Thursday 28 February 2019 8:23 pm

Ollie Phillips: England’s Grand Slam dream is gone but bittersweet Six Nations title still a real possibility

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England’s dream of a Grand Slam was ended by Wales last weekend but I still think they will win the Six Nations.

So far Warren Gatland is looking like Mystic Meg because his prediction before the tournament looks to be coming true. The Wales coach said that if his side beat France in their opening game they would go on to claim the championship; they did, and the win in Cardiff has put them in pole position.

However, it’s not a done deal yet. I have a feeling a slip-up is to come, with a trip to Scotland next weekend followed by a monumental clash with Ireland in the closing round.

Although they have lost two of their three games so far, Scotland are a good side who need to show a response after last week’s disappointing defeat in France.

Fly-half Finn Russell has been declared fit for Racing 92’s match this weekend following concussion and his inclusion would be a massive boost for Scotland.

After a brilliant autumn Ireland have been subdued and, while their own hopes have faded, the opportunity to rain on Wales’s parade in Cardiff on 16 March is a tempting one.

England, meanwhile, have taken bonus points against Ireland and France, which could be crucial as Wales have none and have a tougher run-in.

Overall it just goes to show how competitive the Six Nations is this year, with three of the top four teams in the world ensuring there’s still everything to play for.

Wales turnaround

Credit must go to Wales for their turnaround last weekend. I thought they were dead and buried at half-time: England had a 10-3 lead and looked to be in full control.

But Gatland made changes at the break which nullified England’s kicking strategy and exposed the weaknesses we saw in the South Africa series last year.

Helped by Kyle Sinckler’s indiscipline, Wales got back into it and showed resilience, patience and tactical awareness to dominate.

It’s frustrating to see England struggle when their game-plan proves to be ineffective. Eddie Jones’s tactics were carried out to perfection in the first two matches, but when Wales reversed the pressure there seemed to be an inability to figure things out.

Owen Farrell is the captain and leader on the pitch, but he didn’t play well for 40 minutes and it made a huge difference.

The side has lots of foot soldiers who are willing to charge into a brick wall for their coach – but if it doesn’t fall down they don’t know what to do instead.

Wales have now won a record 12 games in a row but they aren’t world-beaters. They worked England out and found a way to win; Dan Biggar’s introduction changed the dynamic and they ground it out.

There was a notable contrast in leaders in the two sides. While England continued to kick into the hands of their opponents through Farrell, Wales had Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Alun Wyn Jones and more leading their attack.

England’s Plan A is usually effective, but when the going gets tough it seems they either don’t have a Plan B or are not adept at identifying when to use it.

Thankfully, with the hardest games gone, Plan A should be good enough from now on. The Grand Slam may be gone but a bittersweet Six Nations title still awaits.

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is a director within the real estate & construction team at PwC and founder of Optimist Performance. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn


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