5 things we learned from the Six Nations this weekend
Back-row problems spell doubts for England while Stockdale sparkles for Ireland.
Ireland wrapped up the NatWest Six Nations title on Saturday while England were beaten again.
After Wales wrapped up the fourth weekend of the championship with victory over Italy, Press Association Sport looks at five things we learned.
England’s World Cup credentials in question
Eddie Jones’ men began the Six Nations campaign in pursuit of an unprecedented third successive title, but defeat against Ireland has left them facing the prospect of suffering a third successive Six Nations defeat for the first time since 2006. Head coach Jones has plenty to contemplate ahead of next Saturday’s Twickenham appointment with Grand Slam-chasing Ireland.
Where do England’s problems lie?
"Eddie Jones picked a back-row that failed miserably at Murrayfield and it failed again today"— BBC 5 live Sport (@5liveSport) March 10, 2018
Ian Robertson says he would be 'shattered' if Eddie Jones didn't change the England back-row next week vs Ireland...#FRAvENG #bbcsixnations pic.twitter.com/Hqn2IQOOjO
The back-row balance is an issue. Chris Robshaw is an outstanding forward, but at blindside flanker rather than the openside role he filled against France. Exeter’s Sam Simmonds, meanwhile, is perhaps more of a seven than a number eight, yet it is likely to be an unsolvable problem until an injury-prone Billy Vunipola makes his latest comeback.
Stockdale a star in the making
Ireland have unearthed a diamond in Ulster wing Stockdale, who continues to score tries for fun. His double against Scotland made it six in this season’s tournament and made him only the second player, after Englishman Cyril Lowe, to score multiple tries in three consecutive Four, Five or Six Nations championship games. He has an eye for the intercept, and he already looks a runaway choice as the player of the tournament.
Power game suits France
French flair has been a theme down the years, but Les Bleus prefer to bludgeon opponents these days. Victory over England was due to the physicality of their back row, who won the arm wrestle at the breakdown, and the brute force of Mathieu Bastareaud. The ‘Toulon Tank’ won his personal duel with Ben Te’o and became the figurehead of France’s win. More of the same in Cardiff next week and a top-two spot could be theirs for the first time since 2011.
Wales gamble pays off
Warren Gatland made 10 changes for the visit of bottom-placed Italy as Wales sought to bounce back from successive defeats to England and Ireland. The sub-plot was to try to add depth to the squad with the World Cup just 18 months away. But second place would be guaranteed with bonus-point wins against Italy and France and the first part of that job was handsomely achieved as Wales ran in five tries for a 38-14 victory against the Azzurri.