Ben Youngs claims England have produced the greatest rugby of the Eddie Jones era in sweeping aside Ireland and France.
Emphatic wins in the opening two rounds of the Six Nations have set-up a title showdown with Wales in Cardiff on Saturday week that will place the Grand Slam in the winners’ sights.
Jones has masterminded 30 wins from 37 Tests as England head coach in a record that includes a Grand Slam, championship title and 3-0 series whitewash of the Wallabies in Australia.
But Youngs believes that by amassing 10 tries in dominant displays at the Aviva Stadium and Twickenham, the team is scaling new heights.
When asked if England are playing at the highest level of rugby under Jones, Youngs replied: “From what I remember since I’ve been involved with Eddie, yes.
Another great team effort, a joy to be involved with this team 🌹 thanks for everyone’s support pic.twitter.com/C2l5ABkxBe— Ben Youngs (@benyoungs09) 11 February 2019
“It’s probably not higher intensity, just more consistent within it. Maybe that’s maturity, personnel – I’m not sure.
“It’s certainly great fun out there. You can probably see it – from one to 23, guys are thriving and loving being part of the team.
“If you’re 30-8 up against France at half-time you are doing something right. There weren’t many mistakes.”
The biggest win over Les Bleus since 1911 has cranked up expectation surrounding the February 23 showdown in Cardiff as England look to continue their stunning start to World Cup year.
Wales are the only other Six Nations team with a 100 per cent record after posting wins against France and Italy.
“Wales have had a good run. We are going to embrace and enjoy the big two-week build-up,” Youngs said.
“This is what the championship is about – it always comes down to certain games.
“France was a championship decider, the same in a fortnight’s time. We will take every game as it comes but certainly, this one is hugely exciting.”
The only frustration to emerge from the Twickenham landslide was an ankle problem sustained by Mako Vunipola, with an update on the blockbusting loosehead prop’s condition expected in the coming days.
Second row Maro Itoje has an outside chance of being available against Wales as he continues his recovery from a knee ligament tear, but hooker Dylan Hartley will miss out again because of a similar injury.
While England rampage through the Six Nations, abject France are in freefall amid demands for Jacques Brunel to be sacked.
Morgan Parra, the country’s most capped scrum-half, has hinted at discord in the camp.
“I think that we are capable of doing what the English do, but are we working on this during training? I think we don’t work on it enough, even not at all,” Parra said.
“Yet these are very simple things that are today part of high-level rugby. We can do this. But do we work on it? No.”
England and Wales extended their 100 per cent record in the Six Nations with respective wins over France and Italy.
Elsewhere, Ireland returned to winning ways with a 22-13 victory at Murrayfield.
Here, we pick out the top performers from the weekend’s action.
JONNY MAY (England)
The Leicester winger again showed how lethal he is, scoring three tries against France in a virtuous display. With raw power, pace and dominance under the high ball, May is an unstoppable finisher and his work-rate gives England so many option with their effective kicking game plan. He will undoubtedly have harder days going forward, but with 12 tries in 12 matches, the 28-year-old is purring with confidence and class. Will be key to England’s Grand Slam hopes.
ANTOINE DUPONT (France)
One of the few star players for Les Bleus. The 22-year-old came on for the last 34 minutes and made an instant impact. He beat the most defenders (9), made the most clean breaks (5) and threw the most offloads (4). Judging by the way Dupont has played at club and international level recently, he needs to start ahead of Morgan Parra for the rest of the Six Nations. The Toulouse man has the running, passing and kicking game for France to build a game around him in future years.
JAMIE RITCHIE (Scotland)
Although he will be disappointed with the defeat, Ritchie was one of Scotland’s star players at Murrayfield. The young Edinburgh man made 24 tackles and forced the turnover that cut the deficit to six points after 62 minutes. He proved a genuine menace at the breakdown, but found it harder to sustain as the match wore on, especially with Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony showing their mettle for an improved Ireland side.
ROB KEARNEY (Ireland)
The 32-year-old’s glittering performance against Scotland proved how valuable he is to Joe Schmidt’s side. The Leinster man brings a level of reassurance to the back three and his experience, positioning and decision making makes others around him more comfortable in both attack and defence. Safe under the high ball, he looked dangerous on the counter, making a superb break that led to Keith Earls try in the second half. He also ran a stunning 91 metres, making three clean breaks and beating five defenders.
