England came to Dublin with great expectations but like 2011 they could quite make it over the line to win a back-to-back Grand Slam and 19 consecutive wins
In a nutshell
In a dank, overcast Dublin, Ireland and England served up a blood and thunder affair that should should see decent chunks from both squads heading to New Zealand in the summer but it was the intensity and sheer grit of Joe Schmidt’s men that saw them home. Ireland dominated the early exchanges, with Johnny Sexton opening the scoring before Owen Farrell levelled the scores. The game’s pivotal moment came in the second quarter when Ireland opted to go for the corner.
From the resulting lineout, Ireland drove into the heart of the defence and as a maul formed, Henderson thrust his 19st frame through the gap to put a meaty paw out and touch down. After the break, a nerveless penalty from a tricky angle from Sexton gave Ireland a seven-point cushion, and despite Farrell reducing the lead to four points with 13 minutes to go, England couldn’t prise open an obdurate Ireland defence to fashion another late, late win.
Sexton leading the way
If there were any doubts about Johnny Sexton’s resolve and gumption for the fight, they were dispelled today. He has to be odds on to be the Lions pivot. The Leinster No 10 controls and mixes up the game with a sophistication that few of his peers can match; whether it’s lofting balls skywards to test England defenders in the wind, probing defences with cute dinks over the top, or defending with a relish that leaves Joe Schmidt wincing, every sinew of his body is geared towards helping Ireland win. On 62 minutes, a hushed Aviva watched him stroking over a nervless penalty from 40metres to cap an masterful performance.
Ireland’s changes improve the team
Ireland were lacklustre against Scotland and underpowered against Wales, yet two enforced injury changes seemed to give Ireland a better balance. In the backrow, with Jamie Heaslip’s withdrawal from a hamstring strain, Peter O’Mahony slotted in and put in a performance of barely concealed aggression. It will give Schmidt pause for thought about the future make-up of his back row. Will a O’Mahony, Stander and O’Brien axis lead them to Japan? In the backs, apart from the lively Marmion, the other big change was the injured Rob Kearney being replaced by Jared Payne. Payne’s best position has long been said to be full-back. The adopted Ulsterman gave a masterclass in evasive, silky running, sound footballing skills and sound positioning which meant he couldn’t have been far from the MOTM.
England losing may not be such a bad thing
It may sound strange, but England’s loss may just about the best thing to happen to Eddie Jones’ men. With 18 wins under their belt, there was a danger that expectations were running faster than England’s team development. Jones knew with every ‘W’ a loss was closer. With a second successive Six Nations tucked away in Twickenham’s trophy cabinet, he now has time to assess what squad changes really need to be made to continue his quest towards World Cup glory. He has to decide whether the ageing Dylan Hartley, Mike Brown and James Haskell are sterling stop-gaps, or longer-term options to take England to 2019.
Bully boy tactics from England
It didn’t take long to figure out one of England’s darker tactic of recent years. Within minutes, England’s young enforcer Maro Itoje manhandled Johnny Sexton into the turf when the ball had gone. Later in the first half it was the red scrumcap of Haskell that could be pinpointed going through Sexton, who needed treatment at several points during the game, and for good measure, Tom Wood was seen dishing out some of the same punishment in the second-half. As Joe Schmidt later pointed out, it showed England were frustrated they couldn’t assert their dominance on the game.
Ireland show the rest how to nullify England
Make no mistake, this was a deserved Ireland win. There was no rancour after the final whistle about being robbed of a victory. Ireland dominated the first half and thoroughly upset England’s rhythm. By starving England of territory and possession they stopped their rapier-sharp outside backs from making inroads; as witnessed by Watson’s dropped pass in space. Eddie Jones has long argued that England don’t yet possess enough leaders, save for Hartley, who is usually hooked after 50 minutes, and Farrell and it showed in Dublin. How they missed Chris Robshaw to drag them over the line.
Ireland: Jared Payne; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Simon Zebo; Johnny Sexton, Kieran Marmion; Jack McGrath, Rory Best (captain), Furlong; Donnacha Ryan, Iain Henderson; CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: Niall Scannell, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Devin Toner, Peter O’Mahony, Luke McGrath, Paddy Jackson, Andrew Conway
England: Mike Brown; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley (captain), Dan Cole; Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes; Maro Itoje, James Haskell, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Tom Wood, Nathan Hughes, Danny Care, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell
Tries: Iain Henderson
Cons: Johnny Sexton
Pens: Johnny Sexton (2)
Pens: Owen Farrell (3)
Ireland ran 319 metres to England’s 214
Ireland beat 14 defenders to England 9
Ireland made 99 of their 108 tackles (92%), England made 138 or their 153 (90%)
Jared Payne carried furthest with 100m. Second was Mike Brown on 67m and third was Keith Earls on 47m
The game’s top tackler was Courtney Lawes on 20, followed by Joe Lauchbury on 17 and Maro Itoje on 15. Ireland’s top tackler was Peter O’Mahony on 13