A full 237 days after its suspension in March, the Six Nations cup reached a “thrilling” conclusion last Saturday when England claimed the title in nail-biting fashion, said BBC Sport. The final round of matches began with three teams – England, France and Ireland – all still in with a realistic chance of winning. Ireland, on 14 points, held a onepoint lead over their rivals, but England had a big advantage: they were to play Italy – the weakest team in the competition – whereas France and Ireland faced each other. Most pundits predicted that a win in Rome with a bonus point (awarded for scoring four tries in a match) would be enough to secure England a 29th win in the competition – and their third in the past five years.
And so it proved, said Robert Kitson in The Guardian. England eased to a 34-5 victory in Rome, earning an all-important bonus point in the final quarter when an alert Tom Curry was able to “steal down the blindside”. It was a far from vintage performance from Eddie Jones’s men, but it proved “just enough”. France’s 35-27 victory over Ireland later that evening wasn’t nearly emphatic enough for them to overtake England (they would have needed a 31-point winning margin to do so; Ireland, by contrast, would have triumphed with a seven-point victory). It’s of course never a bad thing to win a title, but in truth England had little reason to celebrate, said Stephen Jones in The Sunday Times. France were “unquestionably” the best team in the competition, only failing to win all five of their matches because of Mohamed Haouas’s 37th-minute sending off against Scotland – a match they’d dominated up to that point. And England were “massively disappointing” in Rome, earning a victory whose points margin flattered them: they were “ragged, fitful, poor up front and erratic” against a team that last won a Six Nations match in 2015.
But we need to cut England some slack, said Brian Moore in The Daily Telegraph. The performance against Italy was certainly “uneven”, but it’s understandable that they should have been rusty: they hadn’t played an international match in seven months, and their one scheduled warm-up game against the Barbarians had to be cancelled after 12 Barbarian players were found to have breached coronavirus restrictions. In fact, it would be wrong to conclude on the basis of this competition that France are a better team overall. They’re certainly more creative than England – with a capacity to score tries at any time. But they also have a tendency to make “stupid errors” – as with Haouas’s sending off against Scotland, and again against Ireland on Saturday when a yellow card for their full-back, Anthony Bouthier, “allowed Ireland back into the game”. England, by contrast, have a rare ability to shut opponents out of a game for long periods. I would say that, overall, they are deserving Six Nations victors.
Nonetheless, Jones shouldn’t feel too complacent about where his side are now at, said Clive Woodward in the Daily Mail. England’s power-based game may work against most teams, but it is unlikely to trouble the very best – New Zealand, for one, South Africa for another. What worried me about their Six Nations performance was that they don’t appear to have progressed as a team since their disappointing final in last autumn’s World Cup. Jones should rethink his team’s strategy – and the Autumn Nations Cup, which begins this month, is the perfect place to start.