England’s Women on course for Grand Slam in the Six Nations

Only Italy and Scotland stand in the way of a 14th Grand Slam

England beat Wales 51-12 as they look to secure the Six Nations Grand Slam with two games remaining in the tournament. Nine tries were scored by the Three Lions as they comfortably won in Cardiff.

The result leaves England top of the table with 15 points. Italy are the only other undefeated team, although having drawn to Wales, they are three points behind the English. With the next game between the two sides, there is still all to play for.

After the game, England head coach Simon Middleton said “We’re definitely not taking a Grand Slam for granted, you can never do that. It’s too valuable. We’re really pleased with the result. To score 50 points in any game is impressive but to score 50 today is testament to some skilful play and down to staying in the game and overcoming some frustration to finish strong.”

England are the only professional team in this year’s Six Nations having been given professional contracts in January. The only other nations to offer contracts are France and New Zealand, however these are part-time. Fans and players alike will be hoping that other nations will follow England’s lead.

These full-time contracts for the rugby union side aren’t the first example of professionalism in the women’s rugby game. Back in 2011, the Netherlands became the first side to offer women’s rugby contracts to their sevens team.

A slew of other country joined in with England following suit in 2014. Funding for the sevens game has been easier to come by with it being reintroduced into the Olympics in 2016 and there are several sources of money which, despite not being massive, are enough to provide the team with contracts.

Fifteens on the other hand hasn’t been so lucky. Efforts were made by Italy in 1960, the Soviet Union and 1980, and South Korea in 1988, to get the sport put into the Olympic program but all were met with rejection. It is hoped that the excitement of sevens, as seen in Rio Olympics, will convince the committee that it too should join.

Should that happen, the fifteens sides will have excess to many of the same sources as money as their sevens counterparts, and we would see many more sides turning professional. That said, the decision by England to offer their side contracts regardless will send a message to the other rugby governing bodies.

With just two games left, against Italy and Scotland, England will be hoping to emulate what the French achieved last year, the Grand Slam. England sides over the years have won 13 Grand Slams with the only real test being Italy for a fourteenth.

Their final game is against Scotland and is expected to be a walkover. Two of the top ten highest team scores in the Six Nations have been England vs Scotland. The first was back in 2011 when England were going for their sixth consecutive title. A run that would finish at seven, with six of those being Grand Slams.

In that 2011 Championship, England demolished Scotland 89-0. That score is nine points more than the equivalent men’s highest score, an 80 point drumming of Italy by England in 2001. The second was when England’s women last won a Grand Slam in 2017, with a smaller 64-0 victory.

Simon Middleton and his side will be hoping to cap their Six Nations off with a something similar but there is still a game against a strong Italy side to go. That game will take place on March 9th at Sandy Park, Exeter while Wales face Scotland on March 8th.

England’s Grand Slam hopes crushed at the Principality Stadium

Wales took advantage of England’s inability to use possession in a match that could decide the whole 6 Nations

England’s hopes to win the Grand Slam in the 2019 6 Nations were crushed by fellow Grand Slam hopefuls Wales in a scrappy Test at the Principality Stadium. Wales sealed a record-breaking 12th consecutive victory as they came from behind to win 21-13.

Having beaten Ireland 32-20 at the Aviva Stadium and demolished France 44-8, England were favourites heading into the Test. With Wales also sporting a 2-0 lead so far in the tournament, it felt as though the whole Championship rested on this game.

Eddie Jones’ side went into half time 10-3 up thanks to flanker Tom Curry’s first try for England. Up until that point, Wales had been defending resiliently however a bit of miscommunication cost them dearly. The Welsh regrouped during the break and came out in the second half on a mission to retake control of the game, and that they did.

Second row Cory Hill managed to put the home side into the lead 13 minutes from time after a gruelling series of drives. England looked lost while in possession often kicking after one or two phases and seemingly the only way to stay in contention was a penalty or drop goal to level the score at 16-16.

Any hopes of getting a draw were dashed as Josh Adams caught a Dan Biggar cross-field kick to secure the win with another try. Biggar missed the conversion but the damage was already done.

If England are to lift the 6 Nations trophy they will need a bit of luck. With only Scotland and Italy left to play, arguably the two easiest teams, they should end with a 4-1 record. Wales, on the other hand, have Ireland to play last, a defeat there would give Jones’ side the Championship due to their bonus points.

After the game England captain, Owen Farrell said: “we didn’t really get a foothold in the last 30 minutes of the game. We did well in the first half and we had a good go at the start of the second, but then we couldn’t get back that momentum.”

“We made a few errors and they did what they did well. We couldn’t get out of our half and they managed to build a lot of pressure. It will feel a lot worse than it should now but we will look back on it and learn from what we need to.”

