Elliot Daly is winning the race to start England’s Six Nations Grand Slam decider against Ireland this weekend after stepping up his training following his suspected concussion in the rout of Scotland.
Daly was forced off inside the second minute of the 61-21 rout of the Scots after being tip-tackled by hooker Fraser Brown, and despite passing a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) to return to the pitch, he was withdrawn shortly after as the wing continued to feel the side-effects of the illegal hit.
The Wasps utility back entered the return-to-play protocols at the start of the week, and England forwards coach Steve Borthwick confirmed on Wednesday that the 24-year-old is inching closer towards retaining his place in the starting line-up for Saturday’s trip to Dublin.
"Elliot is progressing really well through the 'return to play' protocols. He's gone through every stage really well so far," forwards coach Steve Borthwick said.
"He has a contact session (on Wednesday) afternoon and then it's team training (on Thursday)."
England can break the current winning streak world record this weekend if they see off the Irish, which would clinch a second consecutive Grand Slam and maintain Eddie Jones’s 100 per cent record as head coach. Having matched New Zealand’s mark of 18 wins in the thrashing of Scotland, England can set a new record with victory at the Aviva Stadium, with Borthwick admitting that they can now focus on the Grand Slam after sewing up the Six Nations title with a game to spare.
"This squad keeps looking ahead and the players thrive on the next challenge. This is our next challenge and the players are desperate to get better," Borthwick added.
"This is the next challenge and the next opportunity to show that we're improving.
"Ireland are a very good side and have a forward pack who have experience and are able to show what quality and pace they have. Their half-backs are good, so they're a good side."
England will become the first team in the Six Nations era to successfully defend the Grand Slam if they triumph in the championship’s final match, and just the sixth in the history of the tournament.
Six Nations team of the weekend - round four
Six Nations team of the weekend - round four
1/15 15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
The full-back flourished in bringing George North into the game as he repeatedly joined the back line to give Wales an extra man in attack. He tackled well, with a memorable stop on Rob Kearney halting an Irish attack in full flow. Has put himself back into the running for the Lions berth.
2/15 14. George North (Wales)
Back to his devastating best with two tries this week. His first was a brutal display of power as he carried both Simon Zebo and Keith Earls over the try line to score, while his second was the result of a great drive from the Welsh pack. A mazy run towards the end of the victory over Ireland triggered one last attack as his side searched in vain for the bonus point.
3/15 13. Jonathan Joseph (England)
A brilliant performance provided a timely reminder of what he is capable of. Three tries, each of differing styles, paved the way for England’s stunning 61-21 victory over Scotland. The first try saw Joseph display his pace and power, the second one came from dazzling footwork and the third saw him cut a lovely inside line to break cleanly from short range.
4/15 12. Owen Farrell (England)
After his horror show against Italy, Farrell was back to his best again to convert all but one of his kicks at goal – the one he missed was from his own half – and he was much smarter with his kicking to touch following the errors that littered his display a fortnight ago. Brought Joseph into the attack superbly, and finished the game at 10 once more.
5/15 11. Virimi Vakatawa (France)
A great week for the French wing as he scored a devastating try that put Italy out of the game and racked up more metres than anyone else this week, making an average of more than 10m per break. He beat eight defenders and made four clean breaks, and provided a display that proved just what a dangerous open-field runner he can be.
6/15 10. George Ford (England)
Ford was able to take the fight to Scotland with the pack providing him with front-foot ball to work with. The fly-half linked up superbly with Farrell outside him, and also brought his three-quarters into the game with devastating results.
7/15 9. Rhys Webb (Wales)
A strong performance from Webb saw him create the first try for North with a smart supporting run to take an offload from Scott Williams and release a beautiful wide pass for Halfpenny to run on to. He was alert in defence and got the better of Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray in their battle for the Lions No 9 shirt.
8/15 1. Rob Evans (Wales)
A strong performance from the loosehead against an Irish scrum that until now had gotten the better of all its opponents. Carried multiple times, albeit with little success, but that took its toll on the Irish defence as it tired.
9/15 2. Guilhem Guirado (France)
The standout hooker this week as the French captain led by example, making an impressive 31 metres with the ball in hand and 11 tackles in defence, not to mention sealing a turnover in the process.
10/15 3. Rabah Slimani (France)
Joins his skipper in the front row after displacing Uini Atonio in the side and delivering much better performances. An impressive showing in the loose.
11/15 4. Joe Launchbury (England)
A candidate for player of the tournament. Launchbury has excelled on his return to the Test fold, and he once again led by example as he made a phenomenal 22 tackles against Scotland, as well as enjoying success with the ball in hand.
12/15 5. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales)
Return to form this week as he put his body on the line, making 18 tackles and 14 carries. He also disrupted the Irish lineout, stealing one throw on his own 5m line, but his best performance came in terms of his decision-making as he got all the big calls right.
13/15 6. Sam Warburton (Wales)
A brilliant performance in defence saw Warburton set the tone for Wales’s physical dominance over Ireland. He made more tackles than anyone else on the pitch in Cardiff, and he looks to be suited to not having the burden of the captaincy hanging over him.
14/15 7. Kevin Gourdon (France)
France have found their natural replacement for Thierry Dusautoir as Gourdon once again displayed his talents in the win over Italy. He carried well for more than 50 metres, and did his job in defence to slow down the Italian attack at the breakdown.
15/15 8. Nathan Hughes (England)
Scotland made the mistake of not double-marking him, and he ran riot as a result. The Wasps No 8 appeared to send out a message that the returning Billy Vunipola would not be taking his shirt easily, and made an impressive 74 metres from 11 carries.
Their confidence generated by the 18-match winning streak appears to have convinced the Rugby Football Union that they can now rival the best in the world, after it emerged that the governing body are investigating the prospect of hosting the world champion All Blacks this autumn in a match that falls outside the recognised Test window, one year ahead of their next scheduled encounter.Reuse content