Given that the fourth round of the Six Nations has taken place a day earlier than all of the other rounds, I decided to postpone this week’s blog until the Saturday night, in order to take in what turned out to be the decisive weekend of the tournament. There was no Six Nations trophy handed out in Twickenham, but the Calcutta Cup was handed over to English captain Dylan Hartley after they secured the Championship title with a 61-21 win against the Scots. It would be petty of me not to congratulate Eddie Jones’ men and credit is due to the men in white. They thoroughly deserve to win this competition and have undoubtedly been the best and most consistent side of the six.
So what went wrong for Ireland? Well, let me start in Cardiff last night, where a war with Wales sealed the fate of Schmidt’s warriors. The first half-hour was quite impressive from the Irish, matching the levels of intensity and physicality posed to them by Wales. An injury to Conor Murray heavily restricted his play and this didn’t help the attacking flow we all expected to see. The tactic heavily employed by Johnny Sexton whereby he kicked out of hand more than I’ve ever seen him do so similarly didn’t help the attack gain any momentum. It’s unclear whether it was the player himself who decided to keep implementing this, but regardless, it dominated our attacking plan and didn’t prove as fruitful as imagined. Another heavily criticised aspect of the Irish play was the determination to try and run through the Welsh defence, which simply wasn’t going to work as soon as Ireland went behind. All of these factors contributed to a disappointing loss, but the simple fact on the night was that Wales wanted it more and most definitely deserved their eventual 22-9 win.
With the men in green defeated in the Principality Stadium, it was left to Scotland to stop the English securing the Championship in a fiery Twickenham. This wasn’t before France demolished Italy in Rome. The Italians were just 16-11 behind at half-time, but a second-half scoreline of 7-24 in favour of France just continued the trend of second-half collapses for Conor O’ Shea’s men. The French will take solace from their victory but bigger questions have to be answered by the French Federation, which is a topic for another day. Today was all about England. Scotland will know they’ve been very unlucky in this year’s competition, given their injury list, which just kept growing this evening. However, it’s not like they helped themselves today, either. With 3 minutes on the clock, the Scots were 7-0 down and were playing with 14 men. Granted, they were restored to 15 when Fraser Brown returned from the sin bin. The damage had been done though, as all the English needed was that bit of confidence. They never looked back and a hat-trick from Jonathan Joseph, quickly becoming a star in this England side, helped them to a 61-21 victory.
While many expected next week’s clash in the Aviva to be a Championship decider, it still is a Grand Slam decider. It’s just that the Grand Slam on offer is for England and we only have pride and a table position to fight for. However, there’s life in this dog yet. If anyone can stop this Grand Slam, it could well be the Irish. We might as well hold out some hope.