Friday 22 February 2019

Ireland crash back to earth with a bang as Schmidt's men out-muscled and out-classed by rampant England

Ireland 20 England 32

Conor Murray, left, and Bundee Aki of Ireland following defeat to England
Conor Murray, left, and Bundee Aki of Ireland following defeat to England
Jonathan Sexton of Ireland is tackled by Owen Farrell, left, and Elliot Daly of England
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Welcome back to earth, Irish rugby. This was no soft exit from the Grand Slam race, this was as hard as they come.

After the year that was, the first game of 2019 was a humiliating reality check as England came to Dublin with a superior game-plan and made the team that beat the All Blacks look very ordinary indeed.

This was a victory that will satisfy Eddie Jones and infuriate Joe Schmidt in equal measure. Ireland simply failed to land a blow.

England went after the defending champions' strengths and made them their own. They peppered the back-field with clever kicks and pulled Robbie Henshaw hither and tither, while they dominated the collision zone and made every tackle count.

It was utterly comprehensive.

England's game-plan meant Ireland were forced to play behind the gainline and kick their ball away. With Conor Murray enduring a rare off-day, it meant their normal accuracy levels were way off and they couldn't adapt.

To lose at home without a bonus point means their title defence is already in big trouble and narrows their margin for error as they head to Edinburgh next weekend. Schmidt will demand a response.

Before the game, England talked about starting fast, but nobody expected them to come out of the traps quite like this.

Tom Curry, centre, of England is shown a yellow card by referee Jérôme Garcès
Tom Curry, centre, of England is shown a yellow card by referee Jérôme Garcès

After Murray cleared Ireland's lines from the kick-off, they assembled quickly for the lineout and pulled off a neat over-throw to the onrushing Manu Tuilagi who put them on the front-foot.

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A series of breath-takingly quick recycles later and Owen Farrell's cut out pass took Keith Earls out of the game, Elliot Daly drew Robbie Henshaw and put Jonny May over in the corner.

Farrell converted and then tested Henshaw's aerial prowess. The Ireland full-back came off second-best.

England's poor discipline got the home side into the game. After Tom Curry gave away a breakdown penalty and May kicked out on the full, Kyle Sinckler didn't roll away after a tackle. Johnny Sexton punished the error by kicking the three points.

Curry undid the good start when he levelled Earls with a late hit and was sent to the sin-bin but Ireland couldn't make their advantage count as their handling let them down.

Again, England's poor discipline cost them territory when Maro Itoje needlessly led knee-first into the airborne Earls but again Ireland struggled to win the gain-line as the game took on a helter-skelter pattern before Billy Vunipola played the ball in an offside position.

As Curry returned, Rory Best told Sexton to kick to the corner and, while the initial maul didn't quite get there, Cian Healy picked and forced his way through Curry's grasp to score.

Jonny May of England celebrates after scoring his side's first try
Jonny May of England celebrates after scoring his side's first try

Sexton nailed the difficult conversion, but England pinned Ireland back from the kick-out and after a couple of kicks in behind they got a break when Henshaw's left-footed clearance skewed into touch just outside the '22.

And another chip in behind, this time from Daly, got the men in white back in front as Jack Nowell forced Jacob Stockdale to spill the ball on the goal-line and the full-back pounced to punish the error.

Farrell added the extras and his side went in search of more before half-time as they continued to test Henshaw who did well to cover a stabbed through ball and stay alive.

Billy Vunipola returned Murray's box-kick with interest, but eventually the danger came to nothing as Earls forced Nowell into touch.

All they needed to do was nail the lineout, but Best's throw was crooked and Farrell went for a scrum.

Although Mako Vunipola's try was chalked off for a double-movement, referee Jerome Garces was playing advantage for an Irish offside and Farrell sent the kick over to make it 17-10 at the break.

The second-half began ominously for Ireland, but a superb Garry Ringrose tackle on Farrell dislodged the ball and when Slade knocked on on the edge of his own '22 the home side had a chance.

Stander carried from the scrum and for the first time Ireland generated front-foot ball, with Tadhg Furlong to the fore. Sinckler went high Ringrose and Sexton narrowed the gap.

It was a double-blow for England who lost Itoje to injury just minutes after bringing on their second-row replacement Courtney Lawes for George Kruis which meant a strange looking pack for the final 25 minutes.

Ireland lost Devin Toner within minutes which reduced the advantage.

Farrell missed a kickable penalty but it wasn't to matter as England created a superb score to win the game, with Slade moving the ball wide to May who kicked in behind and Slade out-paced Ringrose to the ball to score.

The Aviva Stadium crowd and Ireland captain Best wanted Garces to look for a forward pass but the referee wasn't interested.

Farrell missed his conversion, but the hosts were in a nine point hole with 13 minutes on the clock.

That soon became a 12 point deficit as Farrell nailed a long-range penalty after Ringrose held on to the ball on the deck.

And the rout was completed when Ireland, trying to play their way out from their own goal-line, were inevitably caught. Slade read Sexton like a book and held his pass brilliantly to scramble over.

Farrell kicked his conversion and despite John Cooney's late try and Sexton's conversion, the game finished with England's biggest win in Dublin since 2003.

IRELAND – R Henshaw; K Earls (J Larmour h-t), G Ringrose (J Carbery 73); B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray (J Cooney 77); C Healy (D Kilcoyne 62), R Best (Capt) (S Cronin 67), T Furlong (A Porter 62); D Toner (Q Roux 57), J Ryan; P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander (S O'Brien 65).

ENGLAND – E Daly; J May, H Slade, M Tuilagi(G Ford 77), J Nowell (C Ashton 74); O Farrell, (Capt) B Youngs; M Vunipola (E Genge 77), J George (L Cowan-Dickie 78), K Sinckler (H Williams 65); M Itoje (N Hughes 54), G Kruis (C Lawes 53); M Wilson, T Curry, B Vunipola.

Ref – J Garces (France)

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