Wins for Wales, England and Ireland have set up an intriguing final round to the 2019 Guinness Six Nations with Warren Gatland’s Grand Slam-chasing team favourites to clinch the title.
Here, we examine five things we learned from the penultimate series of fixtures.
Eddie Jones knows that deploying the Pacific Islands trio of Joe Cokanasiga, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o can be devastatingly effective, as demonstrated in the 57-14 demolition of Italy, but it will take a more competent defence than that fielded by the hapless Azzurri to prove it is a viable option against elite opposition.
In Cokanasiga and Jonny May, England have two box office wings who can conquer the world. The Fijian-born Cokanasiga swatted aside Italian defenders with ease, carrying the ball in one hand to cause Jones palpitations, while at the same time thrilling Twickenham.
And May’s every involvement draws a gasp of anticipation from home fans who marvel at his electric pace.
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Another score to settle
Even two years on, Italy’s no-ruck tactics of 2017 still rankled Jones, who settled that score by seeing the Azzurri dismantled in the Twickenham rematch.
Next in his sights is Scotland, for what he perceives to be their over-zealous celebrations at Murrayfield last year – “we saw how they carried on after they beat us”. The surrender of the Calcutta Cup initiated England’s harrowing five-Test losing run, so a feisty encounter awaits in the climax to the 2019 tournament.
Eyes off the ball
Murrayfield was almost the graveyard of Wales’ Grand Slam quest as a 15-6 half-time lead gave way to a torrid second-half notable for a rearguard action than allowed the clean sweep to remain alive in an 18-11 win.
Gatland admitted his side had enjoyed a slice of luck against Scotland as minds drifted towards Saturday’s showdown against Ireland and only full focus will be enough to claim the ultimate prize in European rugby.
Ireland have their mojo back
A disappointing Six Nations for champions Ireland shows signs of life after a 26-14 victory over France elevated their confidence levels in time to spoil Wales’ Grand Slam celebrations.
Evidence of last year’s heroics was abundant in a bonus-point win that keeps their title defence alive, albeit while needing a slice of luck from Twickenham.