England’s 30-3 loss to Wales at the Six Nations was a savage and dizzying one. As the worst ever defeat to their near neighbours, it left many pondering what is missing with this England team.
Hammering | England head coach Stuart Lancaster and his players walk off dejectedly after the defeat to Wales. (Image | The Sun)
Perhaps the answer is not that difficult, and the key ingredient is nothing more than a bit of swagger.
We should remember where the England rugby union team were when Stuart Lancaster took over as head coach.
The squad were in disarray, coming off a dismal showing at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and damaged further by embarrassing revelations about the rot that had set in.
What a tournament the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Championship was: surely the most closely-contested in recent memory, with none of the teams going unbeaten or losing all their games.
Champions | Wales rejoice after comprehensively defeating England to retain the Six Nations trophy. (Image | Sky Sports)
The matches themselves were also tight, with this tournament seeing the fewest tries in Six Nations history by a long way.
Going into the final round, Wales and England were the only two sides in contention for the title, while France, Italy and Ireland were fighting to avoid the shame and embarrassment of the wooden spoon.
Europe’s top six rugby nations will meet one more time this year on Saturday to decide which team will be crowned 6 Nations champions, and determine the destination of the dreaded wooden spoon.
Decider | England captain Chris Robshaw and Welsh skipper Sam Warburton face off against each other this weekend for the Six Nations crown. (Image | London24)
The fourth round of fixtures ensured that it will be a finale to remember, setting up a showdown for the title between England and Wales, and must-win matches for the other sides.
Scotland 18 Wales 28
Following their victory over Italy two weeks ago, the Welsh are now very much in the ascendency, having found their feet after a shaky start to the tournament.
Frederic Michalak’s wayward kicking has played a part in France’s underwhelming Six Nations campaign (Image | Reuters for OTP)
Prior to this year’s RBS 6 Nations, there were few who would have bet against the French as serious contenders. The only northern hemisphere nation to go unbeaten in the autumn tests, winning impressively against Australia, Argentina and Samoa, they looked to have absolved themselves of the mediocre form that saw them slump to a mid-table finish in the 2012 tournament.
Yet now they find themselves with three defeats from three matches, their title hopes long gone, and some serious work ahead of them if they are to avoid the wooden spoon.
Another round of fixtures into the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Championship and at last some discernible order is appearing in the standings.
Committed | Manu Tuilagi even drew blood for England in their 23-13 victory over France at Twickenham. (Image | The Guardian)
England are in the ascendency, Wales and Scotland are still finding their feet, and pre-tournament contenders France are floundering at the bottom of the table.
Not that the last round of fixtures were routine encounters: far from it.
Stuart Hogg’s try was one of the moments of the 2013 RBS Six Nations so far – but not the best for Tim (Image | via bbc.co.uk)
Looking back over the first two rounds of this year’s 6 Nations tournament, there is one thing above all that has made it a championship to remember. Not Italy’s monumental win over France in Rome, nor Stuart Hogg’s pair of epic tries for Scotland; not Owen Farrell’s steely resolve in Dublin or even Ryan Jones’ heroics as stand-in captain being the main influence in ending an eight-game losing streak for Wales. It is something more subtle than all of these things, removed from the rugby itself and yet unquestionably improving the all-round experience.
A week is a long time in rugby, and early form in the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Championship counted for nothing in the second round as the tournament table was turned on its head.
Stu-perb | Scotland’s Stuart Hogg scores a superb solo try against Italy at Murrayfield. (Image | Metro)
It is fair to say that any one of the teams could still win it from here.
Scotland 34 Italy 10
Italy headed to Scotland riding on a wave of confidence after their win in Rome, hoping to become the first Azzurri side to record three victories in a row at the 6 Nations.
What an opening weekend for the 2013 RBS 6 Nations Championship – fast, physical rugby, some fantastic tries, and above all the resounding proof that you never can predict what will happen in Europe’s premier rugby tournament.
Green giant | Ireland winger Simon Zebo takes the plaudits after scoring on his 6 Nations debut. (Image | The Sun)
Wales 22 Ireland 30
Cardiff played host to the opening game, with Wales hoping to get off to a winning start after a disappointing summer and autumn in 2012.
This did not exactly go according to plan, as a sublime pass from Brian O’Driscoll on his 121st appearance sent Simon Zebo over for a try after just ten minutes.
As is traditional, 2013 kicks off with the premier rugby union tournament in Europe, which pits six of the world’s best teams against each other.
Joy of Six | The RBS 6 Nations starts on Saturday February 2 with Wales taking on Ireland at the Millennium Stadium. (Image | The Independent)
They face off in a round-robin format over the next month and a half to be crowned the greatest side in the northern hemisphere.
With the Grand Slam awarded to whichever team avoids defeat and the Triple Crown to the side undefeated against opponents from the British Isles, the 119th edition looks set to be closely contested. Here is how the six may fare.
England bound | Andy Farrell chose to remain with Saracens in April when Stuart Lancaster invited him into the England set-up, but it appears whatever loyalty he had has passed. (Image | Daily Mail)
First team coach Andy Farrell this morning left Saracens with a view to joining the England rugby team coaching roster. The former Great Britain captain had been part of the England set-up during this year’s Six Nations Championship, but he chose to return to Saracens after the tournament ended.
With two years remaining on his contract with Saracens, who ply their trade in the Aviva Premiership at Vicarage Road stadium, any absorption of Farrell into the England coaching team is yet to be confirmed. Stuart Lancaster, England head coach, and his charges are due to play a three Test series against South Africa. Also in Lancaster’s coaching team are former England back Mike Catt, and Graham Rowntree.