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.
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.
Aki Banned For Eight Weeks
Aki will be unavailable for the westerners’ next five URC games, including the derby clashes with Munster and Leinster, and will also miss at least the first two of Ireland’s Autumn Nations Series fixtures.
He will definitely be absent for the Tests against South Africa and Fiji, but could return to face Australia on Saturday, November 19 if he ‘successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme’.
After an act of foul play against Stormers winger Seabelo Senatla, referee Gianluca Gnecchi showed Aki a red card in the 60th minute of the game under law 9.20(a).
The particular law states that a player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without binding onto another player in the ruck or maul.
In his responses to the judicial officer overseeing the disciplinary process (Pamela Woodman from Scotland), Aki had accepted that he had committed an act of foul play which warranted a red card.
She determined that his actions towards Senatla were reckless and took into account, among other things, the speed, force and high degree of danger in his actions.
Ms. Woodman determined that, had it been based on this conduct alone, the offending would have been categorised as mid-range on the scale of seriousness.
However, she also considered Aki’s actions and demeanour towards the referee in connection with the issue of the red card, which she found did not meet the expected standards of conduct or respect.
This was also taken into account (in accordance with URC’s disciplinary rules) in determining that his offending was at the top-end on the scale of seriousness, which warranted an entry point sanction of 10 weeks.
The judicial officer then considered if there were any mitigating factors and found that Aki’s acceptance that he had committed an act of foul play (during the off-field disciplinary process), expression of remorse, apologies to both the opposing player and referee, and willingness to engage with his provincial coaching staff on a plan to address this issue, were relevant mitigating factors.
These mitigating factors warranted a reduction in the sanction of four weeks.
Aki’s previous suspensions for red cards in 2019 and 2021 for foul play involving head contact, as well as his suspension and warning for previous conduct relating to interactions with referees, were considered aggravating factors, which the judicial officer decided warranted a further two weeks of sanction.
As a result, the Ireland international will be suspended for a period of eight weeks. As previously stated, should he complete the Coaching Intervention programme then the sanction will be reduced by one week.
Fixtures Bundee Aki is unavailable for:
Vodacom Bulls v Connacht, September 30, BKT URC
Connacht v Munster, October 7, BKT URC
Connacht v Leinster, October 14, BKT URC
Connacht v Scarlets, October 21, BKT URC
Ospreys v Connacht, October 29, BKT URC
Ireland v South Africa, November 5, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Fiji, November 12, Autumn Nations Series
Ireland v Australia, November 19, Autumn Nations Series (substituted if the player successfully completes the Head Contact Process Coaching Intervention programme)
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
Jones names squad for training camp
England will begin preparations for their four home Autumn Nations Series fixtures in November during the camp. The squad will meet in Richmond on Sunday 2 October and train at Twickenham Stadium.
First call-ups for camp include Northampton Saints’ Alex Coles and Saracens’ Hugh Tizard, both players having previously appeared for England U20s.
Manu Tuilagi and Sam Simmonds are back in the squad following injury and there are returns for Ben Youngs, Alex Mitchell, Tom Pearson and David Ribbans.
England face Argentina in the first of their four matches at Twickenham Stadium on Sunday 6 November (2.15pm KO). They will then host Japan on Saturday 12 November (3.15pm KO), followed by New Zealand on Saturday 19 November (5.30pm KO). Their final match is against South Africa on Saturday 26 November (5.30pm KO).
“With a year to go to the Rugby World Cup, this is a big opportunity for players to come in and impress,” said Jones. “We want them to show real energy and enthusiasm and that they want to be a part of this massive year.
“It doesn’t mean that those who have been left out won’t be considered for the Autumn Nations Series matches. We’ll be looking at club games, form and fitness and the door is left open for those players.
“We finished the Australia tour well. It was a fantastic experience, particularly for the younger players. We now have to start again, but we’ll build on what we’ve done there and continue that momentum.”
Ollie Chessum (Leicester Tigers, 5 caps)
Alex Coles (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 37 caps)
Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 41 caps)
Ellis Genge (Bristol Bears, 39 caps)
Jamie George (Saracens, 69 caps)
Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers, 5 caps)
Jonny Hill (Sale Sharks, 15 caps)
Lewis Ludlam (Northampton Saints, 14 caps)
Tom Pearson (London Irish, uncapped)
David Ribbans (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Bevan Rodd (Sale Sharks, 2 caps)
Patrick Schickerling (Exeter Chiefs, uncapped)
Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, 14 caps)
Will Stuart (Bath Rugby, 23 caps)
Hugh Tizard (Saracens, uncapped)
Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 64 caps)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens, 70 caps)
Jack Walker (Harlequins, uncapped)
Jack Willis (Wasps, 4 caps)
Henry Arundell (London Irish, 3 caps)
Joe Cokanasiga (Bath Rugby, 12 caps)
Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints, uncapped)
Owen Farrell (Saracens, 97 caps)
Tommy Freeman (Northampton Saints, 2 caps)
George Furbank (Northampton Saints, 6 caps)
Will Joseph (London Irish, 1 cap)
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby, 69 caps)
Alex Mitchell (Northampton Saints, 1 cap)
Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, 42 caps)
Guy Porter (Leicester Tigers, 2 caps)
Marcus Smith (Harlequins, 13 caps)
Freddie Steward (Leicester Tigers, 13 caps)
Manu Tuilagi (Sale Sharks, 46 caps)
Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester Tigers, 3 caps)
Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 117 caps)
Unavailable for selection due to injury: Alfie Barbeary, Nic Dolly, Alex Dombrandt, Charlie Ewels, George Ford, Sam Jeffries, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Courtney Lawes, Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson.
New governance structure agreed for rugby in Scotland
Scottish Rugby President Colin Rigby hailed a “significant milestone” for the game in Scotland when member clubs agreed a new governance structure at an online special general meeting last night.
The new structure, based on the recommendations on the Standing Committee on Governance (SCOG), sees the new Scottish Rugby Union (a company limited by guarantee) take on the responsibility for the oversight of the organisation’s main operating vehicle, Scottish Rugby.
It also will provide an oversight function to the organisation’s members.
Professor Lorne Crerar CBE, Interim Chair of the new Scottish Rugby Union, pledged to the SGM that “all the promises for a new, well-functioning governance system will absolutely be delivered.”
Professor Crerar also called on the membership to play its part in finding the “very best talent” to serve as “custodians” on the new company’s board.
Colin Rigby thanked members, SCOG, the Scottish Rugby Council and Scottish Rugby’s employees for their patience, while the new structure was arrived at.
He added: “This is a significant milestone in the history of the Scottish Rugby Union where all stakeholders now have clarity around governance, roles and responsibility.”
John Jeffrey remains chairman of the Scottish Rugby Board which will continue to oversee the day-to-day operational, commercial and executive functions of Scottish Rugby.
Earlier tonight, members voted unanimously to receive Scottish Rugby’s financial statements for 2021-22 at the second part of the organisation’s AGM.
During the period, overall revenue returned to within 5% of pre-pandemic levels at £57.9million, a rise of £5.5million from the previous year.
The accounts showed a deficit of £5.3 million on the base business, while the strategic investment from private equity partners CVC drove a gain on disposal of investment of £34.2million, bringing Scottish Rugby’s net surplus after tax to £29million for the year.
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