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Six Talking Points Heading Into The Final Weekend Of Six Nations Action

Ireland are champions.

In a tournament that has seen Ireland play some outstanding rugby and score 17 tries in their last three matches, they have deservedly been crowned champions with one round to play.

England, the reigning champions who had suffered just one defeat in their first 23 under Eddie Jones, have now lost their last two games, and face a real challenge to not suffer a third straight defeat at the hands of the in-form champions.

All three games had their fair share of drama, but what did we learn from another absorbing weekend of Six Nations action?

1.England are having a breakdown

It’s almost scary how much the men in white are suffering at the breakdown. It was clear, well before France took control of the game that they were going to have dominance in that department.

They clearly targeted it as England having the same back-row that had been so cruelly exposed against Scotland and it was another night like that.

They struggled to keep the ball for more than five phases, and with their attacking shape being extremely limited, they needed to keep it for many more than that if they were to have any hope of causing the French any problems.

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2. And their confidence is so low…

Three weeks ago, most English fans felt it would be them (and in all likelihood Ireland too) battling for a Grand Slam at Twickenham, and very few would have thought the title would be gone.

The four tries required by England in France didn’t just look unlikely, it looked completely impossible. There was no invention in their attack, none of the moves or speculative tries that we have seen so often in the last two years.

England were not perfect in 2017, but wins kept the confidence up. Now that’s gone they look lost, and before anyone denies this is a crisis, it is England’s worst position heading into the last weekend of a Six Nations since 2008.

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3. Meanwhile, Ireland’s confidence is soaring

Ireland have slowly progressed from the end of 2013, with players coming in and out, from a great team to now the world’s number two side behind New Zealand.

Schmidt has got his team playing top class rugby. They’ve managed three bonus point wins in this tournament alone and as a result, have won the title in a way that all fans of the competition can be happy with.

There is still plenty of work to do, but a year and a half out from the World Cup it seems that Ireland are timing their ascent to perfection, as they look to repeat their 1948 and 2009 feat of claiming the coveted Grand Slam.

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4. Scotland still missing the back-up

Scotland have still not produced the kind of follow-up performance to a big win that they so desperately need to challenge for the competition.

Ater ending a ten-year wait to get their hands on the Calcutta Cup, they simply weren’t sharp enough offensively to cause Ireland any problems once the home side got their noses in front.

It’s hugely important they do this if they’re to kick on and challenge the likes of Ireland and New Zealand, the quality is there, but they need to perform more consistently.

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5. France and Wales on the way back

France had a game-plan against what they saw as a vulnerable England team. Such was its success that they barely needed to change anything as the 80 minutes passed.

On paper, they are still weaker than England, but the win showed there is plenty of passion and hope in France yet, and it was a massive scalp to take the pressure of Jacques Brunel.

For Wales, it was job done, but they will be pleased with the style of rugby they are starting to play and the depth they are building in their squad.

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6. Bonus Points have enhanced the Championship

Prior to the introduction of bonus points, only the 2016 Championship had seen the champions crowned a week earlier. In the two years since, both years have seen the champions decided the week before.

But, this has had nothing to do with bonus points, and what they have done is shake up the middle of the table.

Take Wales. They finished fifth last year, in part, because they got no try bonus points and played pretty dull, direct rugby. This year they’ve scored a total of 12 and converted their two wins into bonus point wins.

Their reward? Second place, which they should pick up by beating France this weekend.

Bonus points have seen attractive rugby become the norm in the Six Nations. Arguably it has been only the English who have been guilty of playing dull rugby in this year’s tournament.

And they have paid for it.

Nick Powell, Pundit Arena

Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.