As the second round of Six Nations fixtures reached their inevitable conclusion two weeks ago, many questions arose; are Ireland back following their thumping of Italy? Did Scotland’s defeat to France prove that their previous victory over Ireland was a flash in the pan? Are Wales ever going to stop wilting when the pressure reaches its maximum during crunch games?
The most pressing question of all though, remains the following; are England, on the back of 16 consecutive test victories after beating Wales, unbeatable and seemingly on their way to back to back grand slams? No, they’re far from unbeatable, obviously, but it’ll take a colossal performance from any team that eventually puts an end to their envious winning run.
England recorded a thrilling 21-16 victory over Wales in Cardiff last weekend. Other than the beginning and closing stages of the match, England found themselves trailing Rob Howley’s energetic Welsh side. Be it their impressive rush defence or their ferocious work in the breakdown spearheaded by former captain Sam Warburton, Wales were the better team for the majority of the match and held the lead until ultimately relinquishing it, and in turn the match, when Eliot Daly stormed over late on to crush Welsh hearts at a packed Principality Stadium. England won, but it could, and possibly should, have been so different.
A similar tale can be told of England’s narrow victory over France in Twickenham on the opening day of the tournament. When French star Rabah Slimani crossed the white line in the 60th minute, France were leading and, just like Wales last weekend, in a position to put an end to England’s incredible consecutive run of victories. However, again just like they did against Wales, England harried late on and narrowly secured victory over the French thanks to a Ben Te’o try late on.
The trend in England’s two previous victories is abundantly clear; they’ve been poor, somewhat dominated yet, despite the aforementioned, they’ve managed to reign supreme over the opposition when the clock hits 80 minutes. Whilst this undoubtedly shows resilience, character and sheer bloody mindedness, it also highlights the fact that England are far from unbeatable; in another campaign, they could have lost both their opening games, it was that close. History is written by the victors, however, and England remain the favourites, strong favourites even, to at least win the championship this year once more.
Their next two games are against Italy and Scotland at Twickenham. Assuming they beat both the aforementioned teams by securing the newly formed bonus point system, England will be on 18 points before that potentially crunch game against the boys in green, Ireland. England are very unlikely to be bested by Italy or Scotland, so if England’s winning run is to come to an end during this year’s Six Nations, Ireland are the team that’ll have to do it.
If Ireland are victorious against France at the Aviva and Wales in Cardiff without securing any bonus points, Joe Schmidt’s Ireland will come up against Eddie Jones’ England on 14 points, 4 adrift of reigning champions England. For Ireland to win the tournament they would have to beat their old-rivals by more than 7 points which would result in both sides being on 18 points – the championship would then be decided on points difference.
The above is all hypothetical. There are a myriad of if’s and buts regarding how England may be beaten. They could be beaten by Italy, though the odds of that are astronomically small. They could have been beaten in a number of their previous 16 consecutive victories, but they won them all. As a result of this, England have developed an insatiable appetite for winning and the prospect of securing a back-to-back grand-slam triumphs at the home of Irish Rugby will certainly whet the appetite of every Englishman.