When Eddie Jones’ side visited majority favorites Ireland back at the start of February, and departed with a bonus point victory, there was a confidence among England fans that no one could beat them.
Fast forward to the 75th minute of the Scotland game and those same English fans are watching their side hurtle towards a second defeat of the tournament, against a team second-bottom of the table.
It took a George Ford overtime try to prevent one of the most sensational slip-ups of recent times, and spared the blushes of England players, fans and head coach Jones.
Ireland 20-32 England
England’s Six Nations campaign got off to cracking start at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin – a venue where they had previously failed to win at in six years.
Last years Grand Slam champions were left stunned as England ran in four tries to claim a 32-20 victory.
Joe Schmidt’s side were dissected by England’s pacey and intelligent backline, with two-try hero Henry Slade starring at centre.
Jonny May and Elliot Daly both scored as Ireland capitulated under England’s relentless kicking game – Daly’s try came courtesy of Jacob Stockdale fumbling the fullbacks kick.
The only setback for England was the loss of the influential Maro Itoje to injury. Itoje wouldn’t feature again for England in the competition.
England 44-8 France
England’s attack carried it’s scintillating form back to Twickenham, as Jones’ men ripped a woeful France side to shreds.
May scored a hat-trick of tries in the same corner before the half hour mark, before Slade bagged his third score in two games before halftime.
A penalty try followed as France disintegrated after the break, before Owen Farrell crossed for England’s 10th try of the competition already.
The intensity dropped as Jones introduced his ‘finishers’, but the head coach will be happy his side were clinical enough to see the game out – but that would become an issue in weeks to come.
Wales 21-13 England
As England slumped to defeat in Cardiff, it seemed all the good work from the first two games had been undone.
As the game approached the interval, with England leading 10-3 thanks to Tom Curry’s first international try, there was a sense that Jones’ men would rumble on to a third consecutive victory.
But what happened just before the break typified the deep-lying mental issues this England side is plagued with.
A 12-man maul was threatening to reach the Welsh line, but the ball was slung out to Farrell, who opted for a cross-kick which was ultimately ineffective.
There was acres of space for the England backs outside Farrell, and it was a uncharacteristically reckless decision to go to the boot. Another try before halftime would’ve put Wales at arms length; instead, they were right in the game.
A Warren Gatland masterclass ensued in the second period, with Dan Biggar coming off the bench to orchestrate wave after wave of Welsh attack, as England were starved of possession.
Cory Hill and Josh Adams both went over for Wales as England’s defence finally succumbed to the endless pressure, completing a memorable turnaround.
This result abruptly ended English Grand Slam hopes, and reiterated their inability to retain leads in big games.
This result put half-hearted smiles back on English faces, but there was still a lingering hangover from the defeat at the Millenium Stadium.
There was an element of anger in Englands play, as they took the frustration of the Welsh loss out on a sorry Italian side.
Jones’ men ran in eight tries in a largely entertaining game, with Manu Tuilagi and Brad Shields both scoring braces.
Jonny May scored his fifth try of the competition, and was joined on the scoresheet by Jamie George, Dan Robson and George Kruis.
England 38-38 Scotland
With Wales’ victory over Ireland earlier in the day eliminating the prospect of England catching Gatland’s side, it seemed the Calcutta Cup match would be a forgotten game in the Six Nation archives.
However, it was anything but.
England flew out the blocks, scoring 30 points in as many minutes, looking to give Twickenham with something to cheer about despite the earlier result.
A fancy pass from Slade sending May over for his 6th try of the competition was the pick of five first half tries, as England set about proving the Wales result as an anomaly among their other brilliant attacking performances.
Their display over the next 40 minutes did nothing to prove that however.
Scotland ran in six unanswered tries, with Sam Johnson scoring five minutes from time to complete an astonishing comeback.
With Scotland now leading 38-31, an England side playing to save themselves from embarrassment managed to reach the Scottish five-metre line. Ford received the ball midfield, then threw a dummy to send himself under the posts, and send Twickenham into relieved pandemonium.
