Wales were the big winners from round three of the Guinness Six Nations after a thumping victory over England maintained their course towards the Grand Slam.
Here the PA news agency examines five things we learned from the weekend’s action.
Red Rose ruin
England’s title defence is over, reduced to rubble by their self-destructive indiscipline that has yielded an average of 13.6 penalties per game in this Six Nations and was at its most brainless in Cardiff. Emphatic defeats by Scotland and Wales have exposed alarming fault lines that appeared last autumn but were glossed over by an eight-Test winning run. With France and Ireland to come, this Championship could get ugly for Eddie Jones’ men as there appears to be no quick fix for a team that is staggering through 2021.
Gauzere v England
Pascal Gauzere will never referee England again following a performance described by the nation’s World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson as “absolutely appalling”. The critical first-half tries awarded to Josh Adams and Liam Williams were highly dubious but the first was particularly harsh, Gauzere allowing Dan Biggar to launch his kick while Owen Farrell was still talking to his players – at the request of the French official. For his own part, Farrell must soften the way he communicates with referees. His frustration with the overly-fussy Gauzere was entirely justified, but barking at the official will not convince him to change his mind.
Welsh to roar for the Lions
Never a dull moment.
𝘎𝘦̂𝘮 𝘪 𝘨𝘰𝘧𝘪𝘰.
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) February 28, 2021
For all the controversy, Wales were worthy winners as they posted their highest ever score against England with the final quarter hard-nosed professionalism personified. As recently as December they were in the doldrums having tentatively emerged from a six-Test losing run under Wayne Pivac, but now this remarkable rugby nation that consistently punches above its weight is chasing a third Grand Slam in 10 years. One more clean sweep would elevate Wales to joint top, alongside England with 13. Watched by Warren Gatland from the stands, it is now likely that Wales will provide the backbone of the Lions squad.
Here come the cavalry
Over the years Jones has made much of his ‘finishers’, but it is Wales who are now able to summon game-changing reinforcements. While England replacements Charlie Ewels, Ellis Genge and Luke Cowan-Dickie came on and gave away yet more penalties, the Triple Crown winners were lifted by important cameos from Callum Sheedy, Cory Hill and James Botham. Seven caps into his Test career and the 25-year-old Sheedy is emerging as a genuine alternative to Dan Biggar at fly-half. Against Scotland and England, the Welsh bench has arrived to sweep them over the line.
Just as resurgent France were setting pulses racing, their place in the tournament is under renewed threat as their government seeks answers following the coronavirus outbreak which has forced the postponement of their round three clash with Scotland. Sports minister Roxana Maracineanu has threatened to withdraw Les Bleus from the Six Nations, a move that would cause untold damage to the event. The race is on to find ‘patient zero’ amid suggestions it is head coach Fabien Galthie, while Maracineanu has reacted icily to a report that players went out to eat waffles when in Rome for round one. Those dressing-room victory celebrations in Dublin that contravened good coronavirus safety practise, published by France on social media, appear as brainless as England’s indiscipline.