England emerged from the lion’s den of Dublin having mauled Ireland, with a 32-20 triumph the least Eddie Jones’ men deserved for their herculean efforts on the Emerald Isle.
England will take huge confidence from it as they eye a third title in four years. Here is our report card from the game.
Billed as a tussle between two title titans – and it didn’t disappoint. England were sensational from the start, Elliot Daly sending Jonny May scampering over after a breathtaking opening few minutes. The green machine eventually started up and went through the gears, Cian Healy powering over from a ruck.
But the Red Rose retook the lead when full-back Daly kicked through and, after a dallying Jacob Stockdale juggled trying to gather, he was seized by Jack Nowell and Daly dived on the loose ball to touch down, Farrell’s penalty sending England in at the break 17-10 ahead.
In a tight and tense second half, England put up a white wall to prevent the home side climbing back into the game. Jonny Sexton kicked them to within four but Henry Slade slalomed through for a third try when he won the race to May’s clever kick over the top, and then a brilliant fourth when he somehow held on to an intercept from Sexton.
For Ireland… The bench – The good for Ireland? In truth, not a lot really. Honestly, it’ll be difficult for Joe Schmidt to drag through the ugliness of this performance and pull out any positives.
They had more possession (60-40 per cent) and more territory (53-47 per cent), yet could make little use of either, as they were constantly smothered by hungry England tacklers.
One thing that will give the Kiwi food for thought is the impact of his fringe players. Andrew Porter made himself busy off the bench, charging around the field, while Sean Cronin and John Cooney combined for the latter to score at the death to give the scoreline a more flattering look.
For England… Answering questions – Jones has transformed England under his tenure, which has suffered its rockiest period in the last 12 months. They lost seven of 13 games in 2018.
But what really matters is World Cup year and England have started it brilliantly. Ireland may have beaten the All Blacks in the autumn, but the Red Rose can count themselves unlucky to also not have claimed their scalp.
They were denied a hat-trick of Six Nations successes last year by the Men in Green. They seem keen to right that wrong, as well as a few others.
For Ireland… Out of ideas – This is a team that defeated the mighty All Blacks 11 weeks ago. Ireland count two wins against the world champions in the last 26 months. Their defence is rock solid and Schmidt is a coaching genius, yet somehow he and Ireland could come up with nothing to combat Eddie and England.
England were on it right from the first whistle and even though the hosts recovered to briefly take the lead through Healy’s score, they were always second best, at times looking clueless, aimless. World Cup favourites? Not on this showing.
For England… Over-physicality – This was viewed as a game where Ireland could get at “hothead” England skipper Owen Farrell. But it was Red Rose colleagues who were seeing red as the visitors tried to quieten the renowned vociferous Aviva Stadium crowd.
But their tactics backfired, riling up the hoards decked in green even more. Tom Curry’s shoulder charge on defenceless Keith Earls was cowardly and he was deservedly binned, while Maro Itoje was perhaps lucky to not see yellow for again taking out Earls when challenging for a high ball.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Full of it – Daly was seen as a weak link at 15 for the visitors, the winger had performed poorly there during the autumn. Bombs from Sexton and Conor Murray were going to dropped on him with regularity.
And yet it was opposite number and another converted winger, Robbie Henshaw, who was put under more pressure at full-back, as Daly delivered. First a deft pass to May for the opening score, before then kicking through and chasing to pounce on Stockdale’s mistake.
Plenty to ponder for Schmidt and his backroom team. Plenty of soul searching to be done for Ireland’s players during the next week too. This is a supremely talented side. They’re No2 in the world. Now they have to prove why.
Always in control, which sounds ludicrous to say considering they were the away side. The Aviva has been a fortress for Ireland, yet there were no home comforts for the hosts. The margin of victory was 12 points, but make no mistake. This was a Dublin drubbing.
Wales headed to the Cote d’Azur sunshine on Saturday as Five and Six Nations record-breakers.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland claimed his team had “forgotten how to lose” after they staged an epic Six Nations fightback that stunned France 24-19 in Paris.
Wales trailed by 16 points at half-time but responded magnificently, posting a 10th successive win and equalling their longest undefeated run since 1999.
It eclipsed the previous best comeback in Five or Six Nations history after France recovered a 15-0 deficit after 37 minutes to defeat Ireland 26-21 in 1989.
And Gatland’s squad now travel to Nice, where they will be based before leaving for Rome next Thursday and a Six Nations appointment with Italy.
Wales’ victory – a seventh over France from the last eight starts – underlines their credentials as strong title contenders this season.
Tries by scrum-half Tomos Williams and wing George North, who capitalised on opposite number Yoann Huget’s defensive howler, plus two Gareth Anscombe conversions and a Dan Biggar penalty edged Wales ahead following a 15-minute purple patch.
