Last weekend’s spectacular Six Nations finale featured arguably the most frantic, chaotic, exciting and adrenaline-pumping day of rugby the tournament has ever seen.
A rollercoaster slugfest was played out as title chasers Wales, Ireland and England abandoned the caution that typically constrains the Northern Hemisphere combatatants.
Each kept ball in hand, racing to secure the highest points difference during a deciding round in which each successive match outdid the previous one for rollicking entertainment. An unprecedented 221 points were scored last Saturday, featuring 27 tries.
From the defensive ruins holders Ireland emerged triumphant, their 40-10 win against Scotland proving six points too much for England when this most remarkable competition reached its crescendo with their jaw-dropping 55-35 victory against France.
Had such an incredible six nations. Many memories that I’ll never forget. Thanks for all the amazing support throughout.
— Jonathan Joseph (@Jonathanjoseph0) March 22, 2015
For a select few, they were direct contributors to this madness. Jonathan Joseph was the breakout star of the Six Nations, taking full advantage of England’s injury crisis in midfield to emerge as top scorer with four tries. He played every minute of the epic clash with France, bringing a frenzied Twickenham to its feet with his trademark breaks as Stuart Lancaster’s men came up agonisingly short.
Speaking yesterday, ahead of a Q&A session at the Habtoor Grand Hotel’s The Underground, the Bath centre reflected on the most exhilarating 80 minutes of his career. “It was tiring, tough and such a great game against France. It was so open and the boys were running in from everywhere,” he told Sport360°.
“It was a great game to be involved in. There were 15 minutes left, it was quite tight still and could have gone either way. “We had to keep doing what we were doing, hoping we got there.
“It was a great occassion. We were gutted not to get the full 26 points [points difference needed to take the title], but on reflection we put on a great performance. To come up short by such a little amount was heartbreaking, but we will learn from that and take it into the autumn’s World Cup.”
slightly bias but has anyone lit up this 6 Nations more than @Jonathanjoseph0 – outstanding again today, surely player of the tournament.
— Alex Goode (@Alex_goode0) March 21, 2015
Joseph has endured a bumpy ride to becoming an England starter. The 23-year-old was first called into the squad as a livewire centre of immense promise at London Irish for the summer 2012 tour of South Africa. Injuries then curtailed his rapid progress with nearly two years separating his bravura return in February’s classic Six Nations opener against Wales and his last appearance during June 2013’s Test in Argentina.
An electric first half of the campaign at Premiership giants Bath saw 12 tries registered, putting him in prime position to replace enforced absentees Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi.
Joseph scored three tries in the opening two matches against Wales and Italy, crossing over once more in the 25-13 triumph against Scotland. His run could not be better timed, the tantalising prospect of the 2015 Rugby World Cup on home soil just six months away.
“It was quite surreal for me, in terms of getting selected into the main squad then a few injuries seeing me start,” he said. “I need to keep that momentum going when I head back to Bath and maintain the fight for a World Cup place.
“I have to keep my head down or you just slip off. I have been in the squad before, then been chucked out of it.”
Joseph pinpointed his summer 2013 move to The Recreation Ground as the catalyst behind his current upwards trajectory. He said: “It was a very difficult decision to leave [London Irish], at the time.
“I had been there most of my life – I had a lot of friends there. In terms of me getting better, I needed to move on. The Bath move has been ridiculously good for me.”
Previous Red Rose regimes have been criticised for their intransigent approach to the make-up of the team, a glaring example being Andy Robinson’s failure to break-up the 2003 World Cup-winning squad.
Current England boss Stuart Lancaster has been vocal in his opposition of a selection policy based on reputation alone. Joseph and Bath colleague Anthony Watson evidenced this progressive approach during the Six Nations, surprising starters repaying their supremo’s faith handsomely.
“That is the way it should be – how you are playing, the form you are in and what you can add to the team,” Joseph said. “It is what you want to hear as a player. If you are not performing and playing to the level you should be, then you shouldn’t be playing for England.”
World Cup-talk is never too far away when England are involved. Joseph believes real progress has been registered despite last weekend’s agony, though the team’s multiple missed opportunities during the win against Scotland remain on his mind.
He said: “We have proven we are a side who can put on very good performances. Our attacking game has definitely improved.
“We can put teams under stress now and that is what we needed to do. To improve, we need to keep working every day. The Scotland game, we should be better than that.”
Victory in the autumn will not be easy for England. Only two teams will emerge from a daunting Pool A which features themselves, Australia, Wales, Fiji and Uruguay.
Holders New Zealand also retain an ominous presence, while South Africa possess one of the sport’s finest young talents in fly-half Handre Pollard.
Joseph is undaunted by the challengers, confidence rushing through him after a stupefying Six Nations both he and and rugby supporters across the globe will never forget.
“First and foremost, we want to win the World Cup. We are on our home soil,” he said. “Twickenham is a tough place to come to and beat us. We are definitely aiming to win it.”
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