JOSH NAVIDI (Wales)
Josh Adams may have scored a try and made 12 carries for 68 metres, but Navidi was the key cog for the Dragons. With his slick looking dreadlocks, the Cardiff man made seven carries and 10 tackles in a typically abrasive display at No8. With Aaron Wainwright and Thomas Young either side of him, the Welsh trio stopped a number of pacy Italian attacks and looked a general force whenever they were under pressure. In Navidi, Warren Gatland has one of the star players of the Six Nations so far.
BRAAM STEYN (Italy)
The Azzurri back-rower looked a class apart from his other teammates in the narrow defeat to Wales. He made a powerful surge for the opening try as he burrowed through the visitors defence after a well-worked move from an attacking line-out. The Benetton man proved a menace when Wales were in possession with 20 tackles and carried strongly throughout. Navidi may have been awarded man-of-the-match for his efforts but Steyn was unlucky not to have taken it either.
England and Wales inched closer to a potential Six Nations title decider by extending their 100 per cent records at the weekend.
Here, we break down the good and bad points from the weekend’s action.
Good: The Red Rose’s ruthless edge is back and they followed up a comprehensive win over Ireland in round one with a 44-8 hammering of France on Sunday. Their imperious win at Twickenham was highlighted by a flawless kicking game that saw Owen Farrell stretch the back three at every opportunity. Man-of-the-match Jonny May was one player to benefit from the well-executed tactics with a hat-trick of tries inside the opening half hour.
Bad: It’s hard to find any weakness in this team after two Grade A performances over the last two weeks.
Good: For all the lack of fight and enthusiasm they showed, Les Bleus improved in the second period with the introduction of youngsters Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack. Two superb players who need to start against Scotland. But, in general, they are clearly a team without a plan, short or long-term.
Bad: France’s defence, particularly kick defence, was comical and they conceded four of the six tries from a combination of poor reading and just a general lack of commitment to the contest. Basic skills are below par and the fitness is poor – something that again underlines how far behind the TOP 14 is. Any time a club team in France is struggling, the answer is to open the cheque book for a southern hemisphere star rather than honing a quality young academy prospect. Widespread changes are needed in France.
Good: An improved showing by Joe Schmidt’s men. Although it was far from a captivating performance, the Kiwi will be happy to have returned to winning ways. The set piece was solid – 100 per cent success rate at line out and scrum time – and the displays of Rob Kearney, James Ryan and Sean O’Brien were all the more impressive.
Bad: Talisman Johnny Sexton failed an HIA (Head Injury Assessment) in the first half and that could rule him out for three weeks. And the Men in Green are already without primary line-out caller Devin Toner for the remainder of the tournament.
Good: Dominated the Irish during the first half with 60 per cent territory and 50 per cent possession, but were only able to put 10 points on the score board. An improved showing against France will be crucial to their prospects and confidence for the rest of the campaign.
Bad: Too many mistakes. Although Ireland were guilty of making plenty of errors, Scotland had their fair share too, gifting Conor Murray an early try following a defensive mix-up. After the break, the slack defending was evident when Allan Dell and Rob Harley failed to tackle Joey Carbery and the Munster man paved the way to send Keith Earls in from close range.
Good: The Dragons are riding their own wave of momentum, equalling the longest unbeaten run in their Test match history. An 11th successive victory in Rome – an unconvincing victory – gives them the chance to break the record against a powerful England side on February 23. A win would be the perfect lift towards the Six Nations title.
Bad: Lacked ruthlessness at times during the first half against Italy, but with ten changes from the triumph over France, it was always going to be difficult to play some consistent and attractive rugby.
Good: It’s difficult to pick out many positive points when Italy play these days. Lagging behind the other five teams, the sole shining light from the weekend’s display was the performance of back-rower Braam Steyn.
Bad: The Azzurri followed their 33-20 defeat to Scotland in round one by extending their losing streak in the competition going back to February 2015. The ability in the team is there, but unfortunately the confidence isn’t. Losing to a second-string Wales side will not improve it either.