England secured their first Six Nations title since 2011 after their 25-21 victory over Wales at Twickenham, moved them three points clear of Wales and four clear of France who failed to beat Scotland on Sunday. Now all eyes will be focused on Paris as Eddie Jones’ side go for a first Grand Slam since 2003.
Wales tore into England in the last ten minutes but were only allowed to because outrageous officiating gifted them an undeserved way back. Prop Dan Cole was shown a yellow card on 72 minutes after a series of English infringements.
But then play was stopped after the TMO highlighted an incident of possible foul play.
Television appeared to show a blatant eye gouge by Welsh replacement Tomas Francis, only for the TMO to rule the replays were ‘inconclusive’, claiming there was only one angle of view.
So what? It was as clear as a bell for all in the stadium and all watching at home – why would you need a second look?
Yet instead of a deserved red card, a yellow at the very least, Francis, though he may yet face a ban, was outrageously allowed to stay on to make it 15 v 14 and Wales escaped with just a penalty against them.
And, given Cole was the man on the receiving end, there was an argument to say his yellow should have been rescinded. And in all this controversial South African referee Craig Joubert, at the centre of the South Africa v Scotland furore in the World Cup, who to be fair had a good game for the most part, dithered.
And it wasn’t the only dodgy moment for the TMO.
Late in the first half was another flashpoint. Any rugby person from the extra 5th XV upwards could have told you that from short in Cole had got over the line and achieved downward pressure.
What is the point of having a TMO if the system bottles the big incidents?
Itoje shines as England claim first Six Nations title in five years
Nevertheless it was a wonderful, thrilling and open game which the Six Nations was desperately needing.
England were utterly dominant in the first half with young second row Maro Itoje rightly the man of the match. It was an immense performance from a star in the making, tipped by many to become as iconic as the great Martin Johnson.
Itoje was everywhere, making a try for Anthony Watson, putting in big tackles, stealing Welsh lineout ball and securing turnovers.
Prior to the game, as we watched on a big screen at Moseley Rugby Club, one of our number was hailing the 9/2 odds on the combination of an England win and a Watson try. Had he actually made the bet he was in the money.
He didn’t but it was an astute prediction. England led 16-0 at half time, battered Wales and should have been further ahead.
Wales came back in the second half, got an opportunist try from Dan Biggar in charging down George Ford, and then risked all. Owen Farrell penalties pegged them back and England led 25-7, containing their foes well.
But, as the substitutions poured on – are they really all necessary – it seemed to disrupt England’s rhythm while adding something to the Welsh effort.
Then came the Francis/Cole farce and suddenly England, a man down, were under the cosh with George North and Talupe Faletau scoring in quick succession. Hearts were in mouths as they hung on desperately in the final seconds.
But they made it through to the end without further hurt. They were the best side and the best side won. A great England positive go-forward performance with a flawless kicking display by Farrell who notched 20 points from six penalties and the conversion of Watson’s try.
And there were also big games from Watson, Mike Brown, Jack Nowell and James Haskell. Victory achieved despite an ordinary performance from Billy Vunipola while Manu Tuilagi had a mere cameo late on.
The Triple Crown won, defeat by Wales in the World Cup avenged, Six Nations championship victors in the wake of the French defeat to Scotland, and England move on to Paris in search of the Grand Slam.
It will be very hard against the French but England perhaps deserve the icing on the cake given the massive improvement Eddie Jones has instilled into a side left a shambles just a few months ago.
England v Wales Hospitality Review – Merits
Prior to this huge Six Nations encounter guests enjoyed outstanding hospitality inside the Merits Complex situated within the shadow of Twickenham Stadium. On arrival our guests were greeted with a Champagne Reception, served by our VIP hostess team along with the complimentary bar which was available throughout the day.
We were delighted be joined by some legends of both English and Welsh rugby both before and after the game who gave their insights and opinions. Former England and British and Irish Lions international Tim Stimpson was joined by four former internationals as Tim Payne (Wasps, England and British Lions) and Paul Grayson MBE (Northampton Saints, England and British Lions) Mark Regan MBE (Bristol, England and British Lions) and Lee Byrne (Ospreys, Clermont, Wales and British Lions) entertained the Merits crowd.
Our #MeritsVIP competition once again went down a treat as two guests each won an England shirt signed by all the former England internationals in attendance and personalised by our MC Tim Stimpson. This combined with the superb food and the wonderful result made it a truly memorable day.
Lets hope we are celebrating a Grand Slam title next Saturday!