Where did it go wrong?
Eddie Jones heavily criticised his player’s mentality following the Wales defeat, as well as after the draw with Scotland in the final round of the Six Nations.
In both games, England were leading comfortably at half time – more so in the Scotland game admittedly – and ended up giving up their advantage before the end of the match.
He said: “It’s like we have some hand grenades in the back of a jeep and sometimes they go off when there’s a lot of pressure. We have a few of them and we’ve got to get rid of them.”
He revealed that he would seek expert help before the World Cup, to help tackle his sides mental weakness in big games.
Jones said: “Well, it’s a combination of personnel, but I’ve got one person that’s going to help us that’s a bit of an expert. I’m not sharing that name with you now. I haven’t used her before.
The Australian reiterated that this wasn’t a freak occurrence, and is something that has prevented his side from reaching elite status for some time.
“It is a recurring thing. It is not a one off,” Jones told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“When you want to be the best side in the world you have to put sides like Scotland away. We had the opportunity to do it and we didn’t.”
Two in 10 minutes for Henry Slade vs Ireland
The best moment of England’s campaign would obviously come before the Wales defeat, as everything since that loss seemed slightly hollow.
Slade’s two scores in Dublin encapsulated English fans reason to be optimistic – they demonstrated a confidence and excitement to Jones’ side.
It also showed that England could compete with – and beat – the very best.
The first came from a scrum on halfway, with Ben Youngs slinging the ball to the right wing, where Jonny May found space and kicked forward.
Slade, on exactly the same wavelength, ran onto the loose ball to score and put England 12 points clear of the reigning champions with 15 minutes to go.
The second, scored with five minutes left to play, allowed England to properly celebrate. It was the icing on the cake.
Slade picked off a pass from World Player of the Year, Johnny Sexton, and kept hold of the ball superbly to score England’s fourth and final try.
Honorable mention: George Ford try vs Scotland. Was a terrific moment of relief for English support after an astonishing game of rugby, but England should never have been in the position in the first place. There was also nothing left to play for other than pride (and the Calcutta Cup).
Josh Adams try in 21-13 loss to Wales
When Josh Adams rose above Elliot Daly to claim Dan Biggar’s pinpoint cross-field kick, it epitomised the game itself.
Wales simply rose to the occasion – most notably in the second half – and England, like Daly, didn’t.
Not only did it end England’s Grand Slam hopes, it provided the Welsh with a springboard to go on and win the title, as well as handing them a record 12th consecutive Test win.
It was the final nail in the coffin on a hugely disappointing day for English rugby.
Honorable mention: Sam Johnson try to make it 38-31 to Scotland with five minutes to go. Had Ford not scored in overtime, this would be unquestionably the worst moment of the campaign – nothing could be more sickening for England than throwing away a 31-point lead, against Scotland of all teams.
It easy to forget this man is just 20 years of age. His sin-bin against Ireland perhaps highlighted his over-eagerness, but he will only learn from mistakes such as this.
Just watching the workload the flanker gets through makes you feel tired – he made a staggering 86 tackles across the five games, more than any other player.
In addition, the Sale Sharks man managed five turnovers across the course of the campaign, which is no mean feat at international level.
His try against Wales also showed an intelligent side to his game that not many players his age possess.
Honorable mention: Henry Slade. Re-earned his place in the squad after impressing in the Autumn internationals, and fully justified his inclusion with some big performances in big games. His brace against Ireland will be one to remember. England look a better side with the Sale man in the team.
England will play four Test Matches in the summer, as preparation for the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
In August, they will play Grand Slam winners Wales home and away, before Ireland visit Twickenham.
Then, at the start of September, they will host Italy at St. James’ Park.
The World Cup will then kick off mid-September. England have been drawn in pool C, along with France, USA, Argentina and Tonga.
Their first match will be against Tonga on September 22nd at the Sapporo Dome.