England win the final Test against West Indies in a game overshadowed by on-field homophobic comments

West Indies bowler Shannon Gabriel allegedly asked Root ‘why are you smiling? Do you like boys?’

England claimed a 232-run win in the third and final Test against West Indies to stop the first whitewashing by their opposition since 1986. The victory was vital if they want to stand any chance of beating Australia in the upcoming Ashes series.

After the game, captain Joe Root said that “this was a really important week for this group. It has been much more what we are about. To play in the manner we have, coming back from two disappointing games, was massive going into what is a really important summer. It is nice to finish on a high even though we have lost the series.”

With several batting collapses in the first two Tests, England relished their opposition suffering a similar fate, losing all ten wickets for 154 runs in the first innings. This collapse meant that when England declared on 361-5 in their second innings, West Indies had to chase 485 runs to win. 

Root led his side impressively, scoring 122 runs to guide England to victory. However, it was during his time at the crease that an incident with West Indies bowler Shannon Gabriel occurred, which has sadly dampened an otherwise great Test series.

Describing the incident, Gabriel said: “the pressure was on and England’s captain Joe Root was looking at me intensely as I prepared to bowl, which may have been the usual psychological strategy with which all Test cricketers are familiar.”

“I recognise now that I was attempting to break through my own tension when I said to Joe Root: ‘why are you smiling? Do you like boys?’ His response, which was picked up by the microphone was: ‘don’t use it as an insult. There’s nothing wrong with being gay’.”

“I then responded: ‘I have no issues with that, but you should stop smiling at me’. I know now that it was offensive and for that I am deeply sorry. To my team-mates and members of the England team, especially their captain Joe Root, I extend an unreserved apology for a comment which in the context of on-the-field rivalry, I assumed was inoffensive sporting banter.”

Gabriel was charged by the International Cricket Council under article 2.13, which is used for the use of language that is not permissible. It states that it “is intended to cover a Player or Player Support Personnel directing language of a personal, insulting, obscene and/or offensive nature at any Player, Player Support Personnel, Umpire or Match Referee during an International Match.”

By accepting this charge, Gabriel was fined 75% of his earnings for the match and picked up three demerit points. As the player already had five, he reached the threshold where he would be given a four-match ODI ban. This means he will miss the first four out of five ODI’s between the two sides starting on February 20th. 

The point Gabriel mentions in his statement, about how he assumed it was “inoffensive sporting banter” is an issue that Cricket commentator Fazeer Mohammed discussed on the Test Match Special podcast.

“In the Caribbean, there tends to be a different attitude towards what I will describe as homophobic remarks. Of course in England and many other parts of the world there’s a very different attitude. There’s a zero level of tolerance to this sort of situation, if it is that he said something that could be defined as homophobic.”

“It’s all part of the learning process. If you’re playing international sport, with all these microphones, all these cameras around, you’re going to get caught sooner or later.”

England suffer embarrassing defeat in West Indies Test Series

Joe Root’s side looks set to suffer their first whitewash against the West Indies since 1986.

The West Indies have achieved their first Test series win against England since 2009 by securing a second Test victory in Antigua to put the score at an insurmountable 2-0 with only one Test remaining. England will be hoping that they can avoid further embarrassment and not suffer a whitewash by winning the final Test in St Lucia.

The opening test took place at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, a ground where Hanif Mohammad became the first Pakistani batsman to score a triple hundred, hitting 337 runs back in 1958, the eighth-highest score in a single Test innings ever. 

England failed to achieve that figure of 337 runs in total over both innings, reaching a dismal 323 all told. Captain Joe Root’s side fell to a 381 run defeat, the seventh-heaviest Test defeat England have ever suffered, with West Indies off-spinner Roston Chase taking an impressive eight wickets for 60 runs. 

It could be said that the Test was lost after England’s first innings. 77 was all Root’s side could muster, not due to world-class bowling but due to horrendous batting. Burns, Root, Stokes, Ali, Buttler, and Foakes all fell for four or less. 

After the West Indies declared in their second innings 627 runs ahead, England would need to smash the current fourth innings chase record of 418 set by the West Indies in 2003. When Root fell, the score was 167-4 and all was not lost yet, there was still a glimmer of hope for a comeback.

Sadly though the final six wickets were lost for 34 runs in another shambles of a batting performance. After the loss Root said: “we have played way below our potential. We have to remember that there are still two games left in this series and we have to come back very strong very quickly and learn a few lessons.”

“At no point will we underestimate these guys, we haven’t so far. It just shows how difficult it is to win away from home. There are some guys that are hurting. It doesn’t make us a bad side overnight. It’s about picking ourselves up very quickly. We’ve got to learn very quickly.”

