England’s impressive 24-12 defeat of Ireland at Twickenham on Sunday has left the visitor’s hopes of a Grand Slam and a Triple Crown in tatters, although the tournament title aspirations of both sides remains intact.
It will take a juggernaut effort from both England and Ireland to dethrone Wales as European champions, though, as the result in London leaves France four points clear at the summit of the table.
Victory for France over the next three weeks would see the Six Nations crown return across the English Channel for the first time in a decade, and Fabien Galthie’s side could well have England to thank for their imminent success following a compelling display in the British capital.
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With their hopes of a Triple Crown on the line, Eddie Jones’ men fronted up superbly in front of their home fans to keep themselves in the hunt for what would be their third title in five years.
So commanding was their performance that it earned an array of superlatives from esteemed New Zealand Herald scribe Liam Napier, who lathered the likes of Maro Itoje and Manu Tuilagi in praise for their efforts.
“England could hardly have been more dominant – their immediate roll on and powerful collisions reminiscent of their World Cup semifinal win over the All Blacks,” Napier wrote in his match report headlined ‘England win bruising Six Nations encounter over Ireland‘.
“Prior to this effort their Six Nations campaign had been far from impressive; a first up loss in Paris and narrow win in Edinburgh failing to convince they had put their World Cup final disappointment to bed.
“Without the influential Vunipola brothers, Mako and Billy, there were questions whether England could impose their physical strengths they so crave.
“On this occasion, in their first home match of the season, they emphatically answered yes.”
Those sentiments were echoed by World Cup-winning former England and British and Irish Lions coach Sir Clive Woodward, who highlighted man-of-the-match Courtney Lawes as a standout in his Daily Mail column ‘England proved me wrong with a strong disciplined display in Ireland victory‘.
“In contrast Ireland just weren’t there mentally in the first half and I can offer no explanation other than it does sometimes happen. Rugby is often an art more than a science, if it was the latter you could come up with the answers every time,” Woodward penned.
“Courtney Lawes is possibly a case in point. Like many others I wouldn’t have picked him at blindside flanker. I didn’t think he had gone well there in the past whereas he always looks a world-class lock, but he responded to the criticism of the selection — not him personally — with a magnificent all-round performance.
“Lawes rightly earned the man of the match award to celebrate his 31st birthday although I would say Maro Itoje would have run him pretty close.”
Conversely, it was Ireland captain Jonny Sexton who copped much of the blame from a losing perspective, as emphasised by The Guardian‘s Gerard Meagher in his piece ‘Wayward Johnny Sexton at the heart of Ireland’s struggles‘.
“By then Ireland’s captain had already gift-wrapped England their first try – juggling Ben Youngs’s grubber kick under close attention from Owen Farrell before spilling it into George Ford’s path,” Meagher wrote after expressing sympathy for the Irish playmaker’s misfortune.
“He proceeded to waste a penalty advantage, twice, with loose kicks, then shanked the resulting kick at goal and he was at fault soon after with a dreadful pass to Bundee Aki.
“Indeed, Sexton’s passing, normally so accurate, was off throughout – one of those days when the ball just won’t come out of the hands as hoped.”
Pundits on social media didn’t let their opinion go to waste either, with plenty of users taking to Twitter to take aim at one of the more bizarre moments of the fixture when English skipper Owen Farrell refused to let go of Irish No. 8 CJ Stander’s leg at a breakdown.
The South African-born Munster loose forward responded in physical fashion before being handed a penalty for Farrell’s indiscretion, which caught the attention of many online.
Owen Farrell has finally learnt how to wrap his arms.
— Sean (@AccordinToSean) February 23, 2020
Farrell penalised for this – TMO and ref say no punches and Stander is trying to get away pic.twitter.com/vl3Dn7eSHk
— Jonny Fordham ?? (@SunJonnyFordham) February 23, 2020
— Wicked Foster Child (@fosterpcl) February 23, 2020
Great reffing from Peyper there. If someone is holding you like that, you should be entitled to give them a smack to free yourself. What else are you supposed to do? Beg the ref for help?#ENGvIRE
— Duncan Casey (@BigDunc123) February 23, 2020
— Natalie Ayris (@natalieaayris) February 23, 2020
With just two rounds remaining in this year’s competition, the focus will narrow in on whether England and Ireland can chase down the French lead – a task which has just been made much more difficult for Andy Farrell’s side.
Ireland will resume their campaign in Dublin on March 7 when they host Italy before suiting up for what is set to be a blockbusting encounter against Les Bleus in Paris seven days later.
Before that, France will travel to Edinburgh to face off against Scotland on March 8, while England will host Wales in a must-win fixture and then travel to Rome to sign off their tournament against Italy in what could be a title-clinching match.
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