World Rugby Gives Deadline for Nations Championship
World Rugby have given the 10 unions from the Six Nations and Rugby Championship a final deadline to decide on the Nations Championship
For their plans to be progressed World Rugby needs a unanimous decision from the 10 unions.
If that is to happen, they plan to launch their new format in 2022, with winners of the Six Nations and an expanded six-team Rugby Championship going head to head.
The final proposals of the Nations Championship will have to be passed by a vote of the full World Rugby council, however none of this will go ahead unless there is backing from the 10 nations.
Proposals have included creating two-tier tournaments for the Six Nations and Rugby Championship which would include the possibility of relegation or promotion.
A format which Six Nations unions appear to dislike.
As well as this there is the issue of the Pacific Islands, who believe that the creation of such tournaments would mean that they would be less likely to face the top nations in November and therefore be unable to develop as they currently are.
Whatever is to happen will become clearer in the next couple of days and it could be the start of a new era for international rugby.
Welsh Warrior to Play Trade Outside Wales Post-World Cup?
One of Wales’ finest players may make a move away from the country after the World Cup
The Welsh captain has spent his entire career with the Ospreys, but fans expect and are even encouraging the lock to seek a move elsewhere after Shane Williams said his future needed to be sorted.
Jones has previously turned down the chance to move abroad for a better contract, instead remaining in Wales and being a loyal servant to both his country and club.
Having made 125 caps for Wales, their Grand Slam winning captain would be eligible to continue playing for the country if he did move as he more than doubles the required 60-caps for overseas-based players.
Fans seem to think that Jones deserves to earn more overseas in the twilight of his career and set himself up for a more stable future come the end of his glittering career.
Another possibility for the 33-year-old could be a big-money move to Japan. Either way most of the clubs in Europe or Japan can offer Jones a significant salary rise which he could be tempted by.
Ireland Legend Signs Contract Extension
One of Ireland’s most decorated players has put pen to paper on a new contract
There had been much speculation after Leinster head coach announced a list of contract renewals last week and Kearney’s name was missing however, all has been sorted and he will stay at Leinster for at least one more season.
Kearney is delighted to have been able to re-sign and admits he sees no reason to stop playing in the near future.
“I just played in two finals. I feel as if I am still playing pretty well. The coaches obviously feel that too. I fully love what I am doing. I am living a dream since I was a kid of five years of age. Why stop? The body is still good, the mind is still good. I’m still loving what I’m doing, I’m getting picked. I don’t see any reason why I should stop,” he said.
Next season will be Kearney’s 15th as a professional and although he considered moves abroad, he believes that he would have been taking a huge risk.
“So, all of a sudden if you do go somewhere else and then you are asking your body to train-play, train-play, you are taking a risk with it. You look at some of the games that the Premiership guys play and the French – they play a lot. We do get very well looked after here,” he added.
The 33-year-old picked up a fifth PRO 14 medal with Leinster on Saturday to add to his collection and said that medals keep him going but that the comradery within the squad is a massive part of what keeps him going.
“Every time you have one, you don’t want to be anywhere else in the world. You have worked so hard for a whole year, you’ve come through thick and thin and we have lifted another trophy together. A group of 57 players contributed to that and you just feel very lucky to be part of it,” he finished.
Along with his PRO 14 medals Kearney has claimed four Champions Cups and a Challenge Cup with the province in 209 appearances, while in 90 caps for Ireland he has won two Grand Slams and two further Six Nations crowns and featuring on two British & Irish Lions tours.
With all that in mind, IRFU performance director David Nucifora is happy to have such a decorated player remain in the country.
“Rob has contributed a huge amount to Irish rugby and has performed at a high level again this year for Ireland and Leinster. We are delighted that he will continue his career in Ireland in what will be his 15th season as a senior pro,” he said.
Kearney will hope that he can play a key role in Ireland’s bid to reach a first World Cup final later this year in Japan, before looking ahead to next season and who knows this warrior could earn himself another extension but for now let’s enjoy what he brings while he remains on our shores.
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