By Neil Leverett and Nicola Kenton
- Britwatch Sports takes a look back at the 2018 sporting year
- Eddie Jones’ England begin to show signs of life after difficult year
- Saracens win Premiership for the third time in four seasons
- Gloucester suffer more European heartache after dramatic 30-31 Challenge Cup loss to Cardiff Blues
RUGBY UNION – Britwatch Sports looks back at 2018 in Rugby Union, as England build before World Cup, Sarries reign and Cardiff snatch European glory.
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Red Rose begins to bloom again
2018 was a difficult learning curve for Eddie Jones‘ England, but both he and they ended the year in rather more optimistic manner, with a strong Autumn internationals showing, with victories over South Africa, Australia and Japan. Only a narrow defeat to the All Blacks at Twickenham blotted their recovery path.
Winding back the clock to the beginning of the year, the RBS 6 Nations brought with it a uncomfortable time for the Red Rose. After beating Italy and Wales in their opening two games things appeared to be rosy, but after losing to Scotland in the Calcutta Cup for the first time in ten years, a loss to France in Paris ended their hopes of retaining the trophy.
All that was left was a home meeting with Ireland to them deny the Irish the Grand Slam. As the visitors ended their Twickenham hoodoo, tries from Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander and Jacob Stockdale inflicted a 24-15 on England.
As a youthful and inexperienced English side traveled to South Africa in the summer, Jones’ men recorded a narrow 2-1 defeat on southern hemisphere soil, but the seeds of hope were again beginning to bloom, punctuated by their Quilter International performances. 2018 was very much a learning curve for England, but with the World Cup in just ten months time, preparation time is dwindling for Japan 2019.
Saracens regain Premiership crown
Saracens continued their domestic Rugby Union dominance as they won their third Premiership title in four seasons, beating the Exeter Chiefs 27-10 in their end-of-season showdown at Twickenham. The Chiefs topped the table at the end of the campaign but Saracens, who finished second, triumphed in the play-off system.
At the other end of the table, London Irish were relegated with only three wins to their name. While Bristol Bears were promoted from the Championship back to the top tier.
Saracens had had a stranglehold on the European Champions Cup in recent years, with the London outfit winning back-to-back titles in 2015-16 and 2016-17. However, it was all change this year as they scraped through to the quarter-finals in eighth position after finishing second in their group.
Although, they were the only English club to make the knockout stages, Sarries’ streak in the competition came to an end in the quarter-finals at the hands of eventual champions Leinster.
Cherry & Whites suffer further European agony
In the European Challenge Cup, Gloucester suffered an agonising European defeat in the Challenge Cup final, after themselves and Newcastle Falcons made the knockout stages.
The two English clubs faced off in the second semi-final with the Cherry and Whites coming out on top. However, as they had done in the previous season Gloucester lost in the final but this time in heartbreaking fashion.
With Gloucester leading by seven points with just four minutes to go, Garyn Smith scored a late try but with Jarrod Evans missing his conversion, the Cherry & Whites still led in Bilbao with just two minutes to play. Gareth Anscombe‘s late penalty however, snatched the win in dying seconds of the game to give the Blues a 31-30 victory.
The 2019 RBS 6 Nations begins on February 1, as defending champions Ireland host England at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
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