Best Of The Weekend: Jones’ Bubble Bursts In Paris, Ireland Crowned

Joe Schmidt

Ireland Rugby

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…..

Discussion points

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

24 thoughts on “Best Of The Weekend: Jones’ Bubble Bursts In Paris, Ireland Crowned

  1. Err just being pernickety here, the next Wales match is in Cardiff !.
    Ireland deserved champions but it is closer than it looks, an 80min + drop goal vs France ( brilliant as it was ) & what if that floated Anscombe pass had gone to hand with a 3 on 1 overlap ? fine margins ….
    Most people would have Ireland odds on to win the GS next week but England are a hard hard team to beat at home 7 they will feel they have a point to prove, would not be surprised to see them turn over the Irish at all.

  2. Fine margins indeed, after England’s loss there seem to be a lot of gloating Irish fans across the interwebs who seemed to have forgotten just how close they came to losing to France.

    Northern Hemisphere rugby seems to have taken a stride backwards this year, when it really should have kicked on after last year’s successes.

    England’s limitations have been badly exposed.
    France look better – but only really by comparison to their previous form
    Wales have looked decent in parts but are re-growing with lots of new faces.
    Italy have played some really nice rugby in parts but the same problems are still there
    Scotland have done their usual – one superb match and the rest not so hot. Will try ever be consistently decent?
    Ireland are the best of the lot but still seem somewhat one (or perhaps two) dimensional in attack and far too overly reliant on Murray and Sexton

    Really not a vintage time for international rugby.

    1. Ireland really haven’t even played very well to be in this position. I’m delighted that they seem to be able to play badly and win games which is the sign of a great team but.. yeah nothing particularly inspiring about Ireland”s performances – just very efficient. Lucky against France as they score no tries, blunt in attack. Lucky against Wales, pretty ineffective there too and Stockdale’s poaching bailed them out. Scotland lost the game against Ire;and themselves and if they had been a little more primed on the day, it would have been very different. Ireland looked nervy when Scotland were in the game as they looked way more creative. I think Wales and Scotland and even France in patches, played the most exciting rugby – the kind of rugby that all else being equal can unlock defences.

      Ireland are playing a bit more like England when they play well except the kicking game – dull powerfully effective play using efficiency and brute force to win. In short the forwards are doing great and the backs aren’t quite there. Rob Kearney impressed me for the first time in a long time though so that’s positive. But still nothing breathtaking either.

  3. England have been seriously exposed. It is worth noting that many of that forward pack were a match for NZ last summer, so they aren’t bad players. They look tired.

    I would however (and I await Pablito’s backlash) drop Robshaw next week. I stand by what I said last week in that we need to consider him only at 6, so the debate is only whether you pick or Lawes there.

    Now, Jones clearly likes a linout option there. I thought Lawes was excellent on Saturday in this area, disrupting the French lineout and stealing the ball regularly. On the tackling count, Lawes made 17 to Robshaws 6. On carrying, they made the same amount but Lawes made 34 meters to Robshaws 15. Stats can be misleading, but the back up how I felt throughout the game as I was trying to compare the two.

    I’d also remove Brown and Wrigglesworth from the squad, as they bring no impact. Drop Ford to get Farrell at 10, and freshen up the front row.

    Marler, George, Sinkler, Launchbury, Itoje, Lawes, Haskell, Simmonds, Care, Farrell, May, Te’o, Joseph, Watson, Daly
    LCD, Mako, Cole, Robshaw, Armand, Robson, Ford, Solomona

    Now I know Robson won’t be in the squad but I’m hoping the rest of the 23 is realistic.

    Long term, I prefer Mako and Cole starting but for Ireland I’d play those that look fresher. I’d also prefer Simmonds vs Underhill for the 7 shirt but this weekend we have no options at 8 really. Unless he was bold enough to start Armand there and get Simmonds at 7?

    1. Yep, Armand straight into the 8 shirt.
      I don’t completely disagree with your analysis, but Robshaw is so dependable, I would have him starting at 6 – also, I understood that Lawes was out with a gammy knee(?)
      Sinckler was awesome on Saturday – completely shifted turned the tide.
      I also agree with starting Te’o at 12, not least to counter Mr Aki.
      Jamie George looked tired; I would start either Hartley(!) or Cowan-Dickie and bring George off the bench for the last half hour.
      Finally I prefer Daly at 13, and think his talent is not optimised on the wing.

      Marler (Vunipola to come on at some point), Cowan-Dickie (/George), Sinckler (/Cole only if Sinckler gets really knackered)
      Launchbury, Itoje (replaced by Lawes around 50′)
      Robshaw, Haskell, Armand (Simmonds to #7 around 50′, either as a straight swap or with Task moving to 8 if Armand struggles for some reason)
      Care (to play the full 80 unless injured), Farrell
      Te’o, Daly, (I’d like to move him to 15 for the last 20-30mins with Slade coming on at 13)
      May and either Solomona or Earle
      Watson at full back.

