England on verge of Six Nations glory against Scotland but favourites tag will weigh heavy

England star Dylan Hartley and Scotland star Stuart HoggGETTY

Dylan Hartley will hope Scotland's Stuart Hogg does not spoil the Six Nations party

Wales beat Ireland 22-9 at the Millennium Stadium to leave the door wide open for England to win their second consecutive Six Nations Championship.

Had Ireland won, it would have meant they could still deny England title in Dublin next weekend.

But instead, the trophy's fate is out of their hands. They will need Scotland to win at Twickenham for the first time in 24 years to give them any chance of their third win in four years.

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However, England will not find it easy – either on their own turf or when they go to Dublin.

Chasing a record-equalling 18th consecutive win, England face a Scotland side playing better rugby than they perhaps ever have.

In Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell they have two world-class creative players and both are part of the Glasgow Warriors bloodline that runs through the team. They beat a strong Ireland side before cantering past Wales.

But for the home team at Twickenham tomorrow, it will be as much about beating themselves.

The stadium is the scene of two of their lowest moments in recent rugby history – the defeats to Wales and Australia in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Those scars have rarely been evident since Eddie Jones took over but they began to itch when Italy got themselves ahead in the most unusual of circumstances two weeks ago.

England, expected to put up a cricket score against Conor O'Shea's side, were panicked. Within half an hour they'd gone from world-beaters without a defeat in two years to a schoolboy side with little more than the whiteboards their coach had shown them. They showed no ability to think on their feet.

England rugby star Billy VunipolaGETTY

Billy Vunipola will return to the England squad this weekend, albeit as a replacement

The pressure, thanks to Wales' life-giving and redemptive win in Cardiff, has just been ratcheted up another notch.

And imagine if England do win and secure the championship. The first words out of Jones' mouth will no doubt be "the job is not yet done". The relentlessly hungry coach has far bigger targets in his head but the first one is a second consecutive Grand Slam, a feat not achieved by those in white since 1992.

If England do walk out in Dublin with that goal, it will be reminiscent of 2001, when Clive Woodward's side attempted to do the same.

Six Nations Wales star George NorthPA

George North scored twice for Wales as they beat Ireland in Cardiff

Then, they had the scars of Wembley – a 32-31 defeat to Wales – and Murrayfield – a 19-13 loss in the rain to Scotland – fresh in their minds. Twice in a row they had missed out on a Grand Slam on the final day.

In Dublin, Keith Wood scored Ireland's only try in a game delayed until October by the foot-and-mouth. The Irish were more passionate and more hungry. England lifted the Six Nations trophy but barely a smile was broken.

That team would go on to win the Rugby World Cup two years later, having learned the hard way how to own the bookies' favouritism.

This side must learn the same thing. They now control whether they have to do it the hard way.

Original Article


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