Wednesday 28 June 2017

Neil Francis: This result will tell you that Eddie Jones doesn't s**t Maltesers

England coach Eddie Jones
England coach Eddie Jones
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

If you were looking for thrills yesterday you would not have had to travel all the way to Blueberry Hill. A riveting contest, raw and belligerent and for the first time in a long time a crowd adjoined in belief in their team.

Ireland seamlessly transformed from a team of clumsy also-rans in Cardiff to a team where self-doubt never crept into their thoughts. Ireland were proficient, professional and persistent, and if ever a championship told you anything for 2017 it is that it is bloody difficult to win away from home.

No ambush so - Ireland played close to their ability and they did not have to bring a huge amount of kryptonite with them. England are by no means supermen and some of their weaknesses and failings were ruthlessly exposed by Ireland. In the post-match interview in Cardiff, Joe Schmidt had a face filled with broken commandments - how could his team, literally all of them, play that badly particularly when the game was there to be won. No tries and enough mistakes to get all your numbers for Saturday's lottery. England now know how it feels to be held try-less. I am not sure how long it has been since that happened.

The big fix for Ireland was how to tweak their defence system and they managed this yesterday with a convincing performance on the line. England too showed great conviction in stopping Ireland. Conditions were such that you could play an expansive brand of the game but we got an idea that England, despite eviscerating Scotland a week ago, are not quite the team they think they are offensively and when the pressure came on their skills broke down under that concerted effort.

The notion of Twickenham heroes is fully expounded when they have to go away from home and do what they do at Twickenham. Jonathan Joseph looked like a shop front mannequin for most of the game and he may or may not start for the Lions in June but there is a feeling out there that he is the most over-rated player since Judas Iscariot won the AD31 Best Disciple of the Year. England's backs could not be released yesterday - not even on parole.

What was the master plan? It was simple - Ireland had to do what they did in Chicago - hold on to the ball and this is what they did to such an extent that they had 75 per cent possession in the first half. England barely got a look in.

Familiarity and the video-editing booth are creativities enemy when it comes to expressing yourself on the paddock - England knew exactly how and when Ireland were either going to wrap or play their deep passing behind the line and they read it every time Ireland tried to execute. They were also wise to our trailing runners and pretty much had the 'no look' pass covered.

But Ireland had learned from Cardiff and their system of using one-out runners was consigned to the bed and Ireland got two or three every time someone went around the corner but this was met by some pretty stiff and composed English resistance 10 metres either side of the breakdown.

Every time Ireland needed to get across the gain line they managed to do it more out of desperation and doggedness than intuition and skill, and one of the things that they managed to do far more ruthlessly than in Cardiff was clear out any strays. Ireland had a breakdown that was hermetically sealed and Marmion, who had an excellent game, was able to do what he was told to do. Last week in Cardiff Conor Murray needed a St Bernard to find the ball at ruck time with Warburton and Tipuric consistently killing any half decent ball.

Yet again the match was played with an intimidating ferocity. England played right up to the hilt of the letter of the law. It is amazing how or why we don't get to intimidate George Ford.

Simon Zebo is tackled by Ben Youngs. Photo: John Dickson
Simon Zebo is tackled by Ben Youngs. Photo: John Dickson

Johnny Sexton once again was targeted by the English and he was hit after the ball was passed at least half-a-dozen times. Some of the hits were blindsides and some of them were high but legally high. You have to give it to Grumpy, he doesn't like it but he takes it and comes on stronger.

His passing yesterday was sublime and some of his feeds were timed at 100 miles per hour. It wasn't enough to discommode England but Ireland retained the ball and made England make their tackles. I thought the changes in personnel freshened things up and if the thought persists that Ireland played better as a team with O'Mahony in the side, well that notion gained traction yesterday. O'Mahony was simply immense and they just shaded the back-row battle yesterday. Haskell was the best of the English - his dogged and highly combative attitude caused Ireland difficulties in the mince and grind of the tackle zone.

Half-time would be interesting and England would have to do most of the thinking even though the deficit was 10-3, which would not exactly be insurmountable for a team of this talent. Jones instructed Ben Youngs to kick an awful lot more and for England to press. Ireland beat them in the game of kick-chase and Payne, after a tricky start where he knocked on some ball, had an assured game and his influence became more pronounced the further the game went on.

If ever there was evidence of Schmidt's system being a patent that all the players adhere to, it was yesterday. I must congratulate Andrew Conway, Luke McGrath and Dan Leavy on their performances in the second half in a match of such magnitude. To have such inexperienced players settle in like pieces of a jigsaw tells you something about the quality of our coach.

For Eddie Jones, he got found out tactically and this result will tell you that the English coach doesn't shit Maltesers. England's true worth will come about when they have played New Zealand. As for Ireland, it was a very enjoyable 80 minutes but you find at the end of the season that the only pain in rugby is regret. This team are too good to be showcasing their talents as party poopers. An excellent performance and second place will not be consolation to a team whose ambition and aspirations rank far higher than what they achieved yesterday. Congratulations to all.

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