Will Greenwood: Steve Borthwick can have England in better place come World Cup after Six Nations battles | Rugby Union News
Rugby Union Expert & Columnist @willgreenwood
England led 6-0 vs Ireland early on before a controversial first-half red card for Freddie Steward proved decisive, with hosts running out 29-16 winners; Will Greenwood: “I think there was enough for (referee) Jaco Peyper to say there were mitigating circumstances to make it a yellow”
Last Updated: 20/03/23 5:34pm
Will Greenwood doesn’t believe Freddie Steward should have been sent off for England but thinks Ireland would still have won their Six Nations clash even without the red card
Former England international Will Greenwood said there were loads of positives for England to take out of their final Six Nations defeat to Grand Slam-winners Ireland on Sunday.
England found themselves up 6-0 early on at the Aviva Stadium before a controversial red card for full-back Freddie Steward in the first half proved decisive as Ireland ultimately ran out 29-16 winners.
Greenwood described England’s defensive work as “fabulous”, especially given that they came into the game off the back of a record 53-10 drubbing by France at Twickenham.
Speaking to Sky Sports News, Greenwood said the positives from England’s performance in Dublin stood out more upon a second watch.
“I had [initially] thought that Ireland were dominant, they’d made some errors and England were competitive,” Greenwood said. “But, watching it back again last night, I thought England were fabulous – on one side of the ball.
“Defensively, and set-piece wise, there was loads to be positive about for England. What needs work is we need more of a strike threat.
“I didn’t think we were amazing with the ball… we’re still struggling to make line breaks – we might have made one in the last two games. We need to score some tries.
“But against France we lacked bite and intensity, and I thought the English lads gave a really good account of themselves.
“You mustn’t underestimate the hole they were in after the France game and how desperate England supporters were to have something to cling on to. I think they certainly gave us that.”
Steve Borthwick says England’s heavy defeat to France was ‘painful’
As for Steward’s sending off, Greenwood believes there were “mitigating factors” that should have seen a yellow card instead shown for his collision with Hugo Keenan.
“As soon as the ball hits turf, you’ve got two players in Keenan and Steward, who have spent their whole life trying to get on the ball quickly,” he said.
“I’ve watched it 15 or so times, and I saw it live; the Irish player reactions, in and around the incident – which are often a big clue – it all, to me, suggested it was a rugby-related incident and a hugely unfortunate accident.
“Protocol has to be followed, but I think there was enough for [referee] Jaco Peyper to say there were mitigating circumstances, given what happened in the lead up to the collision, to make it a yellow.
“That’s where I stand on it. I understand why they’re changing the laws, to make the rugby game safer, but I just sometimes feel that there are incidents that take place that are close to unavoidable, which are unfortunate for one player – obviously Keenan couldn’t return – but shouldn’t define the match.”
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell says he is delighted to clinch the Grand Slam on home turf while England’s Steve Borthwick admits his side fell short
With the World Cup now less than six months away, Greenwood graded England’s start under new head coach Steve Borthwick and also revealed he has hosts France pegged as favourites for the World Cup despite Ireland’s Grand Slam win.
“For England, all of their Christmases have come early with the [World Cup] draw. Though it doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to go to the semi-finals,” Greenwood said.
“If you’re going on the data, you’re not quite sure what has changed [under Borthwick]. But on gut feel, instinct, togetherness, I think there has been a small uplift.
“I think the reality is, Borthwick probably didn’t realise how big a hole the team were in and there are some fixes he can do over the course of the summer, when they get into their World Cup camp, that I think can make them significantly better.
“He was handed a bit of a hospital pass, given the job just before the Six Nations started. What would he get on a school report? B+, ‘nice start but lots to work on.'”
Greenwood added: “Ireland are the best team in the world, but France came with a charge late on. Against England they were simply magnificent, and against Wales – they scored nearly 100 points in the last two games!
“They are charging into a home World Cup and my milk money is still with France. But I would happily debate and see the nuance in at least six counties having a realistic chance to win the World Cup.”