The NatWest 6 Nations draws to a close today following seven weeks and five enthralling rounds that saw England relinquish their title to an imperious Ireland by round four. Now all that remains to be decided is a potential Grand Slam and final standings for another year.
In what had hoped to have been a Championship and Grand Slam decider between England and Ireland at Twickenham, on St. Patrick’s Day, fans must now settle for an extra spicey grudge match between the two nations that have shared Championship spoils for the last five years.
Following successive defeats for the first time since 2015, Eddie Jones’ England are looking to arrest a dip in form with victory in the final Test against Ireland in London.
To do so would not only provide them with a confidence boost going back into the domestic leagues but also prevent the ‘old enemy’ from recording only their third Grand Slam in the competition.
While bragging rights would certainly give Jones and co a quiet satisfaction, the victory itself must take centre stage and not be distracted by any neighbourly rivalries.
Currently sitting in third place in the Six Nations table after four rounds, the outgoing champions are level on points with fourth place France, with both a single point behind Wales.
Victory would guarantee a top three finish, with potentially the consolation of the runners-up spot. Defeat, however, could see them plummet down the table to fifth, a place they have not found themselves in any of the previous 17 Six Nations championships.
This is certainly not a position Jones will want following the optimism England had going into the Championships. Sitting second in the world rankings and greedily eyeing the top spot, everything was shaping up nicely for the November showdown with New Zealand.
Now, following those two defeats against Scotland and France, the Red Rose have slipped to third in the rankings and all talks of that hotly anticipated clash with the All Blacks have cooled.
Should Scotland put Italy to the sword in the early game, as many expect, Gregor Townsend’s side will find themselves back up into second with 12 points, 13 if they secure a winning bonus point.
Wales and France bring the curtain on proceedings in the late game and victory for either side will see them finish in second behind Ireland, while a French win will send England to their worst ever result in the Test series.
England will not want to put their fate into the hands of others and therefore a final home victory is key. Failing that and they will match the lowly fourth place they suffered in 2005 and 2006.
Those Andy Robinson years are something of a sore point for the English. Following their Rugby World Cup success in 2003, a raft of retirements saw a period of rebuilding begin under the Scotsman, with those years being difficult and bleak and a stark contrast to the unparalleled successes so recently savoured.
Having enjoyed their best run of form under Eddie Jones since the 2015 World Cup, the position England now find themselves is a genuine surprise, a far cry from the lofty ambitions of only seven weeks ago.
They must now hold up their end and hope that results in other games go their way or the dark cloud that has descended over rugby headquarters will linger on into the summer.