England’s dogged and sometimes untidy 23-13 win over France was vital in their pursuit of the Grand Slam and proves again that they can dig in for victory when required.
The rugby odds suggested it was always expected to be close at Twickenham. It was the visitors who started better,though, with Wesley Fofana’s brilliant try the highlight early on.
But England withstood the pressure and eventually gained the upper hand, thanks again to the kicking of Owen Farrell and Toby Flood, before Manu Tuiliagi crucially went over.
France looked much more like the side that was tipped by Betfair Rugby markets to challenge for overall Six Nations glory before the tournament. It was certainly an improvement on their previous two defeats to Italy and Wales, but a third straight loss for Les Bleus leaves their Championship in tatters.
England, on the other hand, are in great shape to move forward and the momentum continues to build for Stuart Lancaster’s side.
After a third successive win, Lancaster was keen to point out his side had remained composed throughout the match and refused to panic at half time, when trailing 10-9 to what appeared to be a rejuvenated France side.
“It was a proper Test match. That wasn’t the France team that played a couple of weeks ago, that was a really strong, well-motivated French team who caused us a lot of problems in all sorts of areas,” the coach said.
“But to show the composure we did – I thought by the end we were the better side in controlling the game. It was hard work and it took us 65-70 minutes to do it.”
With Italy next up for England, Lancaster will no doubt be preaching that his players must not underestimate the Azzurri. But they surely cannot come a cropper against the weakest team in the competition? A shock defeat would unexpectedly ruin their Six Nations chances ahead of what increasingly looks like being a decider against an improving Wales in Cardiff on the final weekend.
The way the tournament has gone so far for England – with a deserved success over Scotland, a hard-fought win in Ireland and now this recent victory over France – they look to be building for glory and peaking at the perfect time.
Guest Author: Tom
England travelled to the Irish capital knowing they were facing a top international side who had destroyed Wales in Cardiff thanks to a devastating first-half performance just a week previously. It was to be a big test for an emerging side, clearly improving under Lancaster’s astute leadership.
The clash was tight, as the Six Nations betting predicted, but the 12-6 success, ground out in atrocious weather conditions, cannot be underestimated. For this is a win that really sets up the Red Rose for a Grand Slam bid and, provided they do not now get complacent, surely Six Nations glory now awaits.
Lancaster paid tribute to his side’s “maturity” in the win, secured thanks to four penalties from Owen Farrell, and the victory can be a real platform to build on now going forward in the Championship and also with one eye on development ahead of the next World Cup.
“I am delighted to win here,” he said. ‘When you have the conditions as they were it was going to be a tight game and down to small margins.
“It is very difficult to play rugby against experienced players when we have lads on single figures in terms of caps, it is great testament to their maturity.
“As a test of character it was right up there because of the quality of the Ireland side and the ability to get the win.”
The coach has overseen plenty of changes in the role but, slowly, he appears to be moulding a youthful, but extremely talented, squad in which egos and personal glory are second to the team ethic and overall success for the side.
Next up is a challenging encounter with France, who were favourites in the Rugby Union betting before the tournament but have crashed to two defeats from two so far,
Lancaster has already warned his players they will need to be at their best to make it three wins out of three, despite the fact Les Bleus’ chastening defeat at home to Wales on Saturday.
However, if England continue to perform in the manner that they have so far, another satisfying victory looks on the cards and a further key step on the road can be taken as England aim to progress and eventually be among the very best in the world once again.
Guest Author: Tom
Burns only joined Stuart Lancaster’s England set-up last autumn for the November Tests but impressed during his senior debut as England beat New Zealand 38-21. He has been named in Lancaster’s squad for the Championship this winter and was in contention to earn a start against Scotland in Week One before this fresh news.
Unfortunately, Burns went down during the build-up to Gloucester’s first try in their Amlin Challenge Cup victory over Mont de Marsan on Saturday afternoon – coming off with what is expected to be damaged knee ligaments.
After the game Gloucester director of rugby Nigel Davies broke the news that leaves Burns’ place in the England squad in the balance:
“He’s tweaked his medial ligament in his knee and we’ll have to wait and see how bad it is,” Davies told reporters.
Despite the blow England’s Six Nations odds have not been hindered too much given the relative strength in Lancaster’s squad.
But hopefully Burns’ injury will not be too serious and he can stay around the England set-up for the duration of the Six Nations, even though will most certainly miss the Scotland game on 2 February. Indeed, with that match just two weeks away Burns would risk aggravating his injury further should he train hard with the England squad and then play.
