With one round left to play, Ireland are still on for the Six Nations Grand Slam after they managed to edge past Scotland 22-7 on Sunday despite being hit by a host of injuries. But by the time they took to the field, we'd already seen one of the most remarkable performances in recent memory as France hammered England 53-10 at Twickenham to inflict a record home defeat on Steve Borthwick's side. Wales got their first win of the championship as they managed to get past a resurgent Italy side in Rome.
After the weekend's action, we take a look at how England can sort themselves out with the World Cup just six months away and how Ireland have managed to embrace adversity.
How do England solve their issues?
England have just five matches before their World Cup opener against Argentina on Sept. 9. Next up is Ireland in Dublin, and then there are their four pre-tournament matches -- two against Wales, a trip to Ireland and a match against Fiji at Twickenham. But where do they go after their horror show against France?
It was the third heaviest loss in the team's history. Steve Borthwick faces a mammoth task to sort out England but here are five priorities at the top of his to-do list.
1. Get the basics right
This comes down to everything England did poorly against France. They lost the breakdown battle, their kicking was poor and they made too many handling errors.
"The way we were in the contact area wasn't good enough, on both sides of the ball," Steve Borthwick said post-match.
The statistical returns are brutal. England made nearly twice as many handling errors as France (13-7), lost twice as many rucks (6-3), missed 26 tackles, while their ruck recycling speed was slower than their opponents.
There were also those frustrating moments and uncharacteristic errors -- like knock-ons off restarts, the sloppiness around Charles Ollivon's second try where he managed to dot the ball down as England spun it back over their own try line. These are fixable aspects and Borthwick will look to iron these out this week.
- Le Crunch? England's humiliation by France was Le Crumble
"Ultimately when you play a game and you lose the collision as badly as we did in defence and giving the opposition opportunity, quick ball, offloads and you lose it in attack where you're not able to generate quick ball in terms of these turnovers at the breakdown, it's hard to get a foothold in the game," Borthwick said.
The irony in all of this is, the set piece was solid. The scrum and lineout is much improved from the autumn, but it wasn't enough to get a foothold in the game.
"I've never before been in a Test match where our set-piece has functioned well and yet we still feel that physically on the back foot," Jamie George said.
"France are an excellent team and when we look back at it we'll be disappointed with our work to get into position because that's the only way - to be physical you need to be in position to do that but we weren't."
The kicking was also wayward, gifting France the chance to counterattack and put the ball exactly where they want it. It's precisely what England did not want to do.
2. Find the power
That brings us on to England's lack of power. While France had the ballast around the breakdown and the ability to crash through tackles -- just look at Ollivon on Marcus Smith for their third -- England didn't have the same vigour.
France made nine linebreaks to England's one, and despite England enjoying more time in France's 22 and edging territory and possession, France were infinitely more clinical. They returned 4.1 points on each visit to England's 22 compared to the hosts' one.
"What was clear today is there is no doubt in the contact area, both in attack and in defence, their power told," Borthwick said. "Our ability to win the gainline and generate quick ball in attack was very limited, and our ability to stop them on the gainline, in defence, and not allow them to offload was also not of the standard we needed to be."
Borthwick will be focusing on the effort versus output dynamic. There are areas of focus: France were far quicker to secure, or clear out the breakdown -- securing quick ball for themselves, and preventing England from shifting it. The linebreaks statistic is alarming -- time and time again France read England's plan and stopped it at source, then waited patiently for an error.
So how do they solve this? One option would be to bring back Manu Tuilagi from the cold. Henry Slade was anonymous against France. They also have issues at No. 8 -- Alex Dombrandt had a poor match and while there is a ready-made option in Zach Mercer waiting in the wings in France, it'll be fascinating to see how Borthwick juggles this for Ireland.
But the basic reality is England were dominated in the back-row with Ollivon, Gregory Aldritt and Francois Cros all superb. And then there was that man in the centre -- Jonathan Danty.
"We focused all week on breakdown work, planning how we would work together to get an edge," Cros said post-match. "It was absolutely key for us to win those battles to create the platform, to retain ball and to create phase momentum.
"Of course it helps that Jonathan Danty is like our fourth back row, our quatrieme troisieme ligne! He was so happy to be playing once again and he was keen to prove he was ready and back at his best level."
3. Settle on a pack for the now and future
So does Borthwick do an Erik ten Hag and give the same group of players a chance to redeem themselves after a heavy defeat, or does he shuffle the pack?
We're still waiting to see what the spine of this England team will truly look like come the World Cup. You can start by slotting in Ellis Genge alongside Jamie George, but Sinckler was poor against France.
Ollie Chessum has taken well to Test rugby but we're still waiting to see the real Maro Itoje return to full force. Jack Willis and Lewis Ludlam offer a nice balance in the back-row, but they need a fresh look at No. 8. At No. 9 Jack van Poortvliet struggled against France and some of his decision-making was suspect, so there may be some rotation here with Alex Mitchell making a decent impact from the bench, Harry Randall is playing well for Bristol and Raffi Quirke will be back fit for Sale before the end of the season. Expect evolution over revolution.
"You've got two options when you have a result like this," George said. "You can roll over and throw your toys out the pram, or you can learn why it happened and what you need to do to fix it and that's going to be our prerogative."