      1. I think bringing in Earle, and even Solomona, against Ireland would be throwing them to the wolves, and with the form of Stockdale and Earles we would be torn to pieces out wide. I’m all for a reshuffle but that is on step too far.
        The only area England were competent in on Saturday was the set piece. Mako held his own against Slimani (supposedly the best tight head in Europe) and the French lineout was frequently disrupted. However, Cole and George had little impact elsewhere. I would like to see Mako partnering the Sink with LCD in between. Robshaw, Simmonds and Armand to me provide a well rounded back three, giving pace, carrying and work-rate. Armand can also operate in the line out whilst being a beast with ball in hand.
        Ford, though I like him, should go to the bench and allow Farrell to move to 10 with 2 genuine receiving options outside. Slade is in good form and can offer the 2nd playmaker. Daly, though one of our better players, needs to stay on the wing due to lack of genuine cover. If Nowell were fit, I would still rather Daly and Watson remain in the back 3, dropping May who has imo been poor.

        1. Yeah, I got a bit carried away on the backline reshuffle. Such a shame Nowell’s injured, I think he is badly missed.

    2. And as if like magic, I appear!

      Yes they do look tired – esp MV and Itoje

      For the sake of the argument, I’ll accept your (strange in the absence of viable alternatives) conceit that we should only play Robshaw at 6. So let’s look at Robshaw vs Lawes and for the moment ignore the fact that Robshaw was England’s best player vs France by some margin.

      So lineout. EJ may like the extra option at lineout. He is however IMHO wrong – because it weakens us elsewhere. Firstly, there are just 20 or so odd lineouts per game compared to over 100 odd breakdowns. The breakdown area is more important. Furthermore, by not playing Lawes at flanker we are still left with 2 excellent line out locks – so the line out would hardly become a disaster, rather it would just narrow the throwing choices (and Robshaw does provide an option in the lineout). Re the France game specifically, it was my recollection that Itoje caused almost all the disruption rather than Lawes but I am prepared to be proved wrong.

      Secondly your stats – and the reason why playing Lawes weakens the team. We know Robshaw can make shed loads of tackles, as we’ve seen it before. We know he is not a heavy carrier but more of a link man – not a bad thing in itself. However the reason Robshaw’s carry and tackle stats are lower than Lawes’ is because he was buried at the bottom of almost every ruck trying almost single-handedly to secure English ball or steal/disrupt French ball. Meanwhile, especially on our ball, Lawes stood 2 metres away waiting for the next phase and watching whilst the english ruck was overwhelmed for lack of any support. Even the rucks he did hit, he was ineffective as his body position was too high to shift France’s big men.

      Of course, the breakdown woes are not solely due to playing Lawes at 6, the rest of the pack bears responsibility as well – but there is no doubt that playing Lawes as a flanker adds to our problems in that area. So in order to add a third line out jumper, EJ has made the team worse in what is the key area of the game. Lose the breakdown and you lose the game. This imbalance and the subsequent effect on the breakdown has been noticeable since he started playing Itoje / Lawes at 6 last year.

      If it is a choice between Robshaw and Lawes at 6, it comes down to whether or not you believe the breakdown or the lineout is the biggest issue for England at the moment. And if you think the answer to that is the breakdown, then the only option is Robshaw who is far and away England’s best performer in that area at the moment.

      The rest of your team makes sense to me, although I’d probably switch Armand and Haskell – and I’d prefer to see Slade over JJ at 13 but I can’t imagine that will happen

      PS – I have just read that Lawes is out so it’s a moot point

    3. Agreed with alot of that. I also await a backlash with what i’m about to say!
      Robshaw is only a 6/6.5 and whilst a fearless combatant in the pack his replacement needs identifying now not AFTER the wc! It would not be HERESY to ease (yes i did say ease) Robshaw towards the bench if only to
      A. Give him a rest now and again and only God knows he and half the rest of the team need one and…
      B. Find and nurture a new 6 (not a 6.5) So yes that does mean occasionally giving caps to someone else….no heresy or treason committed yet…phew!
      The ABs do this v well – I speak of finding the next tyro in a seamless conveyor belt of talent. No one flunks their lines on debut with the ABs either.
      To play a 7 at 7 can’t be heresy either. Lawes was a disaster there. Metres he made yes but where the linkplay and pass? He invariably goes to ground and the ball gets turned over because of the much heralded recycling probs inherent in the pack. He’s also not a Clifford or a Simmonds. He has no pace so expect no scorching line breaks as with a Simmods, a Clifford or indeed a Hooper with a nice assist and link pass at the end of it. It all goes dead! Much like running into a dark cave, rugby ball under arm and finding unsurprisingly that there’s no exit!
      My one pleasant surprise – Sinkler! Gatland played him six months ago in a lions shirt. His final play in the 3rd test got the penalty to tie it all. EJ needs to puck him!

