Five things we learned from the fourth round of Six Nations action

Principality Stadium fireworks for Wales v France in 2022 Six Nations The fourth round got underway in Cardiff on Friday night (David Davies/PA)

France remain in Grand Slam contention heading into the final weekend with Ireland the only team capable of denying them the Six Nations title.

Here we examine five things learned from a pulsating round four.

Beaten but defiant

If ever a performance can transcend a result, England’s courageous defiance at a Twickenham was it. Stunned at seeing Charlie Ewels sent off for a dangerous tackle just 82 seconds into the match, they regrouped admirably and eventually clawed their way back to 15-15 with 15 minutes remaining before falling away late on with Finlay Bealham’s 76th minute try a gross injustice to the scoreline. The stats are damning – Ireland’s record victory at Twickenham, England’s biggest home defeat since 2015, the second-largest loss of the Eddie Jones era – but the spirit on display was evidence of a unified group willing to fight for each other and will stand them in good stead for next year’s World Cup. Now they just need to sort out their attack.

Genge on the rampage

Narrowly shading the omnipresent Maro Itoje, Ellis Genge acted as the standard bearer of English resistance. As well as being integral to the dominance of the home scrum, he was magnificent on both sides of the ball and when a team-mate could be heard on the ref mic saying “you’re a ******* animal Genge” it was meant as a compliment. The performance was further evidence that the Leicester prop is maturing into one of Jones’ most influential players, his fighting spirit matched by impactful moments as a carrier or in defence. With each game he looks more like an England captain in waiting.

Ireland march on

Ireland would have been forever haunted had they failed to extinguish England’s fire at Twickenham as an 8-0 lead, plus the dismissal of Ewels, set them up for a decisive victory. And while rattled, they showed their class late on to extend their title ambition into the final round. There is much to admire about Andy Farrell’s side, most notably during the flashes of attack that left England chasing shadows and exposed the chasm between the rivals in this department. Even if France go on to complete the Grand Slam, Ireland will be able to reflect on a satisfying Six Nations that bodes well for the World Cup next year – as long as they have not fallen into their customary trap of peaking too soon.

Another false dawn

A Six Nations promising so much and that received immediate lift-off when England were toppled at Murrayfield on the opening day has collapsed into mediocrity for Gregor Townsend’s Scotland. While defeat can rarely have felt so bearable as it did for England against Ireland, so too must the Scots’ win against Italy have seemed hollow. A 33-22 victory in Rome provided little evidence of progress as the Azzurri slumped to a 36th successive defeat in the championship while managing to score more points than in their first three games combined. Scotland dazzled at times, but were also vulnerable in defence and on this showing Ireland will encounter few problems in Dublin next weekend. After bookending last year’s Six Nations with stirring wins against England and France, another season of disappointment beckons.

French resistance

France were exposed as fallible after all as they clung on against Wales in Cardiff on Friday, giving England and Ireland hope heading into ‘Super Saturday’. Had Jonathan Davies been able to take a simple pass and roll over Antoine Dupont, their Grand Slam aspirations might have been finished and suddenly the favourites are not looking quite so unassailable. But what emerged from the Principality Stadium was a new respect for the defence overseen by Shaun Edwards as waves of Welsh attackers were repelled by the blue wall. The recruitment of Edwards has been a shrewd move and his authority was stamped all over Cardiff.

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