A TERRIFIC Six Nations came to a conclusion last weekend in Dublin.
The outcome was all too similar for England fans as Ireland dashed their Grand Slam hopes.
This defeat is the first of Eddie Jones’ England after he took over after England’s disappointing early World Cup exit in 2015.
England started slowly in their opening tie with France as the French bullied their way into the game through their powerful pack, now a hallmark of the French game.
Louis Picamoles was causing havoc and nearly released winger Noa Nakaitaci for a first half try.
France did eventually score the game’s first try at about the hour mark when prop Rabah Slimano found himself on the end of a Kevin Gourdon offload to score.
Eddie Jones began to unload the bench and his so called finishers added some much needed go forward, Danny Care added pace, Jamie George brought dynamism and Ben Te’o brought some physicality to the backline.
It was the Australian born centre who would make the difference, England worked themselves into a good position through the forwards. Care span the ball to Farrell who sent Ben Te’o through a hole between Scott Spedding and Noa Nakaitaci. England won 19-16.
England then travelled to Cardiff to face Wales, this game was a hugely physical encounter.
England were not so slow this time and following good link up play and half breaks from Mike Brown and Jonathan Joseph, Ben Youngs leaped over the score.
Wales were quick to reply though and Saracens bound winger Liam Williams was set free by Wales to cruise his way under the posts and give Wales a 13-8 lead at half-time.
The second half was frantic and it looked as though Wales would hurt England when Dan Biggar exploded down the right, he kicked ahead but Elliot Daly managed to get back to hoof the ball in to touch.
In the final five minutes England pressed hard with Maro Itoje and Joe Launhcbury carrying hard for England but the ball was turned over. Wales kicked but only as far as George Ford who flung the ball to Owen Farrell who drew the defender before throwing a sublime pass to Daly.
The Wasps flyer raced for the corner and having been denied in the first half this time he made no mistake. England again scraping the win 16-21.
England’s third game should have been the easiest of the championship considering Italy shipped 96 points in their opening two games both of which had been in Rome.
Their tactic against England was brilliant though, the Italians refused to engage in the ruck, this allowed the likes of Sergio Parisse, Edoardo Gori and Tommaso Allan to come and stand on England’s side of the tackle area therefore blocking Ben Youngs from passing the ball to England’s formidable backs.
England used the rolling maul to combat this and that resulted in their first try as Dan Cole flopped over the line, Owen Farrell however missed the kick.
Italian fly-half Tomasso Allan despite missing an early penalty dropped a goal to bring Italy within two points. What followed was bizarre; Allan hit the post with his place kick which England failed to deal with and winger Giovanbattista Venditti scurried over the give Italy a 10-5 half-time lead.
In the second half England cut loose and what followed was among England’s best minutes of the Six Nations. Powerful forward carries nullified the Italians ‘no ruck’ tactic and a quick tap penalty led to Danny Care scoring.
Elliot Daly crossed for the second time in two weeks which was followed by Italy’s only second half score as Michele Campagnaro used his upper body strength to power his way to a try.
His clubmate Jack Nowell crossed for his first try, Ben Te’o added to his tally in his first start before Nowell doubled up to help England to a 36-15 win.
The penultimate weekend of the championship saw Scotland going for the first Triple Crown since the inception of Italy to make it the Six Nations rather than five.
Unlike their previous three games England ran riot in the first half largely thanks to Bath Rugby star, Jonathan Joseph. His first of a superb hat-trick came in the first two minutes.
The returning Anthony Watson also added a try to England’s first half score plus four penalties from the boot of Owen Farrell. Scotland’s only score being a Gordon Reid converted try.
The second half continued in the same vein an early try from Joseph (his third) was added to as replacement scrum-half Danny Care bagged a brace and the returning Billy Vunipola crashed over for England’s seventh try.
Scotland did muster two tries from the Stormers centre Huw Jones but it was not enough and England were comfortable 61-21 winners to set up a Grand Slam encounter with Ireland in Dublin.
England have been in this position before the horror shows of 2001 and 2011 live long in the memory the years Ireland spoiled the English party.
England travelled with high hopes, the Irish were fired up though and the backlash after their heavy defeat to Wales is what followed.
Ireland and England traded penalties in the early stages but from then on it was all Ireland, Jared Payne cut England open and threatened to put Keith Earls over he was denied by a strong cover tackle from Mike Brown.
Eventually Ireland got the maul going and Iain Henderson pushed his way over for the TMO to confirm he had scored.
Watch below to see the Six Nations YouTube channel’s footage of Iain Henderson’s try.
Chances in the second half were few and far between and just as it looked the momentum had swung England’s way Jared Payne broke again Mike Brown tracking back to save the day.
England stood on Ireland’s line won a lineout only for Peter O’Mahony to steal and with that Ireland once again spoiled the English party winning 13-9.
Despite this loss England will still take home the trophy a superb achievement before the summer tour to Argentina.
by Fred Blagden (@fredblagden)