England can do 'a lot of damage' in Paris
REACTION: Ireland’s hopes of an unexpected Six Nations crown rests on England upsetting France in Paris this coming weekend.
In an intriguing final round – which sees Wales against Italy, Ireland hosting Scotland and France at home to England – it is all to play for.
Ireland, who face Scotland in Dublin, could be crowned champions if France slip up and captain Johnny Sexton said England had it in them to cause an upset.
“I think England have a great chance,” Sexton said.
“England are England, one of the most dominant teams in world rugby, World Cup finalists and they’re re-building now but they still beat Australia and South Africa recently,” he said of their wins over Southern Hemisphere opposition in November.
“England can do a lot of damage next week,” Sexton added.
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* Meanwhile England coach Eddie Jones is under no illusions about the task facing his side as they attempt to deprive France of a Six Nations Grand Slam in Paris.
France has been the form side in this season’s Championship and they kept their bid for a first clean sweep in 12 years with a gruelling 13-9 win away over Wales in Cardiff at the weekend.
Les Bleus will be heavily favoured to beat England at the Stade de France in the last game of the tournament on March 19.
Jones, speaking after a 15-32 loss to Ireland at Twickenham at the weekend that scuppered England’s title hopes, identified three key French strengths.
“They’ve obviously got a powerful ruck attack, they are able to carry the ball forward in ones and twos and shorten the defence line up,” he said.
“And then they’ve got good movement on the back of that. They are very good defensively at the breakdown and they have got an incredible long-kicking game.”
The veteran Australian boss added: “They’ve gone back to playing that counter-attacking French style and their discipline in playing that is first-class.
“They have just got a little bit more disciplined now.
“They don’t allow themselves to be seduced by the game, they keep playing the same way, and because of that they are very consistent now.
France has been a rejuvenated side since former scrumhalf Fabien Galthie took charge following their disappointing quarterfinal exit at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
“I’ve known Fabien from way back,” said former Australia and Japan coach Jones.
“When he was a coach coming through, he used to come and watch our training sessions with the Wallabies and Japan. He’s a coach that wants to keep improving.
“I’m really glad he’s doing so well, but I just hope he doesn’t do too well next week!”
England had a mountain to climb against Ireland after Charlie Ewels was sent off after just 82 seconds – the quickest red card in Championship history – following a head-on-head clash with opposing lock James Ryan.
Yet with 20 minutes left, they were level at 15-all after their forward dominance saw fly-half Marcus Smith kick five penalties.
Ireland made their advantage tell with two late tries from replacements Jack Conan and Finlay Bealham but only after a huge scare.
“For 65 minutes I truly felt we were going to win the game,” said England prop Ellis Genge, who had an outstanding match. “Even when we went 23-15 down, I still felt we were going to win.
“We train during the week with 14 or 13 men so we are used to it.
“To play the way we did when we had lost a man was good, but it’s bittersweet. That’s professional sport – she’s a cruel mistress.”
Genge, turning to next week’s match, added: “France are one of the form teams in the world. I watched them against Wales last night and they struggled a bit, but it’s going to be a very difficult game in Paris.
“But this result won’t change anything for us…We were always going to be ready for that game and if anything, we are now going to be more ready after this.”