Your rugby morning headlines for Monday, February 14.
Eddie Jones rips back at Austin Healey
England boss Eddie Jones has fired back at Austin Healey after the former England international was less than complimentary about the side in the wake of their defeat to Scotland last week.
Healey wrote in his newspaper column that defeat to Italy was not beyond the realms of possibility after the Murrayfield debacle.
He added: “Hey [Marcus Smith] is a proven match winner in the final quarter. Yet you take him off for someone in George Ford who you had not selected in your original squad two weeks beforehand.
“That is a coaching mistake. As is constantly chopping and changing your style. How many of those mistakes does it take until you run out of coaching lives?
“I’m not saying it will happen, but a loss to Italy does not seem completely ridiculous. There is that much uncertainty and confusion in the way England are playing.”
Jones took advantage of his post-match press conference to launch back at Healey.
When asked who was captain when Tom Curry left the field, he snapped: “Austin Healey! I have got a difficult question for you mate, can you handle it?
“Who wrote Austin Healey’s column for him? You better go and wipe the egg off his face, mate. If you can do that for me I will be happy!”
‘Wales will fancy their chances’
Former England boss Clive Woodward has warned that Wales will be relishing the opportunity to go to Twickenham in a fortnight’s time.
Eddie Jones’ side got their campaign back on track with a 33-0 in Rome yesterday and will be buoyant again after recovering from their opening round defeat to Scotland.
But Wales too have steadied the ship, returning to winning ways in round two.
Assessing Marcus Smith’s man of the match performance in Rome, Woodward warned that he would not have it so easy when Wayne Pivac’s side arrive in London.
“He was on the front foot today. I can’t wait for these next three games,” Woodward said on ITV.
“They lost to Scotland, this wasn’t a great Italy team today but they did what they had to do.
“Against the Welsh, the Irish and the French, he’s going to be put on the back foot. Can he really control the game then?
“His kicking game will come far more into it. He’s absolutely the real deal but can he win a game on the back foot.
“The next game against Wales is going to be absolutely fantastic because they’ll fancy their chances after yesterday.”
Assessing Wales, former fly-half Jonny Wilkinson added: “To come from behind and do it, to find a way, is going to be massive for their morale. It’s probably what they need right now. For England, that will be an interesting challenge in a couple of weeks.
“They’re going to be buzzing and I think they might see Twickenham as a real opportunity to take another leap.”
Biggar ‘prevails’ over Russell
So much of the narrative surrounding Wales’ recent victory over Scotland was concentrated on Dan Biggar’s match-up with Finn Russell.
Theirs are two contrasting styles. With Biggar more of a pragmatist and Russell more of a free spirit.
But it was to be Biggar’s day and Guardian writer Michael Aylwin drove the point home.
“In the end, the earthier qualities for which Biggar is renowned prevailed over the airy brilliance of Russell. In his 100th Test, Wales’s captain shook off the knee injury that dogged him throughout and stepped into the limelight once more to land a winning drop goal 10 minutes from the end.
“The irony is the match’s turning point, the moment the fates of Biggar and Russell separated, of Wales and Scotland, was a miss by Biggar.
“Each fly-half had missed a conversion in the first half from out wide, but they had not missed a penalty between them, both four from four, when Biggar tried his luck from long range.
“His attempt hit the crossbar and rebounded back into play. Alex Cuthbert secured it, and in the passage of play that followed Russell knocked the ball on in an attempt to intercept. He was sent to the sin-bin for his pains. Scotland’s soul went with him.
“With the stage his, Biggar suddenly decided those three points he had tried out for from a suitably dramatic long range were no longer quite so appealing from a much closer position. So he sent the next two penalties to the corner.
“When the ball came back to him following the second lineout, his instincts for the moment were triggered. Cardiff had its latest victory against visiting Scots.”
Davies: Still work to do
Jonathan Davies says staying in the fight is key for Wales as a pulsating Guinness Six Nations Championship moves towards its halfway stage.
Wales bounced back from a dispiriting defeat against Ireland to topple Scotland and rejoin the title equation.
England at Twickenham are next up in a fortnight’s time, followed by France in Cardiff, so Wales have huge challenges ahead of them.
But they have at least given themselves a chance of contesting Six Nations silverware, which looked miles off their radar following events in Dublin.
“I think Wayne (Wales head coach Wayne Pivac) alluded to it in the week that it (Scotland game) was almost a final,” Wales center Davies said.
“In every game now, we have to make sure we are competitive and win.
“Our first game at home was important to show what we can achieve. We were disappointed with the performance last week.
“We still have a chance in this competition, depending on results, but you want to be in the fight.
“We go to Twickenham as a group and we can take some confidence out of the Scotland game, but we know there is a huge amount of work to do.”
Davies made his 100th Test match appearance for Wales and the British and Irish Lions, going on as a second-half substitute and starring defensively to help withstand late Scottish pressure.
He became the 10th Welshman to achieve that feat, emulating his team-mate Dan Biggar, who clocked up three figures in the same game.
Davies added: “I have never been one for personal accolades.
“I would probably trade in 20 caps for a Grand Slam, but every opportunity I am grateful to wear the jersey, and hopefully I get a shot in a couple of weeks. I love every chance I get to put the jersey on.
“I think history has shown with this group over the years that it gets better the more time we spend together.
“We have the opportunity now to go to Twickenham and take on an England squad that is very competitive. It should be a good game.
“Competition is fierce, and everybody wants to win. I think it just shows how strong this competition is, and you have to make sure you are on your best game every week.”