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English rugby fans are in despair, the Red Roses, they of the previous record-tying 18 straight wins, lost their second, NatWest Six Nations match in a row to a revitalized French XV 22-16 in Paris. The loss eliminated England's chance for a third-straight Six Nations title, as Ireland continued undefeated (4-0) with a 28-8 home win against Scotland.
The English press was unsparing in its criticism of the Eddie Jones coached national side, calling the team's uninspired performance "ill disciplined" and "emasculated." The Red Roses conceded 16-penalties. Most notably, France controlled the breakdown under the stalwart defense of Guilhem Guirado.
The loss marked England's third away Six Nations loss in two-years. They will play Ireland at home in Twickenham in two weeks. Ireland cannot lose the title even if defeated.
After England was eliminated in the Rugby World Cup in 2015 with pool losses to Australia and Wales, the 2016 and 2017 victory success spurred them into second place behind New Zealand in World Rugby rankings. There was every reason to view the English side as the challenger to the All Blacks. Now, not so much.
One columnist wrote, "Clouds looming over English heads have blackened." This was a reference to the RWC 2019 in Japan and the pool with England, France, and Argentina when only two nations will advance into the quarterfinals. The USA and Tonga are also slotted in this, the most difficult pool.
Meanwhile in Dublin, Ireland's defense made 190-tackles, effectively stymieing any Scottish advance. The win guaranteed the Six Nations title after England's startling loss. Ireland last won the championship in 2015, but have not achieved the Grand Slam (going undefeated) since 2009. It was Ireland's eleventh straight win, setting a record for consecutive victories.
Wales had an easy time beating Italy 38-14. The Azzurri will finish last again.
The fifth and last round on March 17 will feature England hosting Ireland, Wales at home against France, and Italy welcome Scotland.