England captain Dylan Hartley ready for Ireland game but Elliot Daly doubtful

Duncan Bech 13/03/2018
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England captain Dylan Hartley is expected to be available to face Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday but doubt now hovers over the fitness of Elliot Daly.

Hartley could return for the final round of the NatWest 6 Nations against the newly crowned champions after missing the 22-16 defeat in France because of a tight calf that developed in training last week.

Jamie George deputised at hooker in Hartley’s absence – Owen Farrell took over as skipper – but the Saracen failed to make an impact at the Stade de France so Hartley is poised to make an immediate comeback.

“Dylan ran this morning (Monday) but we need to get a medical report on him,” head coach Eddie Jones said.
“I expect him to be available but we’ll just have to wait and see. If he’s fit then he’ll be playing.”

Daly’s fitness hinges on a scan for a foot injury with the Wasps wing currently wearing a protective boot around his left leg.

The trip to Paris was Daly’s first appearance of the 2018 Six Nations, having recovered from ankle and calf problems, and he acquitted himself well in difficult circumstances.

“The boot is just a precaution. He’ll go for a scan today (Monday),” Jones said.

Defeat by Ireland would condemn England to their worst Six Nations performance since 2006 – the last time they lost three games in a Championship – and they could finish as low as fifth in the table.

The latest world rankings, published on Monday, revealed that they have been replaced by Joe Schmidt’s men in second place in the wake of successive defeats by Scotland and France.

Asked if his belief in what the team can achieve has been shaken, Jones replied: “No, not at all.

“Every good team goes through this period. It’s actually an essential part of developing a great team.

“The learnings we’ll get from this, albeit very painful, are absolutely crucial going forward because it’s about how we respond.

“It’s not as if we can’t play Rugby, we know we’ve got good players as they’ve played for the Lions and won games for England.

“When you get a loss it tests your mental resolve and that’s the test we’ve got to face.

“Obviously we need to get over the disappointment of losing to France. We’ve reflected on the game and we did enough to win, but sometimes the result doesn’t go your way.

“We’ve just got to focus now on Ireland. We’ve started that with a short run this (Monday) morning and a couple of meetings to get us on the front foot.

“Ireland are a good team. I said at the start of the tournament they’re a good team and they’ve proved that – they’re worthy champions of the Six Nations.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Conor Murray insists Ireland aren't daunted as they look to secure Grand Slam

Nick Purewal 13/03/2018
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Ireland have finally lifted the ban on Grand Slam talk, Conor Murray has admitted.

Joe Schmidt’s side swiped a third NatWest 6 Nations title in five years with Saturday’s 28-8 victory over Scotland in Dublin.

Now the Irish could seal just a third-ever clean sweep with a victory over England at Twickenham on Saturday that would spark jubilant St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Taskmaster boss Schmidt famously has his players well-drilled on the party line of remaining next-game focused – but British and Irish Lions scrum-half Murray conceded there is no more avoiding the main issue when that next game is a Grand Slam decider.

“We can start talking about it now, because that’s what’s in front of us if things go well,” said Murray of Ireland’s bid for a Grand Slam to echo the achievements of 1948 and 2009.

“It would be right up there, probably at the top. Only Rob (Kearney) and Rory (Best) are left that have won a slam.

“The motivation is in our group and it’s about how we avoid the distraction of all that and go about our business like we usually do in a match week with something really special to play for.

“It’s not daunting, it’s a massive occasion, but it’s one this group is going to enjoy and relish.

“We do have the ability, it’s just about getting that performance together and trying to nail it as best we can.

“It’s a massive occasion and one a lot of lads haven’t faced into before. But there’s a lot of lads in the group that have played in massive, massive games and know how to go about a big match week.

“There’s a crop of younger players in this group that the older, more experienced players can guide through the week. I wouldn’t have any fears about the younger players, they’re just so good at Rugby that it comes so naturally to them.

“If there’s a bit of advice here and there that older lads can give, I’m sure we will. That’s the challenge of a unique week we have.”

Ireland set a new record of 11 consecutive wins with Saturday’s victory over Scotland, leapfrogging England into second place in the World Rugby rankings.

England’s back-to-back defeats to Scotland and France now leave Eddie Jones’ side staring down the barrel of their worst Six Nations since 2006.

England could even finish as low as fifth in the table should Ireland complete the Grand Slam – but British and Irish Lions star Murray insisted Schmidt’s side still expect a ferocious English performance this weekend.