  4. Also just read somewhere that Teo passed the ball twice…with the attacking flair England possess outside this is really troubling.

    1. According to ESPN Scrum, 5 passes, 1 offload and 12 runs – which doesn’t see horrendous given he was in the team to bust the line

      I am more concerned by this stat:

      Metres run –
      Care 2 from 6 runs
      Ford 0 from 3 runs
      Farrell 6 from 5 runs

      Which even accepting they had little clean ball shows that:
      A. This is not Danny Care playing his natural game.
      B. If your 9, 10 and 12 offer no running threat then defence is made that much easier. It’s little wonder England had little joy from backs moves when France must have realised they had little to fear from those three

  5. I’m with the magic Pablito re: Robshaw. He’s a 6 and is needed to sort out the breakdown. Remember how much we missed him at the Aviva last year. We need Simmonds in at 7 and let’s try Armand at 8. Then we need to sort out the backs. Ford has been anonymous for too long and can’t justify keeping his place. For me, this suggests starting Wiggy at 9 (with Care finishing) as he and Faz are a club pairing. Wiggy’s kicking is top line and needed against Ireland who capitalise on loose ball. Teo comes in at 12 and then either Jj at 13 or Daly. My preference would be Jj for stability but if Nowell comes in on the bench (if fit) then I’d love to see Daly at 13. So to start:

    M Vunipola

    Oh and a decent attack coach would be nice.

    1. I also think Simmonds would make a good 7 – he’s fast across the ground and could cause havoc if given licence to do so

      1. So Lawes is injured (hadn’t realised), so Robshaw can play 6 this week…

        For what it’s worth I’m a Robshaw fan, even if think you’re massively overstating his effectiveness at the breakdown in either of the past two matches. I’d be considering him as an option at 6, but I do think there are certain games where I can see the logic of an extra lineout man. Ireland isn’t one of those mind you now I think about it.

        Agree on Slade by the, if he’s fit I’d play him outside of Te’o with Farrell at 10.

  6. The main issue IMO is the lack of heft in the carry – specifically the forwards. I think we can now surely say players are exhausted. The extra energy the subs brought on created positive gains in the collisions, causing France to be on the back foot and we looked dangerous then. In order to deal with this, you need to change how you prepare, change personnel, and/or maybe tinker with the idea of a ‘finisher’ (no point ending with energy if you’re chasing the game).

    I do wonder that whether because of fatigue, players aren’t able to think for themselves. Until the substitutes came on the forwards tended to play patterns rather than what was in front of them – as an example, I would have preferred to see more pick and gos, and a higher tempo, but then perhaps fatigue played a role. I also thought that whilst LCD made a mistake in his pick and go at the end when WW should’ve shipped it out to Faz, the idea (if not the execution) was correct. It seems silly that you have to substitute players in order to change the style of play, rather than being able to adjust accordingly throughout the match.

    On a separate note, I’m purposefully stirring the pot here, but I honestly wonder what the purpose of the scrum is at the professional level of the game now? Cardinal rule of criticising the referee broken (sorry), but there were some wrong decisions made about the scrum thoughout all the matches this weekend. Collapsed scrums are poor forms of spectator entertainment, and scrum turnovers are hard to come by with the combination of legally biased feeds, early hooking and 8’s allowed to reaching in and pick the ball up. I’ve voiced this opinion before but if refs are going to selectively apply scrum laws, infringements should be disciplined with free kicks, not penalties.

    There, rant over.

    1. Thats certainly stirring the pot, Marco.

      I wouldn’t have any concern with some Scrum offences becoming Free Kicks instead of penalties. However, a couple of points;

      The purpsoe of the scrum is to restart the game with half of the players in a very small area of the pitch (providing more space). If there was no contest at the scrum it would be Rugby League, and whilst I have no issue with the 13 man game, the scrums do NOT restrict the defensive capabilities of the players, as they barely touch each other.

      Secondly, what is wrong with the 8 reaching in to pick the ball up?

  7. Gloating irish fans.
    Yet no mention of how english fand have once again been to quick to over hype there team. For the last year up to a month ago, england and NZ are the only two nations worth talking about when it comes to wrc. Didnt seem to matter how unimpressive englasd have been over the last year. Outside of england this down fall was no big surprise.

    The french side that england lost to is not the same 15 ireland played as 8 of that side have been dropped for off field issues.
    But lets not acknowledge that point in anyway. Over half of starting line-up out.

    The welch team that should have betten england only had any sort of real direction for the last 20mins when anscombe moved into 10 and then were by far the better team. Yes it was a try.

