Six Nations: Scotland do England big favour – Matt Dawson column

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Now that England v Italy is a title-deciding game, the match’s postponement because of coronavirus has taken on a different dynamic.

Scotland ended France’s Grand Slam hopes on Sunday, and even a bonus-point victory for Les Bleus against Ireland in the final round might not be enough to secure the title.

All of a sudden England, who beat Wales on Saturday, are back into the title race but who says their final game against Italy is even going to happen?

In 2001 when games were postponed until the autumn because of foot-and-mouth disease, we knew relatively quickly when the game was going to be played.

This feels like the potential to play it is a lot more fluid. Where is the gap in the schedule? Is it pre-season, pre-autumn internationals, the end of this season?

I cannot see it being before next season because of what is happening with coronavirus.

It is such a tricky one. Before Scotland’s victory against France, England players would not have been waiting by the phone to find out when their match would be rescheduled.

It is not like they are going for a Grand Slam and they are going to beat Italy.

But now, with England ahead of France in the table on points difference, their thinking about the game gets sharpened.

On an individual level, the postponement means England scrum-half Ben Youngs is stuck on his 99th cap.

He would never admit it, but that must be a bit frustrating. It is an incredible achievement for any sportsperson to get 100 caps for their country.

There is no doubt in my mind that he will get there. He is not going to be worried about not getting another cap if he carries on playing like he did on Saturday.

I am really pleased he got man of the match, because he managed the game superbly well.

That is why he is in the team – the kicking strategy, the attacking strategy, organising the defence, the decisions, calming the atmosphere when all around you is getting a little bit hectic.

There were moments in the game against Wales where there needed to be a calm head amongst it all to make the big decisions, and Ben was making them

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‘Tuilagi red a poor decision’

I thought the red card for Manu Tuilagi’s tackle on George North was a poor refereeing decision.

It was a bad tackle but there were mitigating circumstances that take it down from a red to a yellow.

I am not convinced that if that was a World Cup final or if the score was 30-30 the referee Ben O’Keeffe would send him off.

It is a circumstantial red card where he is thinking he will not get in any bother by sending him off because there is shoulder to the head and England are 17 points ahead. It is going to be inconsequential to the outcome.

England head coach Eddie Jones said after the game that it was ridiculous and suggested O’Keeffe was Wales’ 16th man.

That is Eddie Jones being Eddie Jones. He is obviously not in the slightest bit worried about trying to win over fans or the media or be remembered as a successful coach who was a thoroughly likeable individual.

If you look at Warren Gatland when he was Wales head coach, he was still very prickly but he would do it in a clever, calculating way rather than an off-the-cuff, emotional comment like Eddie tends to do.

He distracts attention away from his players and it seems to be working because England are a great team.

But every single conversation I have about rugby with England fans, when they mention Eddie Jones, they ask if he really is like that. They want to like him and stand by him and applaud him but even a lot of England fans wonder why he needs to say those things. It is just unnecessary.

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‘Wales will be kicking themselves’

Wales managed to change their tactics and score three tries in the second half at Twickenham on Saturday.

England were still dominant but Wales will be kicking themselves that they did not throw caution to the wind in the first half.

A lot of the Six Nations has come down to who can now compete up front.

Wales, Ireland and Scotland have got really good individual, experienced and strong players but as a collective only France can match England up front.

Unless you have got the firepower to nullify the tight five of Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Joe Marler, Maro Itoje and George Kruis you have got a tough day at the office, as was proven at the World Cup.

In the final South Africa met England front on, then they had the skills in the backline to pick the right time to play.

Too often England are making teams play from their own half. You are a long way from home and England have got the defence and patience to squeeze the life out of the opposition.

‘It bodes well for 2023 World Cup’

With their final Six Nations game still up in the air, England’s next confirmed fixture is against Japan in July.

From what I understand, Eddie wants to take a full squad on that tour to Japan. If a player is fit, they are going to go.

There were plenty of man hugs on the touchline for Kruis, who is rumoured to be considering a move to a Japanese club, and particularly Marler, who has retired from international rugby once before. We will find out later whether they are calling it a day.

But the bulk of this England side are going to be around for the next World Cup in 2023.

You have got a stack load of second rows queueing up to step in for Kruis and partner Maro Itoje and the back row will all be around.

Scrum-half Youngs is going to be a question mark because another three years training at that intensity is a long time, so that is certainly something the coaching team have got to be mindful of.

But it is a great picture for England. I do not mind the fact that the final score against Wales was 33-30, there were lots of lessons learned.

It was another dominant England performance and these guys are just going to get better with age.

They are going to take more responsibility as the years go by. They have got the memories of adversity of the World Cup final defeat and losing in the opening round in Paris.

So it bodes well for the 2023 World Cup and the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.

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