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It is fair to say that, even for the most optimistic England fan, the Six Nations has thus far gone much better than expected. Two bonus point wins in two games against two traditional European powerhouses has set England up with their best possible opportunity to win the tournament and will give them momentum for this Autumn’s world cup.
First off, their win against Ireland was probably their best ever win in Dublin. Sure, in 2003 they won by 42 points to 6, but the context was significantly different. In 2003, their victory came after an Autumn in which they’d beaten New Zealand, South Africa and Australia and a Six Nations in which they’d beaten all comers by significant margins.
This time their form was less-than imperious, following a woeful 2018 (albeit peaking towards the end with victories against South Africa and Australia) in which they won 46% of their games and came 5th in the Six Nations. In short very few expected that they would win and even fewer thought it would be by this much.
This was followed by what was likely the best 55 minutes of rugby England have played since they beat the All Blacks in 2012. Accurate, powerful, inexorable and intelligent with tries coming easily against an ineffective French side.
England are now favourites to win the Six Nations. The algorithm predicts that England now have an 87% chance of winning the Six Nations and a 46% chance of winning a Grand Slam whereas before the tournament the odds were 31% and 12% respectively.
[new_royalslider id=”26″] The most difficult challenge England will face will be Wales in Cardiff. The Algorithm predicts a match that really could go either way, although England are now narrow favourites. I mean no disrespect to the Scots, who emphatically beat England in Murrayfield last year, but they haven’t beaten England at Twickenham since 1983. Nor to the Italians, but have never beaten England at any ground. Their chances seem slim this year as well.
England’s success in Cardiff in this decade has been very good, which will give England confidence. They’ve only lost twice: in The Six Nations 2013 and a pre-World Cup friendly in 2011. However, England fans will surely remember the Six Nations rout in 2013. The games have similar context; in both cases were England much favoured to beat the Welsh on a way to a Grand Slam.
Wales recent record has also been fantastic, having gone on their joint longest-ever winning run. There will be no lack of motivation to keep this run going, particularly against fierce rivals England on their home ground.
To win in Cardiff, England will likely need to get two key areas of the game right.
First, England are fast becoming known for their quick starts which have been key in generating momentum and forcing the opposition to adapt to England rather than vice versa. England have now scored within the first three minutes of their previous five games and within the first ten minutes in ten of their previous 14 games. Ironically, failure to do so might lift the confidence of the Welsh and perhaps put the pressure on England to force things.
Poor discipline was also a feature of England’s difficult 2018. England conceded 27 penalties in the last three games of the year including 12 against Japan. This caused the side to concede territory, momentum and points and frustrated their game plan. Given that they’ve only played two matches and have been largely dominant in both, it’s probably too early to say whether England have sorted this out. However, so far this year they have only conceded 12 penalties which should please Eddie Jones.
England will have to be particularly careful not to concede if Leigh Halfpenny is fit for Wales, given his supreme accuracy with the boot – something that has punished England in the past. No doubt this game will be a tight affair, and likely be one that is won or lost on narrow margins. Should England get off to a good start, and keep the penalties to a minimum, it will give them an excellent shot at toppling the Welsh, and see them very likely lift a second Grand Slam (and third title) in four years.