And after France went back in front through a Camille Lopez penalty, North claimed his second try – a stunning 60-metre interception effort that Biggar converted – to see Wales home.
“For me, the big difference between the two teams is that we’ve become a side that has probably forgotten how to lose and can dig deep like that,” Gatland said.
“On the other hand, they (France) are probably a team searching for some confidence, having not had a great run in the last seven or eight matches.”
Wales, unbeaten since losing to Ireland in last season’s Six Nations, were up against it as Les Bleus dominated the opening 40 minutes and cruised clear through touchdowns by Louis Picamoles and Huget, while Lopez booted a penalty and a drop-goal.
Gatland added: “We know that we get better the more time we have together.
“To win this tournament, you need a bit of luck. We look back on our victories and know that sometimes you have the bounce of the ball.
“It’s tough in the Six Nations when you come up against one of the big teams. France in Paris is a real challenge, and if you can win the first game then you have a good chance of winning the tournament.”
Attention will now turn to the Italy clash, with two of Wales’ three games after that being at home – against title rivals England and Ireland.
Gatland added: “The whole thing for the last two years has been about creating depth. We’re trying to replicate what is going to happen later this year (at the World Cup).
“We would like other players to get an opportunity next week. Some might start, and some might be on the bench.”
Gatland also praised North’s two-try contribution, although he was disappointed with a defensive lapse that saw Huget claim France’s second touchdown.
“It was great that he scored two tries, but I’m more disappointed with France’s second try when he stepped in off his wing. He should have stayed on his man,” Gatland said.
“But he has gone hard at that intercept, and it’s a big moment in the game. He is a quality player. George has got some real special qualities as a player, and those two tries had a big impact on the game.”
Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones said: “Had we not taken the opportunity early in the second half, we might have felt the fear. If France had got the first opportunity in the second half, we probably would have chased the game.
“Sixteen-point swings usually don’t happen, but we were able to get that snowball effect.”
France now play England at Twickenham on Sunday week and head coach Jacques Brunel said: “We’ll try to keep the same spirit despite the disappointment, and focus on the positives.
“We have to improve the control we lacked in this match. But facing England will be as difficult a challenge as facing Wales, and it will also be a mental test for us.
“We were fully committed, did lots of interesting things, especially in the first half. Even if we didn’t master everything, we managed to put Wales under pressure.
“We know they have a formidable defence, and unfortunately we didn’t start the second half well and they did.”
Ken Owens says he hopes “the records will keep tumbling” following Wales’ spectacular win in their Six Nations opener against France.
The Wales squad headed to Nice on Saturday, where they will prepare for next weekend’s Six Nations appointment with Italy in Rome.
And they did so after completing the finest fightback in Five or Six Nations history, wiping out a 16-point interval deficit to topple France 24-19.
It eclipsed France’s effort in trailing by 15 points before beating Ireland in 1989, while Wales’ 10-game undefeated run matches their longest winning sequence for 20 years.
And if they see off Italy it would equal their all-time record of 11 victories, set between 1907 and 1910.
“Records are there to be broken, and there have been some very good Welsh sides over the years,” said hooker Owens, who became his country’s most capped player in that position when he made a 61st appearance on Friday.
“We are 10 on the bounce now, and you have to go back to 1907 for the record, so as a team it’s a big thing for us to hopefully equal the record and then pass it.
“But it’s not something we speak too much about. We just want to win, and hopefully the records will keep tumbling and we can put ourselves in history.”
Wales’ hopes of making a strong start to their Six Nations campaign looked a distant dream after France moved 16-0 up at the break.
But two George North tries after scrum-half Tomos Williams touched down – plus nine points from goalkickers Gareth Anscombe and Dan Biggar – secured an unlikely triumph.
Owens added: “It was calm at half-time. Even before the coaches spoke, the players came up with all the answers and said all the things we needed to improve.
“Thankfully, we delivered in the second half. There is a lot of character and plenty of experience within the squad.
“Winning becomes a habit, and we found a way to win. We are on a pretty decent run at the minute, and good teams find ways to win even when they are not at their best.
“There is a long way to go and plenty to improve on for next week in Rome, but hopefully we can get a result out there and keep building.”
If Wales win in Rome – they are strong favourites to do so – Owens and company will be on a possible title and Grand Slam course with two of their final three Six Nations games being at home, against rivals for silverware England and Ireland.
“We’ve managed expectation before,” Owens said.
“It is Wales, and there is pressure on us being on such a winning run, but we will enjoy that. We will work hard and hopefully we can keep getting wins and performing.
“Winning comes with confidence, and we’ve had a lot of guys come in who have done very well and really stepped up to the plate.
“They have gained experience, and it’s easier to get that when you are winning.
“They did well in Argentina last summer, and now we’ve got a lot of young guys in our squad who have a lot of caps. That can only be a good thing, and we’ve got to keep that going.”