Rugby World Cup glory is still well within reach for England, insists former international Joe Marler

19 Mar

England still have a shot at Rugby World Cup glory in Japan this autumn despite their slip up in the Six Nations, believes former international Joe Marler.

Eddie Jones’ side finished runners-up to Grand Slam-winning Wales, after their defeat in Cardiff and a remarkable 38-38 draw with Scotland on Saturday.

England have a big problem ahead of this year’s World Cup in Japan

The Red Rose’s mental fragility was exposed once again as they surrendered a 31-point lead to tie at Twickenham, as the Scots retained the Calcutta Cup after a thrilling second half.

The result, in their last competitive match before the World Cup kicks off in September, casts major doubt on England’s world title bid in Japan.

Despite their struggles, though, Marler – who retired from international rugby in 2018 – insists England are still a match for any team in the world.

Speaking on Tuesday’s Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast, the Harlequins prop said: “It was just carnage on Saturday, it was a nightmare watching that second 40.

“They needed to take the sting out of Scotland, they needed a bit more experience and leadership, but they’re missing a number of senior players that haven’t been involved for various reasons.

“Dylan Hartley has been out injured, Chris Robshaw was injured for the first part and didn’t quite make it back and Mike Brown wasn’t selected for this tournament – you’re looking at 200 odd caps there and I think the side really missed that experience on Saturday.

Joe Marler is confident England are still contenders for this year’s World Cup

“They finished second, so it was a more successful tournament than the fifth place last year.

“They’ve made some strides forward and hopefully they’ve got some lessons they can learn over the next few months going into the World Cup.

“But let’s not forget how good they were for that Ireland game. They’ve got the potential to absolutely challenge everyone in the world. When they’ve got their first strong XV and they’ve got their game plan right, they’re on the money.

“It would have been nice to win the Six Nations, but it’s all about the World Cup this year.”

Listen back to Joe Marler on the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast IN FULL above

Warren Gatland compared to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger by Wales fly-half Dan Biggar after Grand Slam success

18 Mar

Dan Biggar has compared Warren Gatland to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger after masterminding a Grand Slam triumph for Wales.

The New Zealand native took charge of the Dragons in 2007 and has won four Six Nations titles since.

Gatland’s side may not have been the most flamboyant or entertaining side in the tournament, but their resilience and steely determination proved decisive.

Ferguson and Wenger are two of the greatest managers in Premier League history

Despite trailing France and England in the group games, the Welsh rallied to come back and claim vital victories en route to the title.

Although he was often benched in preference of Gareth Anscombe, Biggar outlined his credentials as a playmaker with composed performances with the boot in Cardiff and in Paris for his side.

And the Northampton fly-half compared Warren Gatland to influential managers Ferguson and Wenger for his elite mentality – which quickly emanates through the squad.

“What Warren does particularly well is his confidence,” Biggar told the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast.

Biggar was at his brilliant best against Ireland, exploiting space in behind full-back Rob Kearney

“He’s almost a little bit like Sir Alex or even an Arsene Wenger. He sort of gives you a real confidence when you go onto the pitch and he’s kind of changed the mentality of Welsh rugby in terms of that.

“I saw something that Sam Warburton said on TV after the game that he changed Wales from hoping for an upset in the Six Nations to going into every Six Nations expecting to win.

“So I think he deserves huge credit for that.”

England 38-38 Scotland Six Nations: Scotland denied incredible comeback win after England score late try

16 Mar

Scotland were denied a famous win late on against England in a match that will go down as one of the great Six Nations contests.

England appeared to be cruising to victory after going 31-0 up in the first half at Twickenham.

The visitors scored six unanswered tries to take a 38-31 lead into the final minutes but a score in the dying second from George Ford saw the match end a draw.

 

Jonny May scores a try for England

Wales’ win over Cardiff completed the Grand Slam and ended England’s hopes of the championship.

Eddie Jones’ men had only lost in round three in Cardiff, while Scotland had lost their last three games, including to Wales at Murrayfield last weekend.

England scored after 66 seconds when Nowell cut in off his wing, wrong-footing his would-be tacklers, after Elliot Daly and Slade and spread the ball wide. Owen Farrell converted.

