NatWest 6 Nations: What are the papers saying?

Ireland are the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations champions with one match still to play and head into their final match against England seeking just the third Grand Slam in their history.

Ireland are the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations champions with one match still to play and head into their final match against England seeking just the third Grand Slam in their history.

The clinical Irish swept to their fourth victory in a row against Scotland before their Championship victory was confirmed later on Saturday by England’s defeat in France, which has caused plenty of discussion in the papers.

Sexton eyes Grand Slam

Round Four was opened by Ireland’s 28-8 win over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium, where Jacob Stockdale equalled a 104-year-old Championship record by scoring multiple tries in three successive games.

Click here for the full 2018 NatWest 6 Nations fixtures

The 21-year-old went over twice in the first half, with Connor Murray and Sean Cronin going on to secure the try bonus point, either side of Blair Kinghorn marking his first start for Scotland with a score.

With Ireland’s Championship victory now confirmed, fly-half Johnny Sexton’s mind was on Saturday’s trip to Twickenham and the chance for a clean sweep, one year after Joe Schmidt’s side denied England back-to-back Grand Slams.

Sexton told The Irish Times: “It is a very strange feeling to win the Championship with a game to go. There is so much still to play for.

“The shoe is on the other foot now, after last year, and I’m sure they will be licking their lips.

“I know a lot of the [English players] from Lions trips and they are very proud people. I’m sure they will be gunning for us.”

Maitland rues Scottish profligacy

While Ireland were clinical in attack, Scotland were left to rue not making the most of several try-scoring opportunities while the match in Dublin was still in the balance.

Speaking to The Scotsman, winger Sean Maitland insisted that the backs were shouldering responsibility for the defeat.

Maitland said: “Obviously, coming off a massive, massive win against England, we still set the bar high.

“That’s what we need to do if we’re to keep progressing – because we know where this team can eventually go. “You’ve probably heard it before, from the coach, but when you play away, you have to take your opportunities.

“We probably left a good three tries – maybe even four – out there.

“The onus is on the backs. We need to step up and finish those opportunities. It’s about skills under pressure and that comes from preparing right.”

France defy the odds

Few in the French media gave France a prayer of coming out of their match against England victorious but they ground their way to a 22-16 win at the Stade de France.

Maxime Machenaud kicked five penalties to add to the penalty try awarded for a high tackle by Anthony Watson on Benjamin Fall as the French made it back-to-back victories.

Guilhem Guirado was a proud captain post-match, telling L’Equipe: “Winning the match would not make us win the Championship but it would make us switch to the positive.

“You have to see the joy of the players and their pride at the end of the match to understand.

“We have been criticised for a long time but we believe in ourselves and we know we can meet these challenges. “These are high-intensity matches and we responded in the commitment.”

England pay the penalty

England’s reign as champions came to an end in Paris as they fell to consecutive defeats in the NatWest 6 Nations for the first time since 2009.

Conceding 16 penalties over the course of the match proved to be extremely costly as they were only able to cross the French try-line once through Jonny May’s late effort.

As was the case after his side’s loss at Scotland, head coach Eddie Jones wasn’t one for making excuses.

He told The Guardian: “We did not take our opportunities and gave away too many penalties. That was the difference and the breakdown again caused us trouble.

“We improved in that area but not to the extent we needed to.

“We are not learning quickly enough and I am not sure why.

“The game is changing a bit – the breakdown has become more contestable and we are failing to cope with the interpretations of referees.

“We have to find ways to deal with it and it will take time.”

Wales’ ‘Mr Indispensable’

Wales moved up to second in the table with a 38-14 win over Italy at the Principality Stadium on Sunday despite head coach Warren Gatland ringing the changes for the game.

George North scored two of the hosts’ five tries while lock Cory Hill claimed his first score in international rugby in what was a comfortable afternoon in Cardiff.

But it was centre Hadleigh Parkes who really caught the eye of the Western Mail’s Andy Howell, who said about his performance: “He’s quickly become ‘Mr Indispensable’ in the Wales midfield.

“He’s got the traits most New Zealand rugby players possess, namely that they do the basics well and have an innate ability to do the right thing at the right time.

“One piece of play in the first half may have gone unnoticed by many but it was pure class.

“He fielded a poor pass but didn’t put a teammate in trouble by shipping the ball on, instead calmly looking up, seeing space and landing his kick on a sixpence in the target area.

“It summed up the composure of the 30-year-old.”

O’Shea staying positive

Italy’s search for a NatWest 6 Nations victory goes on following their defeat in Cardiff, with the final-day meeting with Scotland at Stadio Olimpico in Round Six an opportunity to restore some pride.

Their head coach Conor O’Shea insists that better times are ahead for the Azzurri, telling Italian media: “We are doing a heck of a lot. We will fight every battle and improve every week.

“If you go around the clubs, see the Under-20s beating Wales and look at the players coming through, we are building a team and we are building a system piece by piece.

“I am not here for me. I am here for Italian rugby.

“We are doing everything that is right for Italian rugby – we will get there. Full stop.”