It’s been a strange old Six Nations campaign for England, not convincing by any means, yet it could still easily result in them winning the Championship which is the yardstick we must measure them by because you never win Six Nations titles by accident.
Take that win over Ireland last up. Were England really good or Ireland unusually sloppy especially in the first half when even Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton were just so poor at half-back? It was one of the worst Irish displays I can recall. If England had got their selection right it would have been a cricket score.
There were moments of excellence from England but overall I’m still undecided. What we can say with some certainty is that they have definitely got their mojo back mentally.
England have their mojo back after beating Ireland in the Six Nations at Twickenham
I now envisage them closing out this tournament with wins over Wales and Italy, assuming of course the final match takes place given coronavirus concerns.
And that could be enough to take the title. Although I am extremely impressed with France this season, their young team face a battle royal on Sunday when they tackle Scotland and Murrayfield.
The Scots are a much better team than their results have indicated thus far. If they hit top gear, France will have it all to do to give themselves a shot at the Slam at home to Ireland.
Meanwhile at Twickenham I’m expecting a gear shift from England against a Welsh team who brought the English championship charge to an abrupt halt last season in Cardiff.
Wales beat England in Cardiff last year on their way to winning the 2019 Six Nations
But what will England’s modus operandi be? The latest strap line from England is ‘become the best team ever’. Well, the England and All Black World Cup winning teams of 2003 and 2015 respectively would take some shifting on that score but it’s a subjective call anyway.
A better mission statement for this group would be the more specific ‘become the fastest team ever to play Test rugby’. That was always my aim when coaching England and Eddie Jones is blessed with the players to make this happen.
On Saturday I absolutely loved the way Joe and Sam Simmonds, playing at fly-half and No 8 for Exeter, and Marcus Smith, the Harlequins No 10, went about their work at the Stoop.
To my eyes all three are international class players blessed with blazing pace, indeed much more gas than those currently playing for England in those positions.
Exeter fly-half Joe Simmonds impressed for his club against Harlequins at the Stoop
Instead, England seem intent on becoming ‘the greatest team ever’ by becoming ‘the most powerful team ever’.
That approach is certainly producing a pack to reckon with again. At lock, for example, you can pick any two from Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes and Charlie Ewels.
England’s front five have the ability to make life fairly simple for their back row, no matter which combination Eddie Jones puts together.
And there is so much strength in depth that even world-class players like the Vunipola brothers are not noticeably missed. But does it have the real pace to take the game of rugby to a whole new level?
Sam Simmons should be unleashed in a Test arena for England in the next few weeks
So for example when looking to replace Mako when he is injured or unavailable I would go for the pace and X-factor of Ellis Genge as a starter.
Jones is in experimental mode at present and if that is the case I would like to see players with exceptional pace fast-tracked whenever possible.
The prospect of properly unleashing a Sam Simmonds on Test rugby off the back of that England front five really is one to savour if you are brave enough to make it happen.
NO EXCUSES FOR PIVAC
As for Wales, I’ve thought all along this would be a middling transition season for them after Warren Gatland, especially when they ran into major injury problems before the tournament began.
I don’t see them winning on Saturday. They don’t have the pack to combat a fully fired up England eight but Wales often dig deep so don’t expect them to go quietly.
Coach Wayne Pivac is learning the