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Six Nations 2024: Who impressed and where do England need to strengthen?

Beating defending champions Ireland and then almost overcoming France in a thriller ensured England finished the Six Nations in an upbeat manner.

Steve Borthwick’s side won three of their five games to finish in third place and showed clear signs of progress in their attacking play.

England will regroup later this year to take on Eddie Jones’ Japan before facing New Zealand in the summer.

So who performed well and where might Borthwick, who now heads to New Zealand on a scouting mission, be looking for reinforcements?

Captain George leads the charge

Jamie George was named captain before the start of the Six Nations after friend and predecessor Owen Farrell opted to take a break from the international game.

George was tasked with building on England’s third-place finish at last year’s World Cup, but his ambition went beyond just results on the field.

The 33-year-old hooker has been clear in his intent to revive his side’s attacking spark and for the squad to reconnect with fans.

England underwhelmed in their opening wins over Italy and Wales before capitulating against Scotland at Murrayfield, but it all seemed to click for the visit of Ireland to Twickenham.

The hosts were invigorated with ball in hand and, with exciting young wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso to the fore, went for the jugular at the slightest sense of an opportunity to exploit the Irish defence.

Twickenham responded in kind and generated the best atmosphere of the Borthwick era, leading to a last-gasp drop-goal by Marcus Smith as England outscored Andy Farrell’s side 3-2 on tries.

It was more of the same in the finale with France as England claimed a try-scoring bonus for the first time in this championship despite trailing 16-3 at one point.

England averaged 4.3 line breaks per game in the opening three before improving to 7.5 against Ireland and France.

George, whose mother Jane died during the championship, said captaining the side had been the “highlight” of his career and is clearly an admired leader of Borthwick’s squad.

Is Ford finally England’s general?

Fly-half George Ford is a seasoned international with 95 caps to his name since making his Test debut in March 2014, but has often played second fiddle to Farrell.

With Farrell out of the England picture this year and Marcus Smith ruled out of the opening three games with a calf injury, Ford took charge of steering the attack.

Smith’s display in the win over Ireland pushed his claim for a starting berth against France, but Borthwick stuck with Ford, who saved the best until last.

Ford has developed a strong relationship with scrum-half Alex Mitchell and orchestrated his outside runners flat to the line against France, producing a deft touch to flick the ball on for Tommy Freeman’s late try to claim the bonus.

“Our mindset since the Scotland game has been to really go at teams with the ball in hand,” Sale fly-half Ford said.

“Be a threat, ask questions, fire shots, be that attacking team and be on the front foot a lot more.”

Smith also impressed at full-back after replacing the injured George Furbank, while his namesake Fin Smith continues to stake a claim.

But Ford is the man in possession of the jersey and with Farrell’s move abroad to Racing 92 confirmed, the 31-year-old could keep it a little while longer.

Lawrence proves there is a life after Tuilagi

Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi in Lyon
Lawrence (left) described Tuilagi as “his hero” and someone he “tried to emulate”

Three of England’s seven tries in their last two games of the Six Nations were scored by inside centre Ollie Lawrence.

The 24-year-old is much more than a first-phase battering ram, as proved by his incisive line of running and subtle footwork to deceive Gael Fickou for his opening try against France.

When fit, Manu Tuilagi has been England’s first-choice number 12 since making his debut in 2011.

But with the 32-year-old Sale star linked with a move to France – where he would be ineligible for England – perhaps Saturday’s match in Lyon marked the passing of the baton for good.

Fittingly, the pair ended the defeat by France together in midfield after Tuilagi replaced Henry Slade for his 60th cap.

“The way he was playing at a young age in an England shirt was amazing,” said Lawrence. “To keep going at this level is testament to him.

“To have the pleasure to take the field with him on the amount of occasions I have now is special and a memory I will look back on.”

Earl’s world-class credentials

Tenacious in the carry and committed in defence, Ben Earl enjoyed a stellar campaign as he cemented his place as England’s first-choice number eight.

The Saracens forward was named man-of-the-match for his try-scoring performances in both of England’s home wins over Wales and Ireland.

He made more carries than any other player in the tournament (73), while only France wing Damian Penaud beat more defenders.

In addition to his powerful breaks, the 26-year-old also links well with his team-mates and threw the final pass for Smith’s try against France.

Former England scrum-half Matt Dawson acknowledged Earl’s impact, describing him as “the standout player for England pretty much every week.”

Time for new blood up front?

The one area of the side which could improve with some fresh impetus is at prop.

The best days in an England shirt are behind veterans Dan Cole, 36, and Joe Marler, 33.

Cole was recalled for last year’s World Cup while Marler has supported Ellis Genge from the bench.

Both are vastly experienced and clearly held in high esteem but it could be time to blood some new talent with 24-year-old Joe Heyes and Beno Obano, 29, waiting in the wings for a chance to step up, and Sale prop Asher Opoku-Fordjour impressing for England’s Under-20s champions.

#Nations #impressed #England #strengthen

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