After a bruising and sometimes scrappy victory over Wales at Twickenham, the Six Nations title – and the Grand Slam – are still in England’s sights. Winning it for the third year in a row would be a huge achievement, but do Eddie Jones’s men have what it takes?
Rugby fans who want to bet on the Six Nations should check out the latest odds; England are big favourites to win their third game of the tournament against Scotland, though it will be a tough test for the men in white.
Scotland have been tipped to break through for a number of seasons now, and they were many pundits’ dark horses in this tournament. Their chances took a blow with a heavy opening-day defeat in Cardiff, but they showed what they can do when overcoming France at Murrayfield, shutting out their opponents with a display of defensive solidity that England will have noted ahead of the Calcutta Cup game.
They are the second-best side in the world on merit, but it’s fair to say that England haven’t been at their best over the last 12 months. Of course, the ability to grind out victories regardless of form is one of the hallmarks of a great rugby side, but if England are to secure a third straight title, they will be looking to some key players to inspire the side to a greater level of performance in the tough games ahead.
The key to another English Six Nations triumph could be George Ford. The brains of England’s attacking game, Ford has mainly confined his influence to being a distributor in the deep in recent outings, but if he can rediscover the dynamic side of his game, breaking the game-line with more frequency, he will be able to open up England’s play and orchestrate a greater threat from the power-packed backs behind him.
The other key players for the remainder of the tournament are Owen Farrell and Joe Launchbury. Launchbury has been immense in their two games so far, and in the absence of Billy Vunipola, has stepped up to be the driving force of the England pack. He will be at the centre of the tough battles to come against Scotland and Ireland, which may well come down to a test of forward strength and sheer will to win.
Speaking of will to win, Farrell is England’s other go-to player. Thoroughly consistent in every aspect of the game, whether it’s kicking, tackling or powering through the opposing game-line, Farrell’s will to win and meticulous approach to the game will be crucial in driving the team to a third Six Nations title.
The biggest threats to England come from Wales and Ireland. Wales missed their chance at Twickenham when they were unlucky to have a try disallowed and were badly affected by the late withdrawal of Leigh Halfpenny, who could have made the difference in the atrocious conditions. However, the Welsh side, which is currently in transition, could yet have a say in the destination of the Six Nations when they take on Ireland. Victory in Dublin would dent Ireland’s chances, put Wales back in the mix, and set up a nail-biting finish.
A Welsh victory in Dublin would also hand the initiative to England, but that may not be too significant as Eddie Jones’s side will almost certainly have to beat Ireland at Twickenham to clinch the title in any event. That game is set to be the defining match of the Six Nations.
Ireland are a well-balanced side, with experience in all the key areas, supplemented by a wealth of young talent. They have a solid pack, effective set-play games, and they make very few unforced errors – something that can’t be said of England so far in this tournament. Above all, the half-back axis of Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray is arguably the best in the Northern Hemisphere, and gives Ireland the ability to thrive in any conditions.
Ireland have a narrow points difference lead over England, but crucially, they have had the luxury of playing their two easiest games first. They will next have to take on Wales in Dublin and Scotland at Murrayfield before they arrive at Twickenham for the possible tournament decider. Assuming that they can edge out Scotland, England will next have a relatively straightforward game against the French before they take on Ireland in front of 80,000 passionate supporters. It promises to be a stirring conclusion to a thrilling tournament, and England have a great chance of achieving a remarkable hat-trick of Six Nations victories.
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