Monday 22 May 2017

Ireland in reverse, greatness awaits England: Five things we learned from the Six Nations this weekend

Duncan Bech

England retained their RBS 6 Nations title with a 61-21 victory over Scotland and there were also wins for Wales and France.

Here are five things we learned from the penultimate round of the Championship.

IRELAND IN REVERSE

Ireland's challenge for England's Six Nations crown failed to last beyond round four, their 22-9 thrashing in Cardiff as unexpected as it was emphatic. Four months after recording their first victory over New Zealand they face claims their attack has become predictable under Joe Schmidt, an accusation strenuously denied by the highly-regarded Kiwi. It has been a disappointing tournament, however, and their back-to-back titles of 2014 and 2015 are a distant memory.

'GREATNESS' AWAITS EDDIE'S ENGLAND

Eddie Jones insists England will have "greatness" bestowed upon them if they complete back-to-back Grand Slams, an achievement managed on only five previous occasions. It is a reasonable statement for a team that sits on the cusp of setting a new world record for successive Test wins, victory over Ireland on Saturday sweeping them past New Zealand's milestone.

Until the rout of Scotland, England had failed to scale the heights witnessed last year and the 18th consecutive triumph was a glorious return to form.

JOSEPH KNOCKS ON THE DOOR OF WORLD CLASS

It was a day when the moving parts of attack operated in complete harmony and by half-time England were out of sight, leading 30-7. Flawless set-piece provided the platform, George Ford and Owen Farrell the wizardry and Jonathan Joseph the electric finishing.

Joseph's game has morphed since he first became a regular in 2015, the blazing flurry of dynamic tries that marked his early caps replaced by his growing stature as a forceful defender with an opportunistic streak. The Bath centre's hat-trick against Scotland, however, was a blistering reminder that he is a special player.

WHAT HAPPENED TO SCOTLAND?

England were rampant, producing possibly the best attacking display of the Jones era, but the Scots were all-too willing victims. So much for the expectation they were a live threat as from the moment hooker Fraser Brown was sin-binned for a second-minute tip-tackle on Elliot Daly that should have been punished by a red card, they never recovered. Few teams could have stopped England in this form, but it was a crushing penultimate chapter of Vern Cotter's otherwise fine tenure as head coach.

WELSH LIONS ROAR

Among the most heartened by Wales' rout of Ireland would have been Warren Gatland, the British and Irish Lions coach who was present at the Principality Stadium to see a number of big names place one foot on the plane for New Zealand. Rhys Webb, Jonathan Davies and Sam Warburton impressed, but the most pleasing development was the return to form of wing George North whose two tries issued a timely reminder of his potency.

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