Sunday 25 September 2016

England on the verge of a 'cheap' championship and other talking points from today's game

Declan Warrington

Published 12/03/2016 | 19:53

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 12: George North of Wales is tackled by Manu Tuilagi of England late in the game during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 12, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 12: George North of Wales is tackled by Manu Tuilagi of England late in the game during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on March 12, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

England's 25-21 RBS Six Nations defeat of Wales has left them on course to win the Grand Slam when they face France in Paris next week.

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Despite a late fightback from Wales, they are showing signs of progress.

Here are five things we learned from Saturday's contest.

1. England are on the verge of a 'cheap' championship.

Given their four victories from four since Eddie Jones' appointment it is tempting to see the Australian as the solution to all of England's problems, but it should not be overlooked he has become coach at a good time. They were at their lowest ebb, and this Six Nations has been lower in quality than most, even if that is not entirely unusual in a World Cup season. Despite an impressive performance, even if they win the Grand Slam they have some way to go if they are to fulfil their ambitions, as Wales' two late tries demonstrated. The coach does, though, deserve credit for the belief he has given them and the fact they are playing as a team.

2. Maro Itoje has a long-term future at international level.

In only his second Test start, the 21-year-old Itoje established himself as a lock of a potentially very-high calibre. Jones has already spoken of his promise, and in what has long been an unsettled position for England, Itoje demonstrated his maturity, tacking and ball-carrying ability, as well as his strength in the lineout. There is little question he should have much to offer in the coming years.

3. The scrum had little to do with deciding this contest.

For all of the mid-week accusations of illegal scrummaging, England won this through their high intensity and Wales' lack thereof until the final 20 minutes. A highly-competitive match was expected, but barring a late fightback England won with surprising ease against a Wales team that showed little hunger and was defensively poor. Referee Craig Joubert oversaw his first fixture since his controversial performance at the World Cup when Australia eliminated Scotland, and was authoritative, and far from challenged by the scrum.

4. Dan Biggar's habits are not as bad as Eddie Jones suggests.

As is Jones' way, he spoke in the week of his belief Biggar retains habits he first noticed in 2013 that can still be exploited. He was Wales' most impressive player, however, with a committed performance best captured by him charging down George Ford's casual kick to earn himself the try that lifted his team.

5. Manu Tuilagi's international return has put George Ford's position in doubt.

Tuilagi's appearance as a replacement was expected, but what was unclear was whether he would replace Owen Farrell or Ford when he came on at inside centre. After a poor performance which cost England one try and could have led to another, the talented Ford was taken off and Farrell was moved to fly-half. In the long-term, Tuilagi and the consistent, confident Farrell appear more likely to be in Jones' starting XV.

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