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Six Nations talking points: Paris postponement, England a disgrace

Fate may be in Ireland’s hands but England still seem likeliest to win this year’s championship despite their appalling behaviour.

Ringrose will be back in October and Ireland are back in the hunt for glory.
Ringrose will be back in October and Ireland are back in the hunt for glory.
Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

Title is in Ireland’s hands – who’d have believed that after Twickenham?

Three games, two postponements, one lengthy lay-off, not to mention a French meltdown, and all of a sudden the fate of this year’s Six Nations lies firmly in Irish hands.

No one saw this coming, not after the first-half at Twickenham when a bonus-point defeat seemed inevitable. However, England’s propensity for falling asleep on the job, not just against Ireland but also Wales, has opened a window for Ireland to climb back into this championship.

Theoretically, two bonus-point victories for Ireland in their final two games will guarantee them the title, no matter what score England put up against Italy on 31 October, or whatever date the final day is fixed for. Then again, theoretically Boris Johnson is capable of combing his hair every morning.

Sometimes it’s best just to let the facts speak for themselves. And here they are. No Irish team has scored four tries away to France since Eddie O’Sullivan’s team went down 43-31 at the Stade de France in 2006. Since then, there have been just two Irish wins in Paris, both by two-point margins. So a bonus point victory for Ireland in October, with the additional pressure of winning the title? Not likely.

Even so, the decision of the French government to postpone Saturday’s game could potentially work in Ireland’s favour, firstly as it’ll restore their advantage of being involved in the final game of this year’s championship, thereby allowing them to know precisely what they have to do to win it.

Secondly, instead of going into Paris with minimal international experience under their belts, Caelan Doris and Ronan Kelleher may well have three extra caps on their CVs, two from this summer’s Australian tour, one from the re-arranged Italy game. Suddenly the argument for Andy Farrell to select more experienced – but less talented – alternatives for the Parisian cauldron does not seem so compelling.

Speaking today, Farrell spoke of his frustration about Saturday’s postponement, possibly because he fancied his team’s chances against an injury and suspension hit French team, who had just six days to nurse the physical and psychological scars of Murrayfield.

Bear in mind, though, that Ireland are also nursing injuries – Garry Ringrose, Joey Carbery and Cian Healy. They’ll all be fit again by October. Plus Farrell won’t have to worry then about the lack of game-time that Doris (24 competitive minutes since January), John Cooney (54 minutes action in six weeks), Kelleher (42 minutes of international rugby) and Iain Henderson (no game since the Wales match) have endured this spring.

joey-carbery-leaves-the-field-with-an-injury Carbery has had an injury-interrupted season but he will be back in October. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Come October, it’ll be France arriving cold into the final game of the championship, whereas Ireland will have the benefit of fulfilling the Italian fixture either a week or a fortnight earlier. That’s a big deal. But while it may be a big enough deal to swing a 50/50 game Ireland’s way, the title still looks like ending up in English hands.

Here’s why. Currently on 13 points, England are sure to secure a bonus-point win, as are Ireland for that matter, against the hapless Italians, which would mean that an Irish victory (without a bonus point) in Paris would leave both sides on 18 points. At that stage, it’ll come down to points difference and England are already 10 points better off. Ireland have averaged 38-point winning margins from their last four home games against Italy, but England too have had little trouble beating them, posting 41, 31 and 31-point victories from their last three trips to Rome. It’ll be close but England, at this stage, appear to be the better bet to take the title.

Provinces will suffer from lay-off

If the St Patrick’s Day parades can be cancelled then is it really too much of a stretch to think that more sporting fixtures may be called off, too? There is the option of going ahead with Pro14 and Champions Cup fixtures behind closed doors but provinces may be reluctant to make that call, knowing the impact this kind of thing will have on the pocket.

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Should everything go ahead as planned then consider the following. Ulster and Leinster have season-defining European games on the first weekend in April but their key players have had no rugby since February 23 – and hardly any at all in Cooney, Doris and Kelleher’s case. Throw in the fact Ulster had a Pro14 game against Benetton postponed because of coronavirus fears.

All of a sudden, their games against Dragons on 20 March and Glasgow a week later, have assumed huge significance, turning them into effective dress-rehearsals for their 5 April date in Toulouse. As for Leinster, they have Cheetahs and the woefully inept Kings to set them up for Saracens. Undercooked may very well replace ‘learnings’ as the most overused word in the rugby dictionary between now and quarter-final weekend.

England have been best team but have also behaved disgracefully

Right, let’s cut to the chase. In January, their coach pledged that they’d become the greatest team of all time. They lost next time out to France – a game which Eddie Jones teed up delightfully by using the word ‘brutality’ in his pre-match address. Jones is a complex man. At times he seems little more than coaching click-bait, a poor man’s Mourinho, an Australian version of Trump.

He and his team were a disgrace on Saturday, not in terms of how they played – because they were far superior to Wales than the 33-30 scoreline suggests, but rather in how they behaved. After grabbing Alun Wyn Jones by the testicles, Joe Marler should have apologised not tweet the words bollocks, utter bollocks.

joe-marler-and-alun-wyn-jones Marler and Alun Wyn dance a slow set at Twickenham. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

First thing Jones should have done was condemn his player, not take a pop at the referee for his sensible decision to send off Manu Tualigi for his reckless shoulder-led tackle on George North. They’re a superb outfit, England – led by a smart, supremely talented but deeply irritating coach. You can’t deny they are the best team in Europe. 

Hard to beat but also hard to like.

Return to Anglo-French dominance on cards despite Murrayfield

This is how it was. From 1986 to 2007, there were 22 championships, 19 of them won by either England or France. Then Warren Gatland arrived into Cardiff and Wales remembered what it was like to have a consistently good side. From 1979 until Gatland came on board, they had five good seasons, the rest rank.

By the late ‘90s things were so lopsided that there was genuine talk of England and France breaking away from the Five Nations – as it was then called – to hook up with the three Southern Hemisphere giants, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

Hard to believe that now, especially when you consider that France have only once finished higher than fourth in the championship in the last nine years.

They’re back now. And so are England. While another two-decade period of dominance is unlikely, we can expect this rivalry to be fully renewed over the next five years or so. Wales are showing signs of decline, Scotland can never be relied upon while Ireland simply don’t have the playing base to continually be as consistent as they have been over the last 20 years of the championship.

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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