Root’s sentiment was echoed by coach Trevor Bayliss and the England side was hoping to bounce back in the second Test taking place at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua. The stadium holds the unsavoury nickname of ‘Antigua’s 366th beach’ due to a Test match against England in 2009 being abandoned after just ten balls.

The groundsmen decided to apply an extra layer of sand after heavy rain in Antigua. The extra sand meant that the West Indies bowlers at the time, Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards, were unable to gain a foothold when running in, making bowling near impossible. 

The incident was an embarrassment for West Indies cricket as the ground was suspended from international cricket for 12 months. England were surely hoping for something similar to happen during their Test, however, the only embarrassment here was the batting performance put forward by Root’s side.

They failed to even reach the run total of the first Test, achieving just 319 over both innings. Going into the West Indies’ second innings they only had to chase 14 runs to win the Test and the series.

As if the run total enough wasn’t enough to put England cricket fans into hiding, the fact that Darren Bravo batted for longer than the whole of England’s second innings should do it. Bravo batted for 342 minutes and hit 50 off 216, the third slowest fifty in Test history. England on the other hand batted for 211 minutes, clearly failing to learn from the mistakes of the first test.

Joe Root seemed a bit more resigned with his remarks after the Test: “we’ve been outperformed once again and that’s quite hard to take. Scoring under 200 isn’t going to win you many games of cricket.”

“West Indies know these conditions well and they’ve exploited them to their advantage. They’ve played some really good stuff at times and made it very difficult. They’re fully deserving of winning the series.”

The final Test takes place at the Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium in Saint Lucia, named after the fast-medium bowler who captained West Indies to back-to-back ICC World Twenty20 titles in 2012 and 2016. 

If the West Indies manage to beat the English, which is not a stretch of the imagination by any means, it will be their first whitewashing against England on home soil since 1986. The sides in ’86 featured such great names as Graham Gooch, Allan Lamb and Ian Botham for England and the same Viv Richards for the West Indies whose named ground Root’s side lost at days ago.

With just one Test left before the Ashes, England really needs to put on a show if they want any hope of regaining the trophy they lost so comprehensively last time around. The final test starts on the 9th February and will finish, barring another England collapse, on the 13th February.

England complete first ever tour whitewash of Sri Lanka

Moeen Ali and Jack Leach both grabbed four wickets in a close finish to the series.

England have completed their first ever whitewash in Sri Lanka after an incredibly close 42-run victory in the third and final Test in Colombo.

It appeared as though Sri Lanka might be able to salvage a consolation win in this Test with Kusal Mendis scoring 86 and Roshen Silva reaching 65. The England bowlers struggling to make headway with the Sri Lankan batsman.

Eventually, Jack Leach continued his fantastic form with a run out of Mendis that set England back on the right track. Moeen Ali also proved himself to be one of the best spin bowlers in the world by taking four wickets, including Perera and Silva with only one run between them.

With the scorecard reading 226-9, it seemed routine for England to finish the game, the series, and the tour, however, it proved anything but. Lakmal and Pushpukumara managed a very respectable last-wicket stand of 58 before Lakmal finally succumbed by lbw to Leach, who joined Ali on a four-wicket haul.

Talking about the tour Joe Root, England’s captain, said “it has been a fabulous tour. It has been a complete team performance throughout the whole trip. Everyone has contributed in some shape or form and that is the most pleasing and impressive thing.”

England have sprung back from their own whitewashing by Australia in the Ashes by winning eight of their last nine Tests. They have just four more Tests left though, three against West Indies and a one-off against Ireland, before the Ashes comes around again on August 1st 2019.

England win UEFA Nations League group in a thrilling game against Croatia

Two late goals from Jesse Lingard and Harry Kane meant that England topped their group and sent Croatia down to Division B.

England came from behind against Croatia to win both the match and their group in the thrilling final game of the UEFA Nations League Group Stage. The victory sends the Three Lions through to the Semi-Finals of the competition which take place next June. 

Croatia, the side which sent England home from the World Cup this summer, looked as though they would win yet again after Andrej Kramaric scored for the visitors in the 57th minute. Kramaric, who plays his club football with Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga, seemed to have an eternity to shoot. When he finally picked his spot his attempt was deflected off Eric Dier’s thigh past a diving Jordan Pickford.

The scoreline didn’t reflect the football being played as England were dominating in terms of chances but couldn’t seem to convert them into goals. Croatia, on the other hand, managed to find the back of the net with their first effort on target. If the result stayed the same England would have been relegated to Group B of the Nations League. 

Gareth Southgate was determined to make sure his side wouldn’t be lumped together with other poor international sides such as Germany, falling from the upper echelon of European football that is the Nations League Division A. He brought on Dele Alli early on in the second half before making a double substitution ten minutes later with in-form Jadon Sancho and Jesse Lingard coming on.

