England must embrace Grand Slam pressure

England must embrace Grand Slam pressure

Wales had nothing to lose at the end, so they started throwing the ball around when England were down to 14 men, and they scored a couple of tries. But it was too little too late. England won convincingly and were brilliant for 70 minutes so the focus should be on that.

There's going to be a period in every game where the opposition have their turn with the ball and Wales scored some tries but that counts for little: England are on for a Grand Slam.Six months ago, we had no idea where England were going, now here we are.

For the English supporter, they now face a quandary because if you say "we're going to go out and dominate and we are confident", then you get accused of being the arrogant English. Maybe that's part of this whole downplaying of wins and focusing on opposition shortcomings, but I thought England were great, Wales were poor but a lot of that was thanks to England's hard work.

Plus what a day it was for Maro Itoje. To get man of the match on his second home start, and against Wales, was incredible. I still think he hasn't really been tested. He plays for a dominant Saracens pack, and England were pretty dominant up front yesterday. That's not to take too much away from the lad, because his achievements are still superb. The old Sale lads down at Sarries have been raving about him for months, but I've been holding back in my praise of him a bit. He still has a bit of a way to go, but what a game.

I also really like the way James Haskell is playing at the moment. The pack were generally really good against Wales and he is putting some serious graft in at the back of it.

The backs, meanwhile, still have questions to answer. Owen Farrell is the form 10 for England, and George Ford has been poor throughout the tournament. I don't like to be negative after a big win, but yesterday was his poorest game of the tournament and I think Farrell might take the 10 shirt next week, with Tuilagi back at No.12. I still think Manu is a few weeks short of full fitness, but he can be destructive for 50/60 minutes in France.

A lot of the focus in the week will be about how England have bottled Grand Slam showdowns in recent years. We went to Dublin in 2011, on my 50th cap, and just got blown away. I don't think we bottled it in 2011, to be fair. Ireland were a good team who had a huge performance in them, and they pulled it out that day.

I don't think this France side has that in them. Everyone talks about them being mavericks and "you don't know what France team will turn up", but they haven't put in a big game since 2011. This is the worst France team for around 50 years, in my mind, and to be honest it's the lowest standard of Six Nations in about 10 years.

The lads have to appreciate what they're going to play for this week, but get the balance right between embracing the challenge and not hyping it up so much that they bottle it. You don't want to pile the pressure on, but you can't shy away from the fact it's the chance for a first Grand Slam since 2003.

Embrace it, and go enjoy it. It's there for the taking for this young England team, and I think they'll do it.



– Entry was posted on March 15th, 2016 by James Haskell

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