Ellis Genge came on for the injured Moon after five minutes, but there was no stopping England’s forwards as Tom Curry barged over from a lineout after Farrell opted to kick a penalty to the corner. Farrell added the extras.

Jack Nowell breaks away from the Scotland defence

Genge and Kyle Sinckler combined to puncture the Scotland defence before Joe Launchbury crashed over as England had three converted tries in the opening 15 minutes.

Ben Youngs, on his 85th Test appearance, was denied a try by the Television Match Official for a knock-on.Farrell kicked a penalty to extend England’s advantage to 24-0 after 25 minutes.

A fourth try and the accompanying bonus point soon followed.

Scotland built some territory but the ball turned over after a long throw from a lineout and England ran the ball back at the visitors.

Slade burst down the left wing and flicked the ball inside for Jonny May to cross. Farrell again converted.

The England captain was next the victim of Scottish optimism when Stuart McInally charged down Farrell’s attempted chip.

Stuart McInally breaks a tackle on his way to score

The Scotland skipper gathered the ball himself and ran 40 metres to the line, brushing off May and Farrell to score. Finn Russell converted to make the half-time score 31-7.

Scotland showed greater intensity in the second half and were rewarded after Sam Johnson and Ali Price combined and Darcy Graham showed neat footwork to go over in the corner. Russell missed the conversion in blustery conditions.

England were stunned again when Price regained his own chip and Magnus Bradbury was up in support to charge over the line. Russell’s conversion made it 19 unanswered points for the visitors, who now trailed 31-19.

Magnus Bradbury finds space for Scotland

Scotland’s fourth try – and a bonus point – followed when Russell’s missed pass freed Sean Maitland and he passed long for Graham to go over in the corner. Replacement Greig Laidlaw missed the conversion attempt.

Russell intercepted Farrell’s pass and scored Scotland’s fifth try. Laidlaw’s conversion from under the posts levelled the scores at 31-31 with 20 minutes to go.

The remarkable comeback appeared to be completed when Scotland scored their sixth try but in the dying seconds England responded with their own try to see the entertaining contest end in a draw.

Wales 25-7 Ireland: Wales claim Six Nations Grand Slam after dominant victory over Ireland

16 Mar

Wales completed their first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2012 after thrashing Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.

They needed just one try and several kicks from the excellent Gareth Anscombe to comfortably take the title after the dominant 25-7 win.

Hadleigh Parkes scores Wales’ try

It took Grand Slam-chasing Wales less than two minutes to cross for their first try. Gareth Anscombe’s perfectly-weighted kick over the Ireland defence was taken by Hadleigh Parkes who had the simple task of finishing the move.

The try was converted to give Wales a 7-0 lead and the dream start in Cardiff.

Parkes followed up his early try by pulling off a try-saving tackle on the marauding Jacob Stockdale to cement that early advantage.

Gareth Davies runs away from Conor Murray

George North departed due to injury in a blow to the hosts however, with Dan Biggar joining the fray at fly-half, Anscombe moving to full-back and Liam Williams to the wing.

Anscombe landed a long-range penalty to stretch Wales’ lead to 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Ireland failed to master the conditions, with the driving rain causing the visitors more problems than the composed hosts.

Ireland’s decision to leave the Principality Stadium roof open appeared to backfire significantly therefore, with Gatland’s men never looking likely to relinquish control.

Anscombe’s excellent afternoon continued with two more expertly-struck penalties to put the home side in total control at 16-0 at the break.

Anscombe’s fourth penalty pushed Wales into an even more commanding position to kick-start the second half.

Gareth Anscombe collects a high ball

And when Sexton punted the restart out on the full, it appeared Wales’ glory march was almost nailed on with half an hour to go.

CJ Stander was pinged for not rolling away in yet another poor penalty concession from Ireland, and once again Anscombe booted the points to twist the knife.

Wales’ 22-0 lead on the hour proved fully justified reward for their complete dominance.

Anscombe added another kick to put the result beyond the reach of Ireland.

The visitors did get on the scoreboard late on but it was a mere consolation.