    Northern hemisphere rugby has taken a stride backwards. What complete and utter rubbish.
    Ireland the rightfully 2nd best team in the world has found new levels of squad depth.

    Wales have showed glimpses of themselves at times but have only put it together for one game so far have been massively hit by injuries but have found a number of players that are good enough if called upon.

    France good to see them showing some fight and pride for the jersey. Big improvement from them. Lets hope the can improve again next season.

    Scotland can be a real threat from anywhere on the field and some exciting up talent. This team can be seen as definite future contenders. Just need a bit of experience in key positions and depth.
    How many front rows were they missing?

    Italy although have not go any results, the performances have be there in games. No longer just been SP plus 14. They now look like having some real talent coming through.

    ENGLAND its a shame to see the team that won the 2019 world cup reduced to a shadow of its former self. But thankfully Northern hemisphere rugby is not just about England and we have had some cracking games of rugby.
    #5 place.

    Id be surprised if england lose by less then 15 points on saturday. I really would. But a bit of humble pie is needed every now and then.

    1. Its very simple Kumber; a month ago England were quite comfortably No2 in the World, and had a very impressive record of 1 defeat n the last 25 (?) games.

      That points to a very good side – all prejudices aside.

      Two games later, and two defeats, with – at best – indifferent performances, with a possible third consecutive defeat coming up, it points – all prejudices aside – to a side that has lost form since last year.

      So England were not over hyped – they were deservedly the second best team in the world. Now, they are obviously not.

      If Ireland are now the World No2, it is because they deserve to be, and congratulations to them.

      However, I do hope that you’re right on the winning of the 2019 World Cup.

      1. Blub has pretty much beaten me to the punch here.

        A side that equals the record for consecutive wins – including a 3-0 series victory in Australia and a 6 Nations Grand Slam – is a very good side and was rightfully number 2 in the world and breathing heavily down the neck of the number 1 side. You can’t over hype a side that has that kind of winning record.

        Yes cracks were visible in the loss to Ireland last year and many of us noted that at the time. This year the cracks have been exposed by injuries and I think over-playing some key figures.

        Ireland have as Blub said rightly taken the number 2 spot but that is a fickle thing as if England win on Saturday, they will take that spot right back.

        2 defeats on the trot do not make England a bad team. Their record since the last World Cuo reads 24 wins, 3 losses. New Zealand’s reads 24 wins, 3 losses, 1 draw – does that make the Kiwis a bad or over-hyped team?

        As to the rest of your arguments:

        – the French don’t know what their best side is currently. I’d argue that the side that beat England was more balanced, effective and unified than the side that narrowly lost to Ireland. And I’d be surprised if we saw many of those 8 players return to the starting line up

        As for the Northern Hemisphere, Wales are about the only side who seemed to have made some progress, getting away from Gatland’s reliance on power and trying to play a different way, with some success.

        Scotland still, for the nth year in a row, flatter to deceive. Capable of one big game followed by a lot of disappointments.

        France may have found some mojo after the England game but it’s too early to say. They are still seem to be in somewhat of a chaotic state.

        Italy have played some nice stuff in parts but that’s no different to previous years.

        Ireland are still a very strong if limited side. They will never set the world alight with flair but they do what they do very well. They are still massively over-reliant on Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton – without those 2 they would not be the same team. Their performances haven’t overly convinced this year and at best they are treading water

        And England, we know about.

        Not a great year for the NH – our only consolation that Aus and SA still have their own problems.

        Oh and if you truly believe Ireland will win by 15 points, I suggest you get yourself down the bookies – 4/1 for a win by 13+ points.

        Worth noting though that the outright odds are 11/10 on both teams

  8. In another week we would’ve seen Liam Williams as the villian, for yet another senseless, cheap-shot high tackle. He’s a quality player but I cant help but feel he has a nasty streak. I also found it laughable how Jonathan Davies (elder) tried to compare LWs tackle to the one Watson made the day before.

  9. What England were is not what they are now. Certain players have had their time, ( ( Cole, Hartley, Brown to name a few and do not have a “ playing at the absolute highest level “ WC performance left in them-everyone has their time)
    I feel, without significant changes, England are 18 Months away from a group exit.
    I really feel that we have had our peak and it’s way too early. 12 months ago we would have given the AB’s a run for their money.
    Surely Jones has to see this. Our attacking guile has dissipated.
    The Lions we have are tired ( albeit World class )
    They are not going to magic something up on Saturday.
    Forget this Six Nations Eddy and play who you think has international potential and forget the score.
    No One will remember this Six Nations but they will remember who won the WC.

    Who ever wins the next 6 Nations has the best chance from the NH In the next WC,
    So unless England win the next 6 Nations at a canter they have no chance.

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