Six Nations: Win in Dublin sets up titanic Wales v England clash
England's convincing win over Ireland in Dublin means that this year's Six Nations championship is now wide open, explains Matthew Crist...
"With their defence outstanding, their kicking precise and their defence rock-solid, they won pretty much every battle and refused to budge on their way to a 32-20 victory at the Aviva Stadium."
England dominant in Dublin
Much of the talk going into this year's Six Nations was how Ireland were the team to beat as they once again chased Grand Slam glory, but victory for England in Dublin last Saturday now means the betting has been flipped around with the winners of England v Wales likely to claim the spoils after their clash on February 23.
In one of the most impressive displays by an England team for years Eddie Jones's men outclassed an Ireland team who only two months earlier had beaten the All Blacks and hadn't lost a Six Nations game at home in 12 attempts with 18 victories in their previous 19 Tests.
The visitors imposed themselves on the game from the outset with Jonny May scoring a try after just two minutes and they dominated their opponents for the remainder of the match going in 17-10 ahead at half time before adding two more tries in the second period through Henry Slade.
With their decision making outstanding, their kicking precise and their defence standing firm, they won pretty much every battle and refused to budge on their way to a 32-20 victory at the Aviva Stadium.
Mako Vunipola was colossal, with 27 tackles, 11 ball carries and not an inch conceded against Tadhg Furlong while Jamie George, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry and Owen Farrell had the game of their lives; epitomising England's fighting spirit in a fixture which they hadn't won since 2011.
England have promised plenty under Jones in the past 12 months without delivering much but the performance in Dublin certainly was was the real deal and it's no surprise that they are now [1.74] to win the Six Nations with surely only Wales able to stop them.
But after an impressive win against France in Paris, Wales will surely have silverware ambitions of their own going into the monumental clash with England in Cardiff on February 23rd in what is essentially a title decider.
Don't discount the Welsh
Wales took advantage of extraordinary French generosity on Friday night in the tournament's opening game to come from 16-0 down at half-time in an error-strewn night in the rain of the French capital.
France dominated the first half and took the lead through tries from Louis Picamoles and Yoann Huget but a try from Tomos Williams and two from George North saw the home team pegged back and eventually beaten 24-19.
With Italy away to come next the game with England in Cardiff is not surprisingly the hottest ticket in town right now and Wales shouldn't be underestimated as they look to upset the odds and topple a much fancied England side.
On the back of 10 successive wins Wales will take heart from their display in Paris while believing in themselves as there is little doubt they have the skills and mental and physical capabilities to withstand the enormity of the challenge.
The Welsh back row was outstanding against France, while the scrum was rock solid with skipper Alun Wyn Jones leading from the front, Josh Adams causing problems on the wing and George North showing incredible character to bounce back from a costly error to score two tries.
Taking all of that into account and the fact they have England to come at what is bound to be a bearpit of an atmosphere in Cardiff, backing Wales at [4.1] to win the Six Nations championship doesn't look to be a bad bet.
Ireland must bounce back
After a dominant 2018 that saw them win a Grand Slam and down the All Blacks, this was not the start to 2019 that Ireland were looking for and how they respond to this setback will be key when it comes to the rest of the tournament.
The Boys in Green were as short as [3.30] to win the Grand Slam for the second time in two years before the tournament started and with that prospect now out of the window their attentions will focus on retaining the Six Nations title.
Next up for Ireland is a daunting trip to Murrayfield to take on Scotland, a fixture they lost last time out in the 2017 Championship, and will be well aware of the danger that a useful looking Scottish side will pose.
"How we respond will determine whether this is a bump in the road or something more than that," said Ireland's Rory Best following the loss to England on Saturday and, of course, a good side doesn't turn bad overnight and shouldn't be written off for the title which they can be backed at [8.4] to claim for a second successive year.
Scotland have a part to play
Going into this year's Six Nations Scotland coach Gregor Townsend boldly claimed that his side intended to win the tournament for the first time since 1999 but a comfortable 33-20 win over Italy does little to suggest what they are capable of in the weeks to come.
Edinburgh full-back Blair Kinghorn became the first Scotland player to score a Six Nations hat-trick in Rome at the weekend but Captain Greig Laidlaw admitted Scotland will have to raise their intensity against Ireland in what is sure to be a different prospect entirely.
Of course, it would be foolish to write them off this early in the competition, but as England and Wales look set to battle it out among themselves the role which Scotland play might be huge in terms of where the title ends up.
Both Ireland and Wales have to make the trip to Edinburgh in fixtures which neither will be looking forward to while the final game of England's campaign is at Twickenham against, you've guessed it, Scotland.
However, if you think the Scots have what it takes to win the Six Nations outright for the first time in 20 years they can be backed at [16.5] on the Exchange.