England shouldn’t be criticised for matching record without facing All Blacks
England matched New Zealand’s record run of 18 consecutive victories when they dismantled Scotland 61-21 at Twickenham on Saturday, but they have had their sequence of wins questioned by some who believe it shouldn’t really be praised as they haven’t faced the All Blacks since 2014.
However, New Zealand’s run, which came to an end when they were beaten by Ireland in Chicago last October for the first time, also lacks the name ‘England’ among their conquered opponents. So if England’s run cannot be taken for what it is, given the haven’t played the best team in the world, how can New Zealand’s if they have avoided the second best?
Unfortunately, New Zealand and England will not play each other again until 2014, but when that clash comes around, England may well be the side to beat.
Joseph answers his critics in style
Jonathan Joseph was sent back to Harlequins two weeks ago as Eddie Jones wanted to experiment against Italy without the centre in the team. Having struggled to produce his best against France and Wales, questions were begging to be asked of Joseph, but on Saturday he answered them emphatically.
A wonderful hat-trick inspired England to a crushing victory over a Scotland side that simply collapsed, and it was the difference in Joseph’s tries that made the scores all the more impressive. The first try saw Joseph display his pace and power, the second one came from dazzling footwork and the third saw him cut a lovely inside line to break cleanly from short range.
The performance will have been a timely reminder to Warren Gatland about what he can do for the British and Irish Lions, and with stiff competition coming from Jonathan Davies, Huw Jones and Garry Ringrose, it will have done Joseph’s hopes no end of good.
Ireland guilty of their own downfall
Ireland missed far too many chances to build pressure on Wales on Friday night by turning down kicks at goals in the hope of scoring a try from a lineout, only for poor execution to let them down. The outcome proved to be that they were chasing the game late on at 15-9 down when Jamie Roberts took full advantage of Taulupe Faletau’s charged down on Johnny Sexton to score the match-clinching try and secure victory for Wales.
But it could have been very different, had Ireland not rejected three kicks at goal that, had Sexton scored them all, meant that Ireland would’ve been leading heading into those final five minutes.
Wales have shown the price of not taking points when they are on offer this championship, but on Friday they looked as though they had learned their lesson, showing a much more clinical side to their game to score three tries with Leigh Halfpenny adding three penalties. Ireland must now learn the same lesson.
Italy are losing games in the second half
Italy have led Wales and England at half-time in this tournament, and were well in contention against France on Saturday when the teams headed in for the break. However, their second half performances have been the root of their problems under Conor O’Shea.
When their four first half scores are added together, Italy trail 57-38, with the gap largely coming in the four first-half tries they shipped against Ireland in round two. However, their four second half scores total and alarming 115-12, which displays an obvious lack of match fitness and also the squad depth that the likes of England and Ireland can offer.
It’s a problem that O’Shea knows only too well, having already addressed this issue publicly, but it’s not an issue that will go away overnight. Italy will take some time before getting any better.
Defeat a major setback for battered Scotland
That Scotland lost to England is not a massive setback, but the fact that they completely collapsed after more injury problems struck will be of great concern to incoming coach Gregor Townsend. The former Scotland fly-half replaces Vern Cotter following the Six Nations, and he will immediately try to work out how it went so wrong at Twickenham when Scotland were supposed to be at their strongest for quite some time.
Injuries didn’t help. WP Nel, Greig Laidlaw and Josh Strauss were already ruled out through injury, while Stuart Hogg and Mark Bennett soon joined them on the sidelines. Losing their best players is obviously going to make Scotland’s task much harder, but the way they simply wilted in the face of an England side firing on all cylinders is certain to cause concern, and prove that they are still some way off their opponents.