Instead, the 22-year-old would benefit from taking a rest and soaking up the atmosphere of his first Championship. The rugby union betting suggests England will face stiff competition from France for the title this year but with two other fly-halves in the squad should cope without their young talent.
For Burns, this is a chance to understand the importance of these ties before actually getting out there on the field. Toby Flood and Owen Farrell are two excellent flies and will teach this youngster all he needs to know – preparing Burns for the pressure and spotlight that is the Six Nations.
Guest Author: Tom
Their squad is one drastically hit by injuries, though, so is he right to be so upbeat?
With expectations high among punters betting on Rugby, it is fair to say Wales suffered a thoroughly disappointing Autumn International series, with the defeat to Samoa representing a new low. The one positive for fans to take into the upcoming Championship is that, surely, things cannot get any worse?
Howley is in temporary charge of the Welsh national team while regular boss Warren Gatland begins his stint as coach of the British and Irish Lions side for their summer tour of Australia.
The latter’s absence and the appointment of the former as his short-term replacement has been just one of several disruptions during a year which began with a memorable clean sweep in the Six Nations before the humiliation towards the end of the calendar.
However, by far the biggest problem for both Gatland and Howley to deal with in recent months has been the many injuries to key players including Craig Mitchell, Huw Bennett, Alun Wyn Jones, Luke Charteris and Dan Lydiate.
Of course, injuries are inevitable in rugby and every side needs to deal with them. But when a spate of serious setbacks come as thick and fast as they have done in the Wales camp, it is difficult not to have at least a little sympathy. Poor form has been an issue but missing players of top calibre through injury has also undoubtedly contributed to their current nightmare run of seven defeats on the trot. As such, despite being holders, they are only third favourites in the Six Nations betting behind England and France.
Howley, as you would expect, is doing his best to be positive ahead of the tournament and hopes his mixed squad enter the Six Nations with somewhat of a siege mentality. After all, taking into account their injury woes and shocking results, there isn’t much more that can go wrong is there?
With preparations for their Six Nations defence gathering pace, Howley insists he is looking forward to the big games and has backed his players to deliver.
“It will be a new personal experience,” he told the Western Mail. “I have never doubted the attitude and commitment of the players.
“I know they will come into camp feeling as if they have something to prove and a need to put things right. They were so disappointed at what happened in the
Howley has called on his players to regroup and prove last year’s success was no one-off – but, with injuries hitting the squad hard, it will be tough.
“We all want to stop the rollercoaster ride we are on and we need to match the consistency we showed during the last Six Nations,” the coach added.
It has certainly been very much an up and down ride for Wales and their fans and, despite Howley’s optimism, it looks like more dips are on the horizon before they can rise again.
Guest Author: Tom
Fly-half Johnny Sexton has called on Ireland’s rising stars to prove themselves during this year’s Six Nations and, judging by the country’s inconsistent form over the past 12 months, their youngsters will need to be at their best if Declan Kidney’s side are to come out on top in the eagerly-awaited tournament.
Kidney’s men finished third behind England and Wales in last year’s Six Nations and begin the 2013 edition of the tournament as fourth favourites in the Six Nations betting.
However, they have shown signs there is better than that to come after a solid autumn campaign, which included an eye-catching victory over Argentina and just a narrow loss to South Africa.
Sexton, now firmly settled as Ireland’s first-choice number 10, is among a crop of stars who can be the backbone of the side for several years and, when they get it right, they are a country to be feared.
The likes of Simon Zebo and Peter O’Mahony have also become regulars in the last few months and proved they can mix it with the best teams in the world before Christmas. That is one thing, but doing it consistently in a tournament the stature of the Six Nations may be a tougher proposition.
Having developed by playing alongside the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy, Leinster man Sexton is well aware just how good players will need to be for Ireland to enjoy their upcoming series of games – but he has backed Ireland to defy the Rugby odds and deliver some tangible success.
“Playing with guys like Brian O’Driscoll has been an honour for me and I’d put a lot of other players in that bracket – you learn so much from these guys,” he said. “But it’s time now for the younger guys to come in and start taking ownership of the team.
“Those guys earned their reputation by producing in an Ireland jersey year in year out – the younger guys, we’ve produced on occasion but we haven’t done it consistently and that’s what we need to do now going forward.”
It is a sentiment the passionate Irish fans will share but one that may prove harder to make a reality when the games come thick and fast over the next six weeks or so.
Guest Author: Tom