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England firms for Grand Slam

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Campbell Burnes     11 Feb 2019     Getty Images

The much-anticipated England versus France Six Nations clash at Twickenham this morning ended in triumph for England, 44-8 victors over a hapless France that now has just one win from its last nine outings.

Eddie Jones’ England now shoot to the top of the table after two rounds and has a fortnight to plot the demise of Wales, the only other team with a 2-0 record.

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Left wing Jonny May led the way with a hat-trick – he could in fact have scored four – and all the backs played well, with slick handling and low error rates. From the moment No 8 Billy Vunipola clattered into the first French runner, you just knew the home side was up for it, adhering to Jones’ dictum that they would be better than last week, even after hitting the high notes in Dublin.

May crossed after just over a minute from an Elliot Daly grubber, the first signs that England was exploiting the fact the French back three were constantly out of position.

In all, England crossed for six tries, including a penalty try. Farrell again proved his value, scoring 17 points, including one of those five-pointers.

France looked flat and disorganised, especially on defence. That the 44-8 scoreline never advanced after 58 minutes was partly due to the introduction of sparky replacement Antoine Dupont, but it was all too little, too late for the visitors.

Wales will give England a warm welcome to Cardiff in round three, where both sides’ Grand Slam aspirations will likely be decided. Warren Gatland’s charges never really got out of second gear in the 26-15 victory over the Azzurri in Rome, but then he did make 10 changes from the XV that won in Paris.

Italy was again competitive but again failed to take all its chances, though South African-born opensider Braam Steyn was outstanding in the lineout and around the track. The Azzurri had to work hard for any gains. After 17 minutes, they had made 66 tackles. There is nothing wrong with the work ethic of Sergio Parisse’s men.

Wales struck twice, the first via wing Josh Adams off a Liam Williams bust. Gareth Anscombe who subbed on for Dan Biggar, took the ball to the line more often, and his perfectly weighted grubber sat up for second five Owen Watkins. Biggar is the more accurate off the tee, but Anscombe, who found endorsement from the great Barry John, looks better equipped to set the Wales backline alight. The versatile Josh Navidi again showed his qualities, this time from No 8.
Ireland won in the proverbial ugly fashion, edging Scotland 22-13 at Murrayfield in a clash that never reached any great heights. But for Ireland, the key factor was bouncing back with a W after being shocked by England in Dublin.

As ever, it was Peter O’Mahony who led the way with a man of the match display from the blindside flank. Fullback Rob Kearney made a telling return from injury, but Johnny Sexton limped off. His replacement Joey Carbery was a mixture, conceding an intercept try to Scotland No 12 Sam Johnson, but then setting up Keith Earls with a searing break.

Ireland did not have to play that well against a committed but error-prone Scotland that made no less than 14 handling errors. But this is a step forward for Joe Schmidt’s charges after two steps back. They will seek the bonus point win in Rome.

Edinburgh: Ireland 22 (Conor Murray, Jacob Stockdale, Keith Earls tries; Jonny Sexton, con, Joey Carbery con, pen) Scotland 13 (Sam Johnson try; Greig Laidlaw con, 2 pen) HT: 12-10 Ireland

Rome: Wales 26 (Josh Adams, Owen Watkins tries; Gareth Anscombe 2 con, Dan Biggar 4 pen) Italy 15 (Braam Steyn, Edoardo Padovani tries; Tommaso Allan con, pen) HT: 12-7 Wales

London: England 44 (Jonny May 3, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell tries, penalty try; Farrell 3 con, 2 pen) France 8 (Damian Penaud try; Morgan Parra pen) HT: 30-8 England

Form XV:
15 Elliot Daly (England)
14 Keith Earls (Ireland)
13 Henry Slade (England)
12 Manu Tuilagi (England)
11 Jonny May (England)
10 Owen Farrell (England)
9 Ben Youngs (England)
8 Josh Navidi (Wales)
7 Braam Steyn (Italy)
6 Peter O’Mahony (Ireland)
5 James Ryan (Ireland)
4 Courtney Lawes (England)
3 Tadgh Furlong (Ireland)
2 Elliot Dee (Wales)
1 Mako Vunipola (England)

Round three (NZT)
Feb 24: France v Scotland, Paris, Sunday 2.15am
Feb. 24: Wales v England, Cardiff, Sunday 5.45am
Feb. 25: Italy v Ireland, Rome, Monday 3am