It’s not often three England sides have the chance to secure Six Nations grand slam titles on the same weekend in the same year. English rugby is well and truly in the ascendancy, despite Eddie Jones waving away any credit for his work in creating the winning culture during the week.
Jones has undoubtedly made his mark, but looking beyond to Louis Deacon, Tom Williams and newly appointed Ian Vass in the under-20’s setup where success has long been in-grained into the players over a consistently long period of time.
Having appeared in seven finals at the World Rugby U20 Championship – winning three of those since 2008 as well as five Six Nations titles, prior to this year’s win, winning two grand slams of those five also since 2008. To win the Six Nations title in the manner they have compared to a dismal showing in 2016 underlines the culture and mentality within the group.
But you only have to look to England’s young back-rower Zach Mercer to see the impact of how England’s success is continuing into the new generation of players.
Mercer has undoubtedly been England’s standout player in this year’s Six Nations Championship. A superior figure from the back of the scrum in attack, Mercer has scored in each of the Wales, Italy and Scotland fixtures, topping the stats with carries, defenders beaten and offloads.
Specifically, his offload to set up Harry Randall’s try was probably the moment of the game and maybe even the championship. Powering through three defenders out wide summed up England’s campaign beautifully: decisive, powerful and clinical.
He’s a player that very few defences can handle and alongside Tom and Ben Curry in the back row, is shaping into a formidable force.
The Bath man is developing into a big game player and will certainly be one to watch against Ireland at Donnybrook in tonight’s grand slam decider.
The future of English rugby is looking positive and Mercer is certain to be a feature – even at Premiership standard, he has begun to make a name for himself with a number of key performances at Bath.
It’s difficult to see anything other than an England win and a third tournament grand slam. England have perhaps their best starting fifteen to get the job done – Max Malins controlling the game from fly-half with Nick Isiekwe returning to the second row and the Curry brothers and Mercer complete the pack for the visitors.
A win in Ireland will provide the best preparation for England’s defence of the World Championship in Georgia in June and as it stands look odds on for the double.
15: Tom Parton; 14: Joe Cokanasiga; 13: Dom Morris; 12: Will Butler; 11: Sam Aspland-Robinson; 10: Max Malins; 9: Harry Randall; 8; Zach Mercer; 7: Ben Curry; 6: Tom Curry; 5: Nick Isiekwe; 4: Jack Nay; 3: Ciaran Knight; 2: Henry Walker; 1: Ollie Dawe
Replacements: Jamie Blamire; Ralph Adams-Hale; Joseph Morris; Justin Clegg; Josh Bayliss; Alex Mitchell; Theo Brophy-Clews; Max Wright
15: Jordan Larmour; 14: Tommy O’Brien; 13: Gavin Mullin; 12: Ciaran Frawley; 11: Calvin Nash; 10: Bill Johnston; 9: Jonny Stewart; 8: Caelan Doris; 7: Paul Boyle; 6: John Foley; 5: Oisin Dowling; 4: Fineen Wycherley; 3: Charlie Connolly; 2: Tadgh McElroy; 1: Joey Conway
Replacements: Ronan Kelleher; Greg MaGrath; Matthew Burke; Jack Regan; Gavin Coombes; Jack Stafford; Conor Fitzgerald; Colm Hogan