WHILST Eddie Jones’ men have an unblemished record (so far winning their first three matches), they have been far from convincing in their triumphs. After edging past Scotland at Murrayfield in their opener, it took them nearly 60 minutes to break down the Azzurri, where they eventually ran out 40-9 victors.
Although billed as the young, inexperienced England against an Ireland side who have won the last two Championships, the game featured three Irish debutants in a team lacking confidence and offensive nous. England spent what felt like the entirety of the first half in the Irish half, yet only yielded a 6-3 lead at the break. The England of old was brutally criticised for not being clinical enough, something Eddie Jones echoed in his post-match interview.
England v Wales is, without a doubt, the tournament-defining game with both sides heading to Twickenham unbeaten and buoyed by recent victories. Wales will be a different prospect. As the most settled squad in the Northern Hemisphere they are brutally efficient in defence, ruthless in attack and will relish the opportunity of winning twice at Twickenham in the space of six months. The victor on Saturday will require a win on the final weekend to guarantee a Championship win. If Wales succeed this weekend, only the most ardent of English fans will believe they would travel to Rome and fall to their first defeat against Italy since 2007. Even if England pull off what would undoubtedly be Eddie Jones’ most significant result on Saturday, they face a stern test on the final weekend against France in Paris.
The French bid to win the tournament can be strengthened with a win in Edinburgh on Sunday, although it won’t come easy after the canny Scots eased past the Italians. In what is expected to be the most open game in the tournament with both sides unleashing magnificent open-field runners, Scotland can all but end France’s title hopes and head for a third-place finish. A French win would set up a monstrous winner-takes-all clash with England in the final match (assuming, of course, England prevail against the Welsh).
Ireland v Italy, the least viewed game this coming weekend, is expected to be a whitewash of the green variety. However, given that the Irish title hopes were ended last time out, head coach Joe Schmidt may opt for a more youthful squad to take on Italy, which could be dangerous given that the Italians are improving with every passing week.
Featured image: The Metro