backwards. They had the good win against England but the final table shows that wasn’t the huge result it seemed at the time. The other games Scotland really didn’t live up to their potential and I suspect if Cotter had still been in charge they would have finished higher.

    Italy went as expected. Finished last but showed a bit more structure and organisation.

    Wales is a strange one. 2nd is obviously a good result and they found some depth in a few positions but performance wise they went from great to awful. I get the feeling Gatland has tested the water with the new expansive attacking game but is scared to fully commit to it . If they stick with Biggar it’s not going to happen. I don’t rate him at all. He has some talents (high balls, defence) but he is awful at bringing anyone behind him into play. Sometimes I think his skills would better suit a fullback but he doesn’t have the pace or attack for it.

    Player of the tournament for me…

    My top 3 would be Stockdale, Kearney and Furlong with Parkes pushing them very close.

    1. Sorry, going to have to disagree comprehensively with two of your points here, 10-ton;
      1 – that BPs made the tournament worse. Really not sure how you’ve come to this decision, given that even under the old system the table would have looked the same; Ireland were clear after round four, and all bar Italy from the rest were capable of coming second. Ireland went for four tries against Scotland instead of cruising at three because they knew it would put the pressure on England – thus showing the BPs do encourage more tryscoring. It’s fair to say it doesn’t have quite the same impact as it would in a season-long competition, but it encourages try-scoring nonetheless in my books. It does no harm having uniformity with all other tournaments (that I know of, at least) as well.
      2 – Getting rid of the Lions. Sorry, but b******s to that; its a hell of an occasion, and has acres of tradition – and I also believe it could be a big tool in spreading the game further (warm-up and/or mid-week matches against other smaller nations instead of all club sides, e.g.). But my main problem is that this is a knee-jerk made because England looked jaded, just as Wales have in the past too, post-Lions.
      Sexton, Murray, and Furlong were all immense on the Lions tour, and were immense again in their GS. Why? They get rest from the IRFU, which polices such things as a matter of priority. And no, before anyone asks, I DON’T believe a lack of relegation means they get away with it; Ulster, Munster and Leinster over the last decade have consistently come top of domestic AND even European tables because they understand the opportunity given by these enforced rest periods to bring on new blood and develop strength in depth, while keeping their prized stars primed for the big matches. If all the teams in the Aviva did the same with rest periods, even if you ended up with a lot of closer matches, the average results would barely change, because you’d play your big names in the crunch top-of-the-table matches, and then give your 1.5 team a really testing game against the bottom quarter teams (also giving those teams a chance to develop instead of getting remorselessly hammered, week in week out). And they might do better in Europe as well.
      I can go on on this topic, but will leave it at this: if the RFU and Aviva clubs cared about matching the relative success of the IRFU in this area, they would enforce a similar system, instead of ragging their players every week and blaming the Lions for their problems. The teams that try to rotate effectively (Exeter springs to mind), surprisingly enough get better results on average. Rotation is not the kiss of death many perceive it to be.
      So, in a trade-off between ‘fresher’ players no longer going on Lions tours, versus a season that still allows for the Lions spectacle AND potentially solves (at least in part) the growing player concern over rest and recovery (instead of resorting to that cr*p about extending the season), I’m afraid to me that decision is a no-brainer.

      1. My scrapping the Lions comment was meant as tongue in cheek. I personally can’t stand the Lions but I am aware I’m in the minority and I don’t expect them to go anywhere anytime soon.

        As for Bonus Points I’m sure I read somewhere that under the old system 4 teams would have been competing for 2nd place on the final day. Then it would have come down to points scored with all teams going for it. As it went Scotland could never have really pushed for 2nd place as they just didn’t have the bonus points to compete. Also with the disparity in home and away games and the difference that that can have the Bonus points work against those with more away games.

        1. Fair enough re: Lions – and certainly no heat intended, by the way! I just feel there are other ways to solve the Lions problem (as I would never argue there isn’t one).
          As for BPs – true, but then Wales were rewarded for their excellent consistency early in the competition, so avoiding a late steal by Scotland based on points difference in a hypothetical rout of Italy. I know that may take the hype out of the last day, but it keeps all teams striving for tries right from the off, to avoid falling behind. I feel it raises the overall level, without detracting from the final day unduly (we were so spoilt by 2013 and that final day – they haven’t all been so spectacular).

  2. Not because England performed poorly but I didn’t feel the tournament was as good as previous ones due to the number of injuries across all teams. Not one of the home nations had a full compliment of players, with some top class players missing some/all of the tournament.
    England…oh where to start. I think the shortcomings have been covered on here in good detail. The main areas for of improvement now have to be developing depth in back-row, 9 and full back. Rest most of the regular starters in the summer, bringing them back in autumn for what will be a huge test against the ABs.
    The only side to flourish in this 6Ns has been Ireland. They have continued to build a strong squad, and have real depth in many positions. Joe Schmidt has introduced a number of young, exciting new players and this will set Ireland in good stead for next year. This is something Eddie should have done given the injuries present at the start of the tournament, opportunity missed.
    For me Stockdale, Minozzi and Bastareaud have been the standout players, though the latter missed a couple of games. Chris Farrell and Kinghorn also get a mention for standout performances with limited playing time.
    Finally a word on Italy, for the 100th time they need to crack on from here. Yes they performed well against the Scots but they still lost. They have not properly troubled any of the sides in this years tournament and I still think there is reason for looking at a playoff v Georgia. Hopefully O’Shea can improve them but I’m not holding my breath.