Italy 14-25 France: French side end on a high with victory in tight game at Stadio Olimpico as Italy end Six Nations winless

16 Mar

France won their final match of the Six Nations after scoring three tries in their win against Italy.

Italy ended this year’s tournament without a win after the 25-14 defeat at the Stadio Olimpico.

Antoine Dupont was one of France’s try scorers

Italy took an early three point lead after France conceded a penalty in front of the posts, which was Tommaso Allan.

Allan slotted another penalty over to put his side 6-0 up in the 12th minute of the match when the visitors conceded another penalty.

Italy’s solid start was completely undone when France scored a try out of nowhere.

Tommaso Allan scores with a kick for Italy

Antoine Dupont beat the last man to score a simple try and Romain Ntamack converted to make it 7-6 to the away side.

The France fly-half held his nerve to score a penalty to extend that lead to 10-6, which is how it stayed until the half-time break.

Allan reduced the deficit to just a point for Italy early in the second half before Yoann Huget scored France’s second try of the afternoon to make it 17-9.

Damian Penaud runs away from the Italy defence

Italy got a try they deserved 55 minutes into the match when Tito Tebaldi bulldozed his way over the try line.

Allan missed the conversion to leave the Italians trailing 17-14 with 25 minutes to go.

Ntamack scored a drop goal in the 63rd minute to increase the gap to six points meaning the home side would need a try to get back into the game.

Damian Penaud sealed the win late on with France’s third try of the match.

Six Nations 2019 permutations explained: Can England or Ireland win it? Will bonus points come into play?

15 Mar

This season’s Six Nations is set for a thrilling conclusion today with three countries still in title contention.

Wales, England and Ireland can all win silverware with the former currently top of the table with four wins from four.

Wales take on Ireland this weekend while England face Scotland and there are a host of possible ways to where the trophy will end up.

Wales are in pole position in the Six Nations

What are the permutations?

  • Wales will win the Six Nations title and clinch a first Grand Slam for seven years if they beat Ireland in Cardiff.
  • If Wales and England finish level on 20 points, which is quite possible, then Wales will still be crowned champions as Grand Slam winners are automatically awarded three bonus points under Six Nations rules.
  • A draw between Wales and Ireland – and England losing to Scotland at Twickenham – would see Wales win the title without a Grand Slam.
  • A draw between Wales and Ireland – and England beating Scotland – would see England crowned champions.
  • If Ireland beat Wales and England defeat Scotland, then England will be champions.
  • If Ireland beat Wales and England fail to beat Scotland, then Ireland will be champions.
  • If Ireland beat Wales and gain a bonus point and England beat Scotland but don’t gain a bonus point, then England will be champions due to their superior points difference barring an unlikely 65-point swing in Ireland’s favour.

What about the bonus points system?

A bonus point is awarded in the Six Nations if you score four or more tries or if you lose within seven points.

England have been at their attacking best at times in this tournament claiming three bonus points in their matches so far.

But Wales have had to make do with collecting just the four points per win and are yet to get any extras.

England take on Scotland in the final weekend of the Six Nations

Yet, if Warren Gatland’s side go onto win all five matches, they are automatically awarded three bonus points for achieving the Grand Slam.

This would ensure they lift the Six Nations title, even if England get maximum points in their final fixture.

England can only get 20 points at most in tournament, while Wales will get a minimum 23 points if they remain undefeated.

What are the remaining Six Nations fixtures?

Saturday, March 16

Italy v France: 12:30pm, Stadio Olimpico

Wales v Ireland: 2:45pm, Millennium Stadium

England v Scotland: 5pm, Twickenham

Ireland can still win the Six Nations

England vs Scotland: Gregor Townsend makes six changes for Six Nations clash at Twickenham

14 Mar

Sean Maitland, Hamish Watson and Sam Skinner have been recalled by Gregor Townsend for Scotland’s Six Nations clash against England on Saturday.

The Dark Blues coach has made six changes to the team that lost to Wales last weekend, with wing Byron McGuigan, centre Sam Johnson and lock Ben Toolis also brought for the Twickenham match up.