“They’ve had a couple of tough games but they’re still the same side which won a slam and another championship back-to-back,” said Murray, of England.

“So that’s the same thing as us losing a game here or there, a couple of things not going right, but we still believe we’re good enough and we would be. England are going to be no different. They’re going to be coming home, they’re going to have a lot to play for, a lot of pride as well, they’re full of world-class players.

“I wouldn’t get fooled by the fact they’ve lost a couple of games. I still think they’re a really, really good side that can be very dangerous.

“I don’t think we’ll fall into that trap, definitely not. I think we’ve enough knowledge about them and experience to deal with that.”

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Six Nations: Breaking down the good and bad points for all six sides in round four

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Ireland wrapped up the Six Nations title on Saturday while England were beaten again.

After Wales wrapped up the fourth weekend of the championship with victory over Italy, we assess the fortunes of each team…

IRELAND

Good: The Six Nations winners have put themselves in a glorious position to earn their place in a small club and seal only the third Grand Slam in the country’s history next weekend. Joe Schmidt’s side were clinical, relentless, ruthless against Scotland as they took their four tries with conviction. No other Irish player has scored more tries in a championship than Jacob Stockdale (six tries in five matches) and there’s still one more round to go.

Bad: Everything has gone to the best possible script for the Men in Green but the weight of history and what they could achieve at Twickenham, could play on their minds. It’s not a bad problem to have but the Irish need to remember the full job isn’t done yet.

ENGLAND

Good: When the Red Rose went quick ball first and didn’t worry about their structure, it gave the players the chance to have a broken field and use their footwork. The English showed flashes of their attacking exploits, but Eddie Jones’ men need to add another 40 percent to their performance if they are to have any hope of beating Ireland in the final round.

Bad: A far cry from the team that won back-to-back titles – with two defeats in four matches this championship. They gave away too many penalties – a record 15 which is the most of the Jones era – and looked deficient in attack and couldn’t unlock a granite-like French defence. The back-row balance is a massive area that needs to be addressed.

WALES

Good: Warren Gatland showed the serious depth available in his squad after making 10 changes to his squad. To see the likes of George North, Hadleigh Parks and Elliot Dee shine in the bonus-point win shows the class on offer in the Dragons set-up. They have the chance to secure second place with a bonus-point with against France on Saturday.

Bad: Lacked ruthlessness at times during the first period after such a storming start. The Dragons need to be composed with ball-in-hand for long periods, cut down mistakes and discipline (two sin bins and Liam Williams lucky not to get a red) if they are to seriously challenge the likes of Ireland and the Southern Hemisphere teams at next summer’s World Cup.

SCOTLAND

Good: Gregor Townsend’s side showed creativity and had chances to go ahead in Dublin, and ask questions that weren’t asked of Ireland in the tournament yet. Although they might look at the scoreline and see a comprehensive defeat, there were signs of class that the Scots need to work on to improve after the championship.

Bad: It’s unfortunate that a burgeoning team like the Scots have been so appalling on the road this championship – with three defeats in five. They butchered three try-scoring chances against the Irish, including an early opportunity for Stuart Hogg that could have put a different reflection on the contest.

FRANCE

Good: The win over England will get them back into the top eight of the world rankings – after falling behind Fiji and Argentina. Les Bleus showed the French Flair that has been missing in their game in recent years, hammering the English with every opportunity. Victory over the Red Rose represents a significant boost to their overall morale, with the physicality of their back-row providing a serious thorn to their success.

Bad: A thumping victory in Paris but Jacques Brunel’s side haven’t solved anything yet. They failed to make an impact for nearly 50 minutes of the match and only came to light when awarded a penalty try. Made some critical errors, including burning a serious try scoring chance from a five-metre scrum after the break.

ITALY

Good: The Azzurri’s structure and work through the phases looked positive and will add confidence to the work of Conor O’Shea and his backroom team when sitting down to review the championship next week. To see the elusive Matteo Minozzi touchdown for another try will be another key positive.

Bad: Their game plan was littered with mistakes in the second-half and virtually fell apart as Wales upped the intensity. Loose defending and an inability to keep the ball moving cost them as the game progressed. The failure of Sergio Parisse to have any impact on proceedings did little to inspire them and their heads subsequently dropped. They have one final chance to end the campaign on a high against Scotland next week – a team who has failed to win on the road this season.

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