  3. Most games had their moments. There was some good play, some good tries and some quality individual performances.
    But there was much that was second rate and rather disappointing. This is the 6N’s and it generally follows this pattern.
    Without wishing to be disrespectful, i really dont care that much about the other sides. My focus is on England and i want us to be successful and to deliver on our potential.
    This 6N’s has been a huge letdown. We’ve failed to move forward and none of our players have enhanced their reputation. I’m afraid our coach has lost a good deal of goodwill built up over 2 successful years. Obvious failings havent been addressed and have come back to bite us. We shouldnt have been that surprised looking back. There’s only so much mileage in picking off form players, while making dull positional selections. We’ve not been terribly bright at times.
    Work to do which starts in SA, minus a few Lions i imagine which should open up the squad to a few new faces.

  4. Big congratulations to Ireland,
    great value for the slam. Had a slow start to the tournament but grew into it as the weeks progressed. Also good value for second in the rankings will be exciting to see where you are in a years time going into the RWC,

    As for England there are a lot of takeaways from this tournament. I don’t think things are as bad as many are making out but we were severely lacking intensity at the breakdown (be that due to fatigue or tactics) which needs to be resolved for us to progress. Notably we have had good spells in every game where the intensity was picked up but we seemed unable to maintain that for more than 10-15 minutes at a time. Going back a couple of years to the Australia tour we had that intensity for 60+ minutes of the game and were looking a force to be reckoned with so we need to find a way back to that.

    Also concerned at the constant refusal to look at a 3rd option at 9 as we struggled without Youngs. Eddies stance on this is baffling and Wiggy isn’t a realistic option going forwards

  5. What do England do now?
    Rest their players. Get an attack coach. Stop playing locks at 6. Start bringing through another 2 scrum halves. Play Elliott Daly or Henry Slade at 13. Play Watson on the wing. Say thank you and wave goodbye to Cole and JJ – and perhaps even Hartley. Develop a number of back row players – Underhill, Simmonds, Mercer, Armand, Willis (?) and I’d like to see Wray bought in. Find another big lad for 8 – Morgan? Switch Nowell (when fit) and May. Re-consider how Ford fits in.

    How would you rate each side’s tournament? What are the next steps?
    Ireland – solid with glimpses of great – Stander’s try being one. Over-reliant on key players. Must add more genius to undoubted solidity
    Wales – baby steps forward. Gatland needs to commit to the new game plan. Found or rediscovered some good players though – Shingler, Navidi, Steff Evans
    Scotland – same as, same as. One great win flattering to deceive. Must win consistently and learn how to pass
    England – discussed. Must win games
    Italy – Some nice passages. Need consistency. Some good players coming through

    Who were the players of the tournament?
    From each team –
    Furlong, Ryan, Sexton, Ringrose, Stockdale Kearney
    Shingler, Navidi, Steff Evans, Parkes
    H Watson – everyone else up and down

    What would constitute progress for each team next year?
    Ireland – whitewash of aus in summer, beat NZ in Autumn, grand slam again
    Wales – whitewash arg in summer. At least 2nd with one more win in 6 nations (not sure of autumn games
    Scotland – win all summer games, beat SA and Arg in autumn. Win a 6 Nations away game that isn’t Italy, come second
    England – SA whitewash in summer, win 2 out 3 in autumn, at the very least win all home games in 6 Nations and come at least 2nd but preferably first

    1. Just realised I left France out of all of that!! Not sure why
      How would you rate each side’s tournament? What are the next steps?
      Mediocre. Need to find a settled side and a reliable fly half

      Who were the players of the tournament?
      Bastareaud, Camara, Grosso – shame about Teddy Thomas

      What would constitute progress for each team next year?
      Have to be competitve at the tope end of the table

      1. Tough one.

        I’d continue with Brown whilst bringing someone through

        Watson is not international quality at fullback

        Daly has been mentioned. I can understand why but would like to see him at 13

        Who else is there? Pennell is getting on a bit. Haley is off to Ireland?

        Is Jason Woodward a. qualified and b fit again?

  6. Agree with Jake
    I said on here BEFORE the Ireland game that EJ could have used the Scotland game as a liberating loss by going on a “playerthon” to choose new players and combinations of the same. The fact that he didn’t I guess was a case of Eddie having to acknowledge to himself his own selectorial and tactical follies of the past before belatedly biteing the bullet (unfortunately with another loss to the perennial Irish bogeyman)
    Does EJ possess a stubborn/arrogant streak perhaps that can work for as well as against him?On this occasion it went against!
    As others have said ” a good team doesn’t become a bad one overnight” and nor does a coach. So whilst its hats off to Ireland lets hope the SA tour really sees new ideas, new answers to problem areas, an attack coach and a revitalised team.

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