By Nicola Kenton
- Wales sit top of the table after beating England 21-13 at the Principality Stadium
- Scotland’s torrid away record in France continued as they lost 27-10
- Ireland ground out a result against Italy in Rome with a 26-16 victory
SIX NATIONS – Wales are top of the table after beating England in the last round, but they have a tough game away against Scotland in Round Four of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.
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Welsh intensity must continue
Victory against England ensured that Wales claimed their 12th consecutive Test win – new record. England started the match quickly and at half-time were 10-3 ahead but the momentum swung into Welsh hands after the break. It was scrappy and Wales dominated the possession but were unable to capitalise until Cory Hill’s try after 34 phases gave the home side the impetus they needed. Josh Adams scored Wales’ second try with minutes left on the clock to deny England a losing point.
Wales need to continue the intensity that has got them into this position. However, off-the-field issues with a potential merger between Ospreys and Scarlets may have distracted the camp. As Wales head up to Murrayfield all their focus needs to be on winning this match and being in charge of their own destiny when it comes to a possible Grand Slam.
Centre Jonathan Davies told BBC Sport:
“Two years ago we were well beaten there, so we can’t take them lightly. They’ll be hurting from what happened out in France so they’ll be looking to start well and get the crowd behind them and make sure they put us under pressure. Finn Russell is a big part of their game and they’ll probably look to play with a lot of tempo. Maybe a bit more high risk. They’ve got nothing to lose and we’ve got to be aware of all their threats and don’t switch off.”
England must react to Wales defeat
After performing so well in their first two matches, England were out-played against Wales but their hopes over another Six Nations title still remain. Despite losing to Wales, they only sit two point behind them in the table thanks to the bonus points they have picked up. Although England started well in the Wales game, they couldn’t replicate the physicality and intensity that saw them beat Ireland. It was a close contest but England failed to adapt in the latter stages of the match while Wales grew stronger and gained momentum.
Injuries have hit England in recent weeks with news that Dylan Hartley has had exploratory knee surgery while Courtney Lawes and Mako Vunipola are both out of the Championship. Maro Itoje has not yet returned to the starting line-up, after his injury earlier in the tournament.
This weekend against Italy, Eddie Jones has made five changes to his side. What stands out among some of those changes is the size of the team: Joe Cokanasiga, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o all starting together in the back-line while Brad Shields, Ellis Genge and Joe Launchbury are in the starting forwards. A bonus point win is what England are looking for and Jones has thrown the dice to see if this combination of players can bring home the five points they want.
Scotland need to bounce back at home
A disappointing couple of weeks for Scotland has seen their hopes of challenging for this year’s Six Nations title fade. Scotland hadn’t won in Paris for 20 years and that continued as they lost 27-10 against an improved French side. However, Blair Kinghorn proved his worth once again as he made 187 metres – the most of any player in round three – and deputised for in the full-back position for the injured Stuart Hogg.
Injuries have hit Scotland hard this year with Hogg, Finn Russell, Huw Jones, Ryan Wilson and WP Nel all on the injury list. Without the key players of Hogg and Russell, especially it has been tricky for Scotland to control and manage games. They beat Italy with a bonus point in the first round but lost concentration to allow the Azzurri to make the score look more respectable at 33-20 instead of 33-3. Their home match against Ireland was a battle royale in terms of physicality and that’s when they lost Hogg after he was tackled by Peter O’Mahony.
This weeked they face top of the table Wales, who are on a record-breaking winning streak. Scotland’s ranks are boosted slightly with the return of Russell to the fold but captain Greig Laidlaw has been dropped to the bench and replaced by Ali Price.
Ireland grind out another result
Ireland have been tipped as a good side for the past year and will head into the World Cup as one of the top teams but their 2019 Six Nations campaign has not hit full steam. They stumbled against England in the first round, unable to match the intensity and physicality needed. Since, then they have recorded wins over Scotland and Italy but neither were totally convincing. Injuries have hit the squad with Robbie Henshaw not playing since round one but certain parts of the game have not gone as smoothly as hoped.
In the last game against Italy, they were expected to run away with the result and although they picked up a bonus point, they struggled and constantly let Italy back in. The Azzurri performed well with Conor O’Shea’s influence on the team starting to take effect as they led Ireland 16-12 at the break. The visitors were too strong and in the second-half it told. Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray played their 50th start together as a half-back pairing and both contributed in the match with conversions alongside Murray’s try.
There were too many errors against Italy and Ireland will be hoping that they can correct that inaccuracies at the lineout and in their handling. France have done some damage in the Six Nations this year, shocking Wales in the first-half of their match and securing victory against Scotland. They’re certainly not the best team on paper and Ireland should beat them but if the errors start to creep in, France could capitalise on those mistakes.
Bonus points could benefit England
The introduction of bonus points in the Six Nations has seen the competition differ with teams trying to score a fourth try and secure an extra bonus point in the match. England have two wins, one loss and two winning bonus point to their name while leaders Wales have three wins but have failed to pick up any bonus points.
This could mean that if Wales complete the Grand Slam with victories over Scotland and Ireland, they could potentially end up on the same amount of points as England. This situation would only happen if they secure two bonus points wins in their final two matches against Italy and Scotland but it’s not inconceivable.
Bonus points allow teams to attack. It is a reward for scoring tries. However, it also gives incentive to teams who are losing. If they can finish within seven points of their opposition, they will pick up an extra point which could be vital in the final standings. Over the past couple of years, we haven’t seen bonus points come into play in the final standings with England and Ireland winning so convincingly in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
If no-one claims a Grand Slam at this year’s championship, bonus points will decide the winner of the tournament and as England have already picked up two, they seem to be in the strongest position if that were to happen.
Round Four of the 2019 Six Nations sees Scotland host Wales at 14.15 on Saturday March 9, with England taking on Italy at Twickenham at 16.45. Ireland play France at 15.00 on Sunday March 10.
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