Ireland eye Six Nations title as England beat Italy

London (AFP) –


An Ireland side coached by Andy Farrell head into the final match of the coronavirus-delayed 2020 Six Nations on Saturday knowing exactly what they have to do to be crowned champions after an England team captained by son Owen defeated Italy 34-5 in Rome.

The Irish must now beat fellow title contenders France by seven points and/or win with a bonus point, achieved by scoring four tries or more, in a 2005 GMT kick-off in Paris.

England, in a match that took place nearly a year to the day since their World Cup final defeat by South Africa, knew they would strengthen their title bid if they hammered perennial strugglers Italy at the Stadio Olimpico.

Eddie Jones' men came into the final round of matches having, like Ireland and France, won three of their four Championship fixtures before Covid-19 halted the tournament for 237 days.

But England kicked off not having played a match for several months after breaches of health protocols involving Barbarians players saw last week's warm-up fixture at Twickenham cancelled.

- 'Out-enthused' - -

Ben Youngs marked his 100th England cap with tries at the start of either half but the visitors, who've never lost a Test against Italy, only led 10-5 at the break after Azzurri flanker Jake Polledri, who plays his club rugby in England for Gloucester, scored a try.

Scrum-half Youngs got England going again, with Jamie George, Tom Curry and Henry Slade adding three more in the second half during a bonus-point win.

Youngs, however, accepted England had not helped their own cause by the way they started the game.

"We got a bit out-enthused in the first half, we camped on our own line for a long time," he told the BBC.

"But whatever it may be, we knew that if we stuck to it we'd get there in the end and that was the most important thing that we did."

Ireland thrashed Italy 50-17 in last week's Covid-delayed clash in Dublin, while France were impressive during a 38-21 warm-up win over Wales.

"We could score four tries but they (France) are so dangerous they could score six," Andy Farrell said this week.

France were on course for a Grand Slam under new coach Fabien Galthie until a shock fourth-round loss to Scotland.

England's defeat of Italy has all but taken them out of contention as France now need a bonus-point win by a margin of 32 points if they are to win their first Six Nations title in a decade.

Scotland launched Saturday's final round with a 14-10 win over Wales in Llanelli -- their first victory on Welsh soil in 18 years -- to take the shine off home captain Alun Wyn Jones' record-breaking appearance.

Success meant the Scots ended this tournament having won three successive Championship matches for the first time in 24 years.

By contrast, reigning Six Nations champions Wales suffered a fifth straight loss in all Tests under coach Wayne Pivac.

Scotland replacement hooker Stuart McInally's try just after the hour mark proved to be a crucial score.

Stuart Hogg, the Scotland captain, sealed victory when he landed a penalty with the last kick of the game after impressive flanker Jamie Ritchie won a turnover.

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend was in no doubt of the signficance of this win, telling the BBC: "You get confidence from games like that; it's character building when you're away from home.

Jones, surpassing retired New Zealand star Richie McCaw's tally of 148 caps, congratulated Scotland for how they "ground out the win" but said Wales' form had "gotten away from us and it's not good enough".