4. Lay the foundations
This is one for the future, but the events of Saturday should fast-track this. The basic reality is England are lacking options in the front-row, at No. 8 and are still far too jumbled in the centres.
The lack of depth in the front-row is at the door of the RFU pathway -- it's simply not been good enough. After Sinckler, the next options are either Dan Cole (playing brilliantly but 35 years old), Joe Heyes, Will Collier, or Will Stuart (out with concussion).
Ireland and France are streets ahead here. France were down to their third-choice No. 3 against England and Dorian Aldegheri was hardly out of place. Then look at the hooker spots after George -- Luke Cowan-Dickie is injured and off to France next season so as things stand Borthwick can't pick him after Oct. 31.
The next cabs off the rank are either Jack Walker (28 minutes of Test rugby across three caps) or Tom Dunn (three caps). At No. 8, behind Dombrandt, Billy Vunipola is out of favour under Borthwick and then you have Tom Willis and Mercer in France. It's all far from ideal, and not on Borthwick.
This is a bigger problem from years of poor judgement and decision-making at higher levels. Next year the RFU and Premiership Rugby will sort the new professional game agreement ahead of the 2024-25 season. There has to be far more collaboration and the RFU has to start accepting some accountability. In the short-term, Borthwick bringing in Aled Walters to oversee their strength and conditioning is a key appointment.
England's players can expect to be in for a brutal pre-World Cup training camp.
5. Trust Borthwick
Steve Borthwick is the right man to lead England through this. Though he has got the job sooner than anyone expected (he was favourite to replace Eddie Jones after this year's World Cup), it is hard to doubt that he will find a way to get England through this poor patch and will ensure they're better for it.
But in the short-term, he must find a way to either use the pain as motivation ahead of a tough-looking clash with Ireland, or just draw a line under it, regard it as a freak result and focus on what they did well previously, rather than Saturday's capitulation.
"When you come into a team that has a difficult time and you're trying to bring a team together to try and find a way of playing that works for this team and you know there'll be some tough days," Borthwick said. "Today was an incredibly tough day. What we have to do is with those tough days, you learn from them, and you don't want to ever repeat them."
Borthwick is a meticulous planner, and he cares deeply. Saturday will have hurt him. But he's been here before -- both as a player and coach with Leicester. So the next step will be to regroup, dust off, and go again.
"It isn't panic stations by any means but there need to be some conversations about how we move on from this," George said.
This should be England's Tour of Hell moment. A line in the sand, a reality check and their nadir.
Ireland's Grand Slam run hasn't been plain sailing, and that's ideal
Ireland have learnt to embrace adversity, rather than let it throw them off course. Having lost three forwards to injury in the first half, they then had to contend with Ronan Kelleher picking up an injury which meant flanker Josh van der Flier was throwing in for the entirety of the second half, and when Kelleher eventually succumbed to the injury and was forced off, it was on Cian Healy to prop down at hooker.
This came off the back of already having lost hooker Dan Sheehan, their world-class No. 8 Caelan Doris and rock of a second-row in Iain Henderson to injury in the first half. But still they stuck to their systems, and kept their Grand Slam dreams on track with a commanding 22-7 win.
As all of this was playing out, Andy Farrell didn't look at all stressed in the coaches' box. The four-colour click biro in his hand wasn't on the wrong end of any anxious gripping, but instead it looked like he was loving seeing how his team would manage a tricky situation. They even lost Garry Ringrose late on. These are the sorts of unfortunate eventualities manufactured in training, but nothing counts quite like the thick of a Six Nations Test match.
And Ireland flourished. It's been far from plain sailing for them this Six Nations. They lost Tadhg Furlong and Jamison Gibson-Park before their opening win in Wales and then had Tadhg Beirne ruled out after the France match. But this group has learnt how to deal with setbacks.
"It's such a testament to how mentally strong the lads are, the resolve they have and that the coaches have fortified within us," Ireland back-row Jack Conan said. "To lose both hookers, two world-class players, to lose one of the best back rowers in the world, one of the best second rowers in the world in Iain Henderson in the first 20 minutes. I don't know how many teams can bounce back from that and put on the performance we did."
It's ideal preparation for the World Cup. Ireland are No. 1 in the world and should complete the Grand Slam next weekend in Dublin on St Patrick's Day.
Rhys Webb: The Wales scrum-half was superb against Italy as Warren Gatland's men got a key victory in Rome. Wales went into the game as underdogs -- a sign of the rebuilding job Gatland has, and Italy's progress -- but Webb was a class apart on his first Six Nations start in six years.
"I've been waiting for this opportunity to show people what I can do," Webb said. "It was very emotional. It's obviously been a long time coming. I am buzzing."
Their opening try was fortuitous as the bounce found Rio Dyer, but it's about time something went Gatland's way. Elsewhere the centre partnership of Joe Hawkins and Mason Grady is growing nicely but you can see signs of the team Gatland is looking to build.
Italy's finishing: If there is an award going for the team best at getting themselves in a great attacking position but have an inability to find that final pass, then unfortunately it's heading Italy's way. They have so much potential, but must find a way to be clinical in the red zone.
What to watch out for in the fifth round:
Ireland will be going for their fourth Grand Slam -- third in the Six Nations -- when they host England in Dublin on St Patrick's Day. Before that, Italy travel to Murrayfield to face Scotland and Super Saturday finishes with France taking on Wales in Paris.