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6 Nations

England’s Six Nations campaign in review: Just a big anticlimax?

What happened, best and worst moments, and who stood out for England at the 2019 Six Nations.

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Photo by David Rogers - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

The dramatic draw against Scotland in the final game of the 2019 Six Nations rather summed up England’s campaign – loads of tries, a brilliant start, and then a disappointing second half.

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.

What happened?

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.

England 57-14

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.”

Best Moment

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).

Worst Moment

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.

Best player

Tom Curry

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.

What next?

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.

6 Nations

Rory Best to retire.

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Ulster and Ireland captain Rory Best has confirmed that he will retire from professional rugby when his current contract expires after the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Best will bow out with a hugely impressive list of honours and will go down as a legend of the modern game, having spent 15 seasons at the top level.

Rory began his rugby development at Banbridge RFC, with whom he is still involved, while he also played at Portadown College and Belfast Harlequins RFC on route to the professional game.

He made his competitive debut for Ulster in 2004 and has amassed 219 appearances to date, scoring 23 tries. He was a key member of the squad which won the Celtic League title in 2005/06.

Best is Ulster’s most-capped international with 116 appearances (10 tries) and has helped Ireland win the Six Nations Championship on four occasions, including two Grand Slam successes (one as captain).

Best’s leadership of Ireland is record-breaking; he captained Ireland to its first ever win against New Zealand in 2016 and has steered the country to second in the world rankings.

He was a member of the British & Irish Lions squad for the 2013 and 2017 tours to Australia and New Zealand respectively.

Best was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to rugby.

“It is with mixed feelings that I announce my retirement from Ulster Rugby as of the end of this season,” said Best.

“This feels like the right time for me to go out on my terms, a luxury for which I feel very privileged.

“I am very excited for the end of the season with Ulster Rugby and for the upcoming World Cup with Ireland, both of which I hope to finish with a massive high, playing at the top of my game.

“In my 15 years at this brilliant club, I have been lucky to have met, played alongside, been coached by and supported by many great people, and I would like to thank every individual for the time they have invested in me since 2004.

“I grew up supporting Ulster Rugby, have been fortunate to play and captain Ulster Rugby, and now look forward to supporting Ulster Rugby in the future with my family.”

Paying tribute to Best, Ulster’s Operations Director, Bryn Cunningham said:

“No player representing Ulster Rugby has had a more profound impact in the professional era than Rory.

“When Rory enters the room, everyone waits for his words. On the training pitch, he demands high standards at all times. During a match, players turn to Rory for leadership and direction. He has been our all-encompassing talismanic figure for more than a decade.

“Rory’s ability to not only stay at the top, but also fight his way through adversity, shows the strength of character he possesses.

“The ever-present support of the Best family on the side-lines, in particular Jodie, Ben, Penny and Richie, encapsulates Rory as the ultimate family man. We know that they will continue to follow Ulster Rugby for many years to come.

“Rory will justifiably go down as one of the greatest legends of Ulster and Irish Rugby.”

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6 Nations

Richards Claims 2003 World Cup Winners Cheated, Woodward Denies

Dean Richards has made some serious accusations to the RFU.

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Former Harlequins director of rugby and ‘Bloodgate’ scandal Dean Richards told the RFU that England’s 2003 World Cup winners cheated in a report.

He claims that his Harlequins side were not the only team using fake injuries to win games and that the World Cup winners were doing so too.

The document, which was uncovered by a documentary on talkSPORT revealed what Richards had said.

“The use of fake blood, cutting players, re-opening wounds, feigning injury in the front row, jabbing players with anaesthetic all occur regularly throughout the game,” he said.

When asked about giving examples by former RFU head of discipline Jeff Blackett he accused the English team.

“RWC 2003. England used faked blood,” he said.

Richards, who was banned from rugby for three years in 2009 for his part in the scandal in which players used fake blood to be taken off as blood substitutions has been shut down by 2003 coach Clive Woodward.

“This is simply not true. I am not sure why Dean raised this. I have never been involved in anything like this. It is ridiculous,” he said.

He also said that the claim was “absolute nonsense”.

It appears as though the RFU have nothing to worry about this time around as it seems like Richards is trying to stir the pot once more in the rugby world.

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6 Nations

French Rugby rule out foreign coach.

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Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images

It’s been well documented that current French Coach Jacques Brunel will be vacating his role with the FFR post World Cup in Japan later this year and with all confirmed exits, speculation is always rife as to who will step up and take the role.

One thing that was confirmed this week was that the next head coach of France will not be Warren Gatland, Joe Schmidt, Eddie Jones – or any other overseas coach that has been linked with the top job in French Rugby.

This decision was made following a referendum of the country’s amateur rugby clubs which ruled out a non-Frenchman taking charge.

59% of the clubs voted with a view that they would not support the appointment of a foreigner to replace Jacques Brunel after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

French Federation president Bernard Laporte has promised to respect the result.

“I welcome this democratic expression and of course I will respect that choice,”

Several names have been linked with the job. Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt who have both coached their last 6 Nations games with Wales & Ireland respectively would be shrewd appointments as would Sir Clive Woodward and John Mitchell were also thought to be on the FFR’s shortlist. Current Montpellier boss Vern Cotter – was also expected to be a contender but he too will now not be considered for the role.

Rumours are still strong regarding Ronan O’Gara taking some sort of coaching role with the FFR pre Rugby World Cup but nothing official has been announced to date.

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