England suffer two Championship defeats for first time since 2010
It has been a hell of a ride for the last two years. Since the World Cup debacle, we have had an undefeated calendar year, a Grand Slam, two Six Nations titles and a series whitewash in Australia, whilst also not losing in the autumn at all.
Now, after a chastening defeat in Scotland, England have made it back-to-back losses for the first time since 2015 and are out of contention for the Championship with a weekend to spare. France noted the areas that England have struggled in and went for the jugular in their deserved 22-16 win. The Roses were slow getting to the breakdown (again), laboured in attack (again) and lacked intensity for anywhere near 80 minutes (again).
It was a bruising game – France v England always is – but it was only the hosts using their brains to get the rewards for their efforts. The toil of the English players came to nothing, with France constantly turning over English ball before they could get a head of steam. The first half played out just as the French would have wanted, frustrating England and kicking their way to a level 9-9 interval score-line. The visitors needed tries and they just weren’t coming against a resolute French defence. The French then capitalised on England’s fragilities, stretching their lead with a couple of penalties and a penalty try that was a result of an Anthony Watson high tackle. With the game seemingly gone from England, they finally started to play, scoring through Johnny May to give them hope before nearly sneaking over for an unmerited victory at the death.
A key feature of the Eddie Jones regime has been that winning mentality. That seems to have evaporated now and a discernible style must now be established, and the problem areas need to be addressed before that winning mentality can be expected to return. England have been figured out. It is now time to reinvent themselves and push on to that target of the World Cup – doable, if ignorance to flaws doesn’t continue.
Third Championship in five years for Irish, Wales move to second
Before England had faltered in Paris, Ireland had heaped the pressure on their title rivals by beating Scotland 28-8. That score-line had meant that the reigning champions needed to beat France with a bonus point to keep the challenge going. They didn’t even come close and so Ireland were confirmed as 2018 champions with a week to spare. Jacob Stockdale kept up his impressive try scoring form with a brace that set them on the road to victory. Scotland had their chances, but were unable to punish Ireland on the scoreboard – again raising concerns about their mentality outside of Murrayfield. Ireland travel to Twickenham next week with a third Grand Slam in their history on the cards. Will they be able to do what last year England could not?
In Sunday’s game, Wales overcame a stout Italian first-half fightback and a period with 14 men in the second to cruise to a comfortable 38-14 victory. It looked ominous for the Azzurri when they conceded two quickfire tries within the first ten minutes, although they fought back with a Matteo Minozzi try to make the half-time score 17-7. Wales had to play the first twenty minutes with a man disadvantage after Liam Williams and Gareth Davies were yellow-carded. During that period, they surprisingly managed to extend their lead and never looked back. They are now second in the table and travel to France in what should be a playoff for that position in the final table.
What happened elsewhere?
Bath sneaked past Saints 13-12, whilst Exeter beat Newcastle in the semi finals of the Anglo-Welsh Cup. They will meet in next week’s final.
England Women’s hopes of a Grand Slam disappeared with an 18-17 loss to France, effectively gifting the title to their gallic rivals. Italy beat Wales and Scotland edged Ireland.
The U20s clawed their way back into contention with a 22-6 win in France. There were also wins for Italy and Ireland.
In the weekend’s Pro14 game, Scarlets and Leinster played out a 10-apiece draw in a top of the table clash.
Montpellier stretched their lead at the top in France with a huge win over Racing, whilst Stade Francais eased their relegation worries with a much-needed victory.
Maintaining their strong start to Super Rugby 2018, Rebels got another bonus-point victory over Brumbies. In another notable result, Blues shocked the Lions in South Africa.
Hero of the week
Due to the fact that he has been integral in Ireland’s demolition of all of their title rivals and scored tries for fun throughout, I shall give it to Jacob Stockdale this week. A winger of real quality, who has contributed heavily towards the bonus points the Irish have been achieving.
Villain of the week
Lionel Beauxis may have looked like he wanted this award when he gave the ball back to England with the clock dead, though he fortunately got away with it. However, there can be no debate this week; it absolutely has to go to Hassane Kolingar and Pierre-Henri Azagoh of France’s U20 team for a horrific double team clear out of Fraser Dingwall that left him plummeting headfirst into the ground, which resulted in a red for both players. A lengthy ban awaits.
Try of the week
Not a lot of really stunning tries in the main competition this week. Stockdale’s second and Johnny May’s owed a lot to nice passes, Matteo Minozzi finished very well for his, whilst George North’s first was reliant on a clinical pass and running line after an interception. However, I shall give it to Blair Kinghorn, who scored off a beautiful first phase strike move that owed a lot to some perfect running lines and soft hands. If only Scotland could have been that clinical for the rest of the game…..
Will England summon the fire required to crush Ireland’s Grand Slam dream?
Where has Eddie got it wrong this tournament?
How do England need to adapt so they are prepared for the World Cup in 18 months time?
How will the final table look? Who will be happy and who definitely not?
by Joe Large