Six Nations Rugby - England v Ireland

6 Nations Weekend Three Review

A desperately disappointing defeat for England against Ireland in the RBS Six Nations Championship … but perhaps not if they learn the lessons going into this autumn’s World Cup.

Key players out injured have still to come back, and it may all end up good.

England could yet emulate the heroes of 2003, but they must improve.

While Ireland deserved their 19-9 victory it was a tight game, just a try in it with England conceding too many kickable penalties.

Something of a master class from Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton at the home side’s pivotal 9 and 10 positions.

But why, why, why didn’t England head coach Stuart Lancaster give Danny Cipriani the last 20-25 minutes at fly half?

George Ford had played well but at 19-3 down England were already contemplating defeat and had little to lose. If anyone in a white shirt can turn a game with a moment or two of brilliance it is Cipriani.

You win close contests by being brave – Lancaster was too conservative.

Things did improve in the last 20 minutes but it was all too little too late. Ireland had the game in the bag and knew it.

Indeed Lancaster didn’t even win the kicking for position duel.

As former England star Jeremy Guscott pointed out afterwards, the kicking game has become crucial in international rugby.

Murray and Sexton kicked the ball 19 times between them, regaining possession on six occasions. England’s half-backs Youngs and Ford kicked the same number of times and didn’t get the ball back once. Before the game England had retained ten per cent of the ball they had kicked in their first two Six Nations matches; Ireland were almost double that at 19 per cent.

Teams that have won World Cup finals do not concede tries, knocking over the penalties, playing the percentages.

Still, I expect England to return to form at Twickenham against the hapless Scots.

Scotland had gone into the series hopeful they had turned the corner, confident in their backs and seeing improvement in the forwards.

In reality Scotland’s defeat by Italy appears to show they have gone backwards from last season.

A defeat littered with missed opportunities and basic errors.

After England they face Ireland – potentially with a Grand Slam to play for – at home on the final day.

The wooden spoon beckons.

As for Ireland it is another “decider” coming up, this time against a Wales side that rediscovered some of their best form to beat France in Paris.

Wales have a habit of bouncing back and with home support at the Millennium Stadium will be formidable opponents.

Very hard to call the game.

Wales are packed with good players – after all they formed the basis of the British and Irish Lions win over Australia in 2013.

They still aspire to win the Six Nations and this just might be where Ireland come unstuck.

As for France, they look out of sorts and will be facing a jubilant Italy in Rome.

France should still win but if their poor form continues it is not out of the question that Italy could turn them over.

It is shaping up to be one of the most exciting Six Nations in years with Ireland, England and Wales all still in the race for the title.

In fact England may yet snatch it if they put plenty of points on the Scots and the Welsh turn over the Irish.

England in free attacking flow should be a great spectacle coupled with a VIP corporate hospitality package.

Who was your Team of the Weekend?

Here are a few names to start you off: Johnny Sexton, Connor Murray, Sergio Parisse, Robbie Henshaw, Mike Ross, George North, Paul O’Connell, Alun Wyn-Jones and Dan Cole.