Townsend has rung the changes for Saturday’s trip south of the border

Dropping out are the injured trio of Tommy Seymour, Blair Kinghorn and Jamie Ritchie plus Peter Horne, while Josh Strauss and Jonny Gray move to the bench.

Scotland head to London hoping to arrest a run of three straight defeats but they have not beaten England at Twickenham since 1983.

Townsend said: “First of all we have to build on the positive aspects of our performance from last weekend against Wales, when we were able to generate quick ball and build a lot of pressure on the opposition.

“The character and fitness the players displayed in the second half showed what the team is capable of against one of the best sides in the world. The next step is making that pressure count on the scoreboard, more regularly.

“Winning away from home tends to be achieved through an outstanding defensive performance and we are determined to deliver that this Saturday. At times against Wales we weren’t aggressive or accurate enough so that has been a focus for us this week in training.”

England’s Grand Slam bid was wrecked by defeat to Wales but they can still claim the title if Warren Gatland’s side slip up at home to Ireland.

Townsend added: “England are a quality side and have been playing really well throughout the championship.

“They have shown a different game plan this season which is built on power, both through direct ball carrying and also getting off the line in defence.

“They’ve kicked the ball more than any other team in the Guinness Six Nations, which has worked well for them and produced tries, and it also shows that they are more than comfortable defending for several phases.”

Townsend has had to contend with a nightmare injury list this campaign but backed the men he has available to put up a fight against Eddie Jones’ team.

Eddie Jones’ side can still win the Six Nations but their Grand Slam bid has ended
Getty Images

“Both Sam Skinner and Ben Toolis started for us against Italy and deserve another opportunity to show what they can do in a blue jersey,” Townsend said.

“While it’s tough on Jamie to miss this game through injury, we’re delighted to bring back Hamish Watson into the starting line-up. He made a real impact on Saturday and we have no doubt that he’s ready to take the game to the opposition in attack and defence.

“Sam brings a lot of set-piece nous and gives us good balance in the back-row and we are keen to give Magnus Bradbury an opportunity to start at number eight.

“Sam Johnson gets an opportunity to build on his strong performances against Italy and Ireland, while it’s good to have Sean Maitland back in the back three alongside Darcy Graham and Byron.

“These three players, and the team as a whole, will have to put in a lot of work off the ball to counter this threat on Saturday.”

Wales vs Ireland: Liam Williams to start Six Nations clash after recovering from shoulder injury

14 Mar

Liam Williams will start for Wales in their Six Nations Grand Slam clash against Ireland having recovered from injury in time to feature on Saturday afternoon.

Full-back Williams went off during the 18-11 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield last weekend after suffering a ‘stinger’ to his shoulder area.

Williams has recovered in time to feature this weekend

But the Saracens star has been named in an unchanged team by head coach Warren Gatland as unbeaten Wales chase a first Six Nations title since 2013 and first Grand Slam for seven years.

There are three survivors in Gatland’s starting line-up from the Grand Slam clincher against France in 2012 – captain Alun Wyn Joes, wing George North and centre Jonathan Davies.

But it will be a new experience for a number of other key performers – players like wing Josh Adams, who has scored three tries in his last three Six Nations games, fly-half Gareth Anscombe, flanker Josh Navidi and number eight Ross Moriarty.

Gatland, meanwhile, will oversee his 50th Six Nations match and skipper Jones equals prop Gethin Jenkins’ appearance record for Wales and the British and Irish Lions of 134 Tests.

Ireland will win the Six Nations if they defeat Wales in Cardiff and Scotland beat England at Twickenham on Saturday. They were also the last side to topple Gatland’s men 13 months ago.

Since then, Wales have embarked on a national record 13 successive Test wins, and Gatland is bidding to become the first coach in Five or Six Nations history to mastermind three Grand Slam triumphs.

During his reign, Wales achieved clean sweeps in 2008 and 2012, and it is the New Zealander’s final Six Nations match before he leaves his post after the World Cup in Japan later this year.

Gatland has also retained the replacements’ bench personnel selected for Edinburgh, with a fit-again Leigh Halfpenny missing out on a first Test match involvement since he suffered concussion when Wales beat Australia in November.

