This one is all about the numbers. Before Brexit, all the Brexit supporters said they could save £350m per week and invest it in the NHS instead of giving it to the EU. Last week, after heroic efforts in Covid times in the NHS, the nurses got a pay rise of £3.50 per week. Some reward.
A few weeks ago, exports from the UK to the EU post-Brexithad dropped by 68 per cent. Painful figures.
Not quite as painful as the figures we see on the final day of the championship for England. It has been a long time since they have lost to Ireland, Wales and Scotland in one season.
Andy Farrell had said that this was a test of character after early losses to Wales and France. It has been a pretty decent recovery to some ordinary performances. That, however, can be dealt with at a later stage. The truth is that champions get it right from the start and quite often ride that wave of emotion and momentum from winning first-up games.
Ireland were pretty smart in terms of how to take on England. They negated their power game, not that England had arrived with anything remotely resembling anything of the sort as they trotted out onto the field at the Aviva yesterday. Ireland more than shaded every physical encounter and I don’t think I have seen a better scrummaging performance against a supposedly powerful England side. There were only 10 scrums in the entire game but Ireland were able to pick their moment to get the power on and fully expose England.
These sides know each other very well and you could see some of the little nuances brought to try and counter obvious strengths. The problem is, sometimes, that they can neutralise each other out of the game and turn it into a stalemate, but both sides had a number of tricks up their sleeves and one where the English video analyst, if he had been a little bit more diligent, would have spotted something straight away. That is why the lineout was such an area of surprise yesterday.
Simon Easterby was interviewed in the build-up and in the background you could see Ireland practicing the move that led to their first try. If England had been watching what Ireland were doing in the warm-up they might have figured out how to stop it. When I saw it myself I thought, “don’t try that lads”, they’re the sort of moves that work one time out of 100, but it was brilliantly conceived and while Jack Conan would never be relied upon to be a front-of-house jumper, he did spectacularly well on this trick play. There is no substitute for anybody who has the volition and athleticism to be able to time a jump on the 15-metre line and to get up there without two lifters. The timing in this is absolutely crucial. Conan got to the height of his jump and beat Curry, who was out of his league, when the ball was in the air.
Timing, as I have just said, is crucial and the other player involved in this move timed his intervention to perfection. It was easier for Keith Earls to mistime or over run his move into the spot where the ball was being tapped down. If he had, then he would have had to have checked and so be caught by one of the English players coming back around. Once he made the line break, Earls stepped smartly and decisively outside Johnny May and scored a brilliantly conceived try that was simplicity itself. It caught England flat and cold.
England had, for the most part, anticipated what Ireland would do on opposition ball at lineout time. The strategy is taken straight out of Munster’s playbook, where they get their two jumpers into the air quickly and as high as they can and move that player across the line to give the English no space in the air either. Then your middle-of-the-line jumper has to jump blind because there is somebody up in front of him, and this can be unsettling. England threw a couple of times to the front of the line out, principally to Itoje, who didn’t even bother to jump. It was like a pass and the ball was out and gone while Ireland had all of their Luke Skywalkers in the air.
Defensively, Ireland were very good. You can say that this English pack put in an anaemic performance but that wouldn’t do justice to Ireland’s line speed and their intelligence to figure out where the ball was going. Ireland, with Robbie Henshaw leading the way, cut England off at source. England’s main problem, that of getting over the gain line and giving millisecond service of the ball for Ben Youngs, didn’t happen often enough or on a concerted basis. Their main agent of the gain line, Billy Vunipola, looked like he had spent a lot of the season in Dunkin’ Donuts. While his fitness has improved from his first showing against Scotland, he is a long way short of the player he was in the past. His brother Mako wasn’t as industrious as he often is in the trenches, and if you were looking for a barometer of how this English pack performed, then you didn’t have to look beyond the South Sea Islanders.
The game wasn’t done when Bundee Aki dropped his shoulder into Billy Vunipola’s chin. The purpose of these red cards is to act as a deterrent more than as a punishment and so experienced players just learn, even in split-second contact, that you can’t go high. England scored in the corner through Ben Youngs but Daly’s conversion sailed wide and England’s appetite for the chase lacked real conviction.
Ireland’s try through Conan in the 36th minute was the best try that they have scored in two seasons. With Conan involved three times in the move and everybody working in concert and knowing exactly and precisely what to do at the right time. There was also some tremendous individual skill from Hugo Keenan, Tadhg Furlong and Jacob Stockdale in the lead up. It is a matter of regret that we had to wait for a dead rubber before Ireland could produce convincing rugby of that nature.
Andy Farrell, in the end, did a decent job but still may need to tinker with his coaching team in the off-season. Eddie Jones may not have that luxury and the odds against him retaining his job after this performance will have lengthened considerably.
Funny old game.
PS: Ellis Genge should get a ban for his elbow work in Johnny Sexton’s face.