Home sports 'England won the title, but I'd be amazed if it felt like a Six Nations game'

'England won the title, but I'd be amazed if it felt like a Six Nations game'

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'England won the title, but I'd be amazed if it felt like a Six Nations game'


Matt Dawson

As much as England’s win against Italy was a Six Nations game, I would be amazed if it felt like it.

They won the title after France’s win against Ireland later on Saturday and I would hope that they would have had a few beers to celebrate.

It is something that they will look back on in their careers and be pleased that they were part of a championship-winning side.

But the momentum was lost in the tournament after its suspension in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Having said that, looking at social media and messages I have had, everyone was buzzing about having all the rugby on Saturday.

There was plenty hanging on the last game between France and Ireland, with either able to take the title from England. I think it worked out really well.

France were too good for Ireland but there were moments up until half-time when you thought it would only take a score from the Irish to put the pressure on the hosts.

‘Barbarians cancellation will have had a big effect’

The game against Italy was not an easy fixture for England. They had not played a match for seven months because their warm-up game against the Barbarians was cancelled after some Baa-Baas players broke coronavirus rules.

I think that will have had a big effect. Even though England got off to a good start, Italy were woeful in the first 10 minutes.

England could not change their tactics. It was fairly obvious that they were going to kick the leather off the ball and then try and counter-attack.

That worked for the first 10 minutes but then Italy dealt with it, and England needed to play with a different style.

They needed to play more phase rugby and it was not until they got into the changing rooms at half-time and the coaches spoke to them that they came out in the second half and blew Italy away.

It would have been nice to have changed tactics after 20 minutes. That is a theme with that England side – tweaking the tactics mid-half rather than waiting for half-time, but it is difficult to do first game out.

Notoriously the first round of the Six Nations is a bit ropey and even though it was the last game, it was a one-off so you are going to be a bit rusty again.

It was really only the opening half against France in their first game that was the poorest part of England’s tournament.

They lost that match 24-17 back in February – their only defeat – but it is so far behind us now that I do not think England will have any what-ifs about not completing the Grand Slam.

There are lots of positives to get out of the tournament. Grand Slams are really hard to come by, they are not something that automatically happens every year.

Six Nations table showing England on 18 points with 44 points difference, France on 18 with 21 points difference, Ireland on 14 with 30 points difference, Scotland on 14 with 18 points difference, Wales on 8, Italy on 0

‘Itoje will be England captain in the very near future’

Lock Maro Itoje is without question turning into a future England captain and, I would say, in the very near future.

He was either leading the half-time conversation with captain Owen Farrell or someone had said to him that he needed to get himself involved more.

It was noticeable that his involvement and aggression was a catalyst to England playing better in the second half.

If anything, it might take a bit of pressure off Farrell. I do not think he had his best game because he was playing at 10 and he has got the responsibility of the captaincy. For England, Farrell seems to be a lot more comfortable at 12.

I would love to see Itoje have a go at the captaincy. I get the impression that the more responsibility you give him, the better he becomes.

‘Youngs is England’s perfect number nine’

I exchanged some messages with Ben Youngs on Friday before he won his 100th cap.

To be playing 100 games is something I did not get close to, and Jason Leonard is the only other male rugby player to have done it in an England shirt.

I think it actually made Ben realise how he could play. He scored two great tries and has not played like that for a long time individually.

His man-management and individual performance were outstanding. He is probably looking at this game and thinking he needs to prepare for matches in the same way as he did for that Italy game for the next few years.

He looked sharp, super fit and who is to say he could not carry on for another three years until the next World Cup?

It is going to be tough, not only physically. If you look at who is coming through – Dan Robson and Alex Mitchell are in the England squad.

I am sure Ben Spencer is going to respond to not being included, and you have got Willi Heinz who Eddie Jones obviously likes having in the squad.

Youngs has got a lot of competition, so it will be about whether he can keep himself in physical shape.

But he is the perfect number nine for England – he magnifies their strengths.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.

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