These substitutions proved pivotal in the England comeback. Jesse Lingard tapped home an equaliser with 12 minutes of ordinary time left before Harry Kane scored from a Ben Chilwell free kick. The Croatian side was stunned. In seven minutes they had gone from topping the group to being relegated.

The atmosphere around Wembley was electric. Every one of the 78,221 knew exactly what those two late goals meant. Not only did we save ourselves from embarrassing relegation, not only did we top our group and progress to the Semi-Finals next June, but we took revenge on a Croatian side that ended our World Cup dreams, relegating them in the process. It doesn’t stop the hurt, but it certainly helps.

To add insult to injury for Croatia, the now iconic ‘3 Lions (Football’s Coming Home)’ anthem rang around the ground as the final whistle blew. We may not have won the world cup be we still have a chance of winning the inaugural UEFA Nations League. The newest, and some would argue most elite, international competition there is.

Talking about the victory after the game, Southgate said “I think the most pleasing thing of the year has been the connection with the fans and being able to share brilliant experiences with them. Today was brilliant, I can’t remember the new Wembley like that. We have exciting players that give them excitement.”

“We were by far the better team in the first half and we came back from a soft goal. If you’re going to win a game that’s the way you want to win. We were playing against a very, very good side. To keep the ball, use the ball and create chances was very pleasing. And you have to keep calm, when you think the chances have gone then you have to keep believing.”

Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford echoed his manager’s sentiments saying “the atmosphere is probably the best we’ve had at Wembley. This Nations League makes you want to beat the best. We’ve beaten two of the top 10 sides in the world. Now we have another semi-final, it’ll be a good summer.”

Elsewhere in Division A of the Nations League, three more teams joined England in the Semi-Finals and three more joined Croatia in Division B. Netherlands stunned everyone by taking 7 points from a possible 12 and topping a group which included France and Germany. As previously mentioned Germany, who underperformed massively at the world cup, continued their run of poor form winning none of their four games.

Switzerland took the third spot in the Semi-Finals topping their group on goal difference, Iceland finished rock bottom there on 0 points. Finally the fourth spot went to Portugal who went undefeated in their group, while Poland also failed to register a win.

So, England knows their opponents: Portugal, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. All eyes now turn to the draw that takes place in Dublin on December 3rd. There the match times, venues and fixtures will be announced. If England wants to win their first major trophy since 1966, they will need to win two more games. 

Southgate and his players will be confident that they have a good chance of lifting the inaugural Nations League trophy, an achievement that will surely cement Southgate as one of the greatest managers ever to grace the beautiful game. 

Joking aside, there is no doubt that this England side is the most promising we have seen in many, many years. We have young players, talented players, playing as a team, not as individuals. Players who want to represent their country, who are proud of what that means.

England seal Sri Lanka series with a win in the second Test

A maiden Test five-wicket haul for Jack Leach gave England their first Test series win in Sri Lanka since 2001.

England won their first series away from home since beating South Africa in January 2016 by sealing a victory in the second Test against Sri Lanka. Joe Root captained the side to a 2-0 lead with the third and final Test starting on Friday 23rd November.

Going into day 5 the result was very much in the balance with Sri Lanka sitting on 226-7 needing just 75 runs to level the series. The home side started well but suffered two wickets in three balls from Moeen Ali that all but ended any hopes of a victory. First Niroshan Dickwella fell for 35 after edging to first slip where Ben Stokes made a comfortable catch and then two balls later Suranga Lakmal was bowled for a duck.

The final wicket fell as Jack Leach achieved his first Test five-wicket haul. Leach caught and bowled Malinda Pushpakmura and the celebrations from the English side quickly followed. This was their first series win in Sri Lanka since March 2001 and only their second ever. Sri Lanka finished on 243 runs, 57 short of victory.

Talking after the Test captain Joe Root said: “The guys have worked extremely hard here. We said we’re going to play in a certain manner and we’ve backed that up completely throughout the two games. That’s probably the most pleasing thing.”

“We’ve stuck to our guns, been ruthless when we’ve had our opportunities to get ahead in the games and we’ve soaked up pressure well. This team is growing all the time, looking to improve in practice and driving that standard up which is a great position to be in.”

Root stepped up in the second innings making a fantastic 124, his 15th Test century. The Yorkshireman said that he “wants to get to number one in the world” and regardless of the outcome in the third Test England will overtake South Africa to take second place in the world rankings. Only India stands in the way.

With the Cricket World Cup taking place next May in England and Wales, Root and his team will be looking to make the most of the closing Test of this series as well as the tour of the West Indies in the new year. The final Test against Sri Lanka will take place in Colombo and starts at 04:30 on Friday 23rd November.