It was a relief and a pleasure to watch England play against a fantastic French team in their at-the-death win at Twickenham last weekend.
After a dismal start to the tournament and terrible discipline in the previous matches, Eddie Jones’ team finally managed to liberate themselves from their downward spiral of performance and turn in one that England supporters could all be proud of. It was an open and expansive game which saw England abandon their risk averse strategy of tactical kicking in favour of releasing their backs to take on the French at their own game of fast paced attacking rugby.
It was great to see George Ford controlling the game alongside his partner Owen Farrell in the backs and Billy Vinupola in the forwards returning to his old form. Maro Itoje was outstanding again not only with his winning try but also as he managed to maintain his discipline like the rest of the England players and not concede so many penalties.
Ireland are also on a journey back to their traditional high standards of performance with a narrow win over Scotland, but like England they have lost two games in the tournament so far. However, Ireland are currently second in the Six Nations table with 11 points and a much superior points difference than England in fourth place with 10 points. Jonny Sexton is also back playing at his best after a poor run of form and he is another world class player who might just lead Ireland to victory.
In my view though, England look more likely to succeed in their path to redemption this Saturday provided they maintain their attacking mindset and keep their discipline. Eddie Jones has said that England is still not playing at their best and they can only improve this weekend and beyond. We can then all look forward to the World Cup where they can hopefully display their world class talent against the Southern hemisphere titans.
Meanwhile, Wales are looking like Grand Slam winners again with the QBE Risk & Award Index showing that they have a clinical attack with the most points scored in the tournament but also a strong defence with the highest number of tackles so far. The game and risk management approach Wales has displayed means that they have won matches by tight margins with the highest Red Zone efficiency in the tournament. In addition Wales has maintained a risk averse strategy by avoiding conceding turnovers and the risk of conceding penalties and thus they have conceded less points.
Wales has ground out 4 wins out of 4 so far with the vast experience of world class players in their pack, including Lions veterans Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau. However, Josh Navidi is emerging as a potential Lions contender with his man of the match performance and Callum Sheedy is also giving Dan Biggar a run for his money with game changing appearances as a finisher.
Victory against France by Wales will not be a pushover by any means. In the tournament this year, the QBE Risk & Reward Index shows that France has the best record in attack with the most line breaks, defenders beaten, offloads and kicks and the best collision success. France also has the advantage of having probably the best player in the world at the moment in Antoine Dupont.
France will still be smarting from their narrow defeat against England and with now no hope of a Grand Slam win themselves, denying Wales may prove decisive in Paris this weekend. However, Wales has the momentum at the moment and it will be their game to lose but with the reward of another Grand Slam, two years after their heroics in 2019, it may just be their year in 2021.