Wednesday 21 February 2018

Monday Breakdown: Ireland v England - Five things we learned

Conor Murray of Ireland is pursued by George Ford of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium
Conor Murray of Ireland is pursued by George Ford of England during the RBS Six Nations match between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Ireland v England - Five things we learned

1. Ireland players perfectly execute Schmidt's game plan

Stuart Lancaster spoke last week about how he was expecting Ireland to kick a lot of possession and despite the fact that they did, England still couldn't cope with it.

Inside the opening five minutes, Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray both set to work on executing Joe Schmidt's game plan but the kick chase from their team-mates was outstanding

Andy Farrell (England's defence coach) labelled Ireland's kicking game as "exceptional" and he wasn't far wrong as they were relentless in the pressure that they put on the visitors.

Schmidt has the unquestionable tactical nous but, crucially, he has also got the players to execute it.

2. Tireless Zebo responds to Schmidt's advice

When Simon Zebo was left out of last year's Six Nations squad, one of the major work-ons that he was given by Schmidt was to improve his work rate and the Munster man has responded in spades.

Although there weren't too many opportunities to see Zebo with ball in hand yesterday, the amount of work that he got through off the ball is just as important for his coach.

Ireland's immaculate kick-chasing game was typified by Zebo who has improved immeasurably under Schmidt's tutelage and his chase in the build-up to Robbie Henshaw's try was crucial.

"He's a free-spirited young man who loves the game and he loves to be involved in the game," Schmidt said of Zebo's attitude.

"I thought his kick-off take from the drop-out 22 was an exceptional take in the air. Those are things that you don't see when he doesn't carry the ball but we were eager to get him on the ball."

With Luke Fitzgerald, Keith Earls and Dave Kearney all pushing for a recall, Zebo will take some shifting after starting the last eight Ireland games.

3. Flawless Henshaw announces himself on the big stage

If people outside of Ireland didn't know who Robbie Henshaw was before yesterday, then they certainly do now.

It's worth reminding that just three years ago, the 21-year-old was winning a schools senior cup with Marist College and now he is a central part of Schmidt's master plan.

Henshaw took his try superbly well but it was his all-round game that most caught the eye. Having run off a first-half ankle injury, the centre's defence was excellent all afternoon.

He was Ireland's joint highest tackler (13) which added to the 11 he made against Italy and the 15 against France.

He is one of the most fascinating players to watch live and a deserved man of the match award will have done wonders for his confidence.

We have yet to see the best of Henshaw as an attacking threat but rest assured, we will.

4. Ireland's squad depth comes to the fore again

Already without Jamie Heaslip, when two more of Ireland's key figures in Sean O'Brien and Sexton were forced off prematurely with injury, the squad once again proved capable.

Jordi Murphy slotted seamlessly in at number eight and put in an excellent shift while Tommy O'Donnell was again hugely effective off the bench.

When you have the likes Cian Healy, Iain Henderson and O'Donnell in reserve, you get an indication of Ireland's rude health.

Schmidt's major concern from now until the World Cup will be that the majority of them stay fit.

5. England's woeful discipline proves costly

There's plenty to admire about England under Lancaster but yesterday's performance was littered with atrocious penalty concessions that repeatedly swung the momentum back in Ireland's favour.

It did improve in the second half but during the first, the likes of Billy Vunipola and the highly rated Jonathan Joseph were utterly anonymous.

They are still a very dangerous side but if England have any hopes of mounting a World Cup challenge on home soil, their discipline must improve.

What they said

Joe Schmidt (Ireland coach): “We showed a lot of character in the last quarter when they came at us in swarms. I think the players can be really proud of the effort and the structure that they maintained throughout that period.”

Stuart Lancaster (England coach): “With Ireland playing a very effective kicking and territory based game, if you are ill disciplined they can build a score. They managed the game well and deserved the win. The late surge showed what we can do when we have the ball and territory.”

Ref Link

“Don’t cloud the mark, please.” - The England front-row try to steal a march at the first scrum but Joubert isn’t having any of it.

“That was the first time I felt there was leaning in and not stability. Get your comfortable gap and a nice, clean engage.” - The front-rows are given their first warning at scrum time.

“He has to go off for a ding dong test.” - Joubert’s unique description of Jared Payne’s need for a HIA test.

“Not now, Rory, sorry, do you mind?” - Joubert can’t deal with Best’s issue as his microphone is fixed.

“I was more than happy with the initial steal but then you stayed on your back and didn’t release it.” - Jordi Murphy’s penalty concession is clearly explained to him.

Numbers Game

39 - The number of tackles Robbie Henshaw has now tallied in his first three Six Nations games. He was Ireland's joint highest tackler yesterday (13).

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