Gatland will make history if Wales complete a Grand Slam

“We’ve named an unchanged squad and rewarded the players for the last couple of outings and the last couple of victories,” Gatland said.

Gatland added: “These players are on a very good run, they are a hugely impressive group and they deserve to be going into the final weekend with everything to play for.

“It is a great reward for them for the hard work they have put in, and we are all looking forward to what is going to be a huge game.

“For a number of us as coaches this is our last Six Nations game, and the fact that it is in Cardiff is extra special. There is bound to be a bit of emotion on Saturday, and that is something to embrace.”

‘Dropping Joe Cokanasiga is just ridiculous’ – England fans fume at Eddie Jones after seeing starting XV to face Scotland in Six Nations clash

14 Mar

England boss Eddie Jones delivered a seismic shock by dropping Joe Cokanasiga for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Scotland.

Cokanasiga was named man of the match as Italy were swept aside in the penultimate round of the Championship and even compared to the late Jonah Lomu by Sir Clive Woodward.

Cokanasiga was a constant threat down England’s right channel against Italy

However, the Fijian-born wing is not even on the bench for the Calcutta Cup showdown at Twickenham.

Taking his place in the number 14 jersey is Jack Nowell, who has recovered from a shoulder stinger injury, with Ben Te’o picked as replacement threequarter cover.

Although Jones insists the 21-year-old will be ready by the time the World Cup starts in Japan in September, Cokanasiga’s admission from the squad entirely is surprising.

While many will argue ‘it was just Italy’, the Six Nations debutante showed no signs of nerves as he drove at the defence all afternoon – often with the ball in just one hand.

JOE COKANASIGA STATS vs ITALY

The winger was compared to Jonah Lomu by Sir Clive Woodward last week...

  • 1 try assist
  • 8 runs
  • 108 metres made
  • 5 clean breaks
  • 4 defenders beaten
  • 2 offloads
  • 0 turnovers conceded

Such was his quality, World Cup-winning coach Woodward said: “He reminds me of the great Fijian players and this guy has all the qualities to play like Jonah Lomu. It was great to see him play his normal game.”

His admission has left many England fans scratching their heads at the decision and there were plenty of irate fans who took to Twitter to vent their frustrations.

Check out the best Tweets below!

The 21-year-old must work on the defensive side of his game

England vs Scotland: Joe Cokanasiga DROPPED for Six Nations clash with Jack Nowell returning from injury

14 Mar

Joe Cokanasiga has surprisingly been dropped by England for Saturday’s Six Nations clash against Scotland despite starring for Red Rose last time out.

Cokanasiga was named man of the match after Italy were swept aside in the penultimate round of the championship and was compared to Jonah Lomu by Sir Clive Woodward, but the Fijian-born wing cannot even win a place on the bench for the Calcutta Cup showdown.

Eddie Jones has decided to drop Cokanasiga despite his standout performance performance last time out

Taking his place in the number 14 jersey is Jack Nowell, who has recovered from a shoulder stinger injury, with Ben Te’o picked as replacement three-quarter cover.

Eddie Jones has reverted to his first choice midfield with Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade paired in the centres outside Owen Farrell.

In total, there are four changes in personnel to the XV that battered Italy 57-14 at Twickenham with Ben Moon restored at loosehead prop and Mark Wilson displacing Brad Shields at blindside flanker.

Ben Youngs will be making his 85th England appearance to surpass the national record for a scrum-half held by Danny Care.

“It is a fantastic achievement for Ben, it takes a lot of dedication and hard work and something he and his family will be really proud of,” Jones said.

Ben Youngs is set to make a record-breaking appearance

England will win the Six Nations title if they regain the Calcutta Cup and Wales fail in their Grand Slam bid against Ireland in Cardiff.

“It’s the last week of the tournament so it’s exciting. It will be a fascinating finish with three teams that can win it and we are playing against one of our most traditional foes in Scotland,” Jones said.

“Scotland are a difficult side – they are always at you, they play with a lot of enthusiasm and effort and have got a lot of attacking strings to their bow.

“Finn Russell is an exceptional player at 10 and they have got some pace on the outside so we are going to have to defend really well against them.”