By Nicola Kenton
- Wales are on course for the Grand Slam after their 18-11 victory over Scotland
- England convincingly beat Italy 57-14 to keep pace in case Wales slip up
- Ireland secured a bonus-point 26-14 victory against France to remain one point behind England
SIX NATIONS – Wales have the chance to claim the Grand Slam and Six Nations title this weekend, but if they slip up Ireland and England are waiting to stake their claim.
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All eyes on Wales as they go for the Grand Slam
Warren Gatland’s side extended their unbeaten run to 13 Tests after their victory over Scotland in round four. The Grand Slam is in sight and with this being Gatland’s last Six Nations before he leaves his post after the World Cup, another Grand Slam would end his reign on a high whatever happens in Japan. Since the Six Nations began Wales have achieved three Grand Slams, two of which have been under Gatland – the last being in 2012.
Each match has seen a different side to Wales. In round one they showed their fighting spirit to produce an epic comeback against France. Although they didn’t play at their best, they were able to find a way to grind out a result. Against Italy, they didn’t produce a convincing win that everyone expected but they did enough and produced some good rugby. Then came the victory against England where the physicality and intensity of the Welsh team paid off, they ground down their opponents and worked hard to claim that vital result.
Round four against Scotland was another physical test but again Wales produced some attacking rugby to see off their opposition. This weekend’s match against Ireland is important for many reasons. Firstly, to claim the Grand Slam, secondly to continue their unbeaten run but most importantly as preparation in the build-up to the World Cup. All eyes will be on the Principality to see if Wales can pull off what seemed impossible half-way through their match against France.
Eddie Jones deflects from England
Apart from their loss to Wales, England have had a strong Championship and their coach Eddie Jones knows that. The outcome of the 2019 Six Nations is not entirely in England’s hands, as they have to rely on Ireland beating Wales. If that does happen, then Jones’ side will know what they have to do to secure the title. Yet Jones has wound up Wales coach Gatland with his pre-match comments.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Jones said: “We will be interested, that is human nature. We have not told the players anything about what to do during the game, they will each treat it differently. Some will want to watch it, some won’t want to watch it. It is going to be very tight. I think Wales are definitely tiring but Ireland are coming to a peak so it will be a close old game. But we need to be ready to play come kick off.”
The inference that Wales are tired as a team annoyed Gatland and he responded telling Jones to concentrate on his own game. The Calcutta Cup is always a fiery encounter but with the match taking place at Twickenham, England are favourites in the contest. Scotland have many injuries and will be hoping to put on a solid performance. Jones loves playing mind games and this is another example of deflecting away from his team and putting pressure on someone else, which in this case the pressure is all on Wales and England will know what they need to do at kick-off.
Ireland could claim title for themselves
It’s been a while since there was a three-horse race in the Six Nations but the 2019 edition is giving the audience what they want. The permutations for this weekend stand that if Wales win against Ireland, they will claim the Grand Slam and the title – especially as three bonus points are awarded for winning the Grand Slam.
Wales will win the Championship if they draw and England lose, if Wales and England draw then bonus points will come into play. If Wales and Ireland draw and England win, Jones’ side would win the title; if Ireland win and England lose then Joe Schmidt’s side would claim the Championship. Finally, if Ireland and England win then bonus points and potentially points difference will come into play.
Ireland started the tournament poorly against England, they couldn’t find their groove and as a result they were out-powered by England. In a brutal match at Murrayfield, Ireland got the better of Scotland and from there they have recorded two wins against Italy and France. Ireland have not reached the levels of performance that we saw in last year’s Championship and they will have to improve if they are going to beat Wales. However, it is possible and if they can secure a bonus point win against Gatland’s side, it will give them the best chance for the overall title.
The final round of the 2019 Six Nations sees Italy host France at 12.30 on Saturday March 16, Ireland travel to Wales at 14.45; while England play Scotland at 17.00 at Twickenham.
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