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Old problems laid bare as Ireland fail to live with raw power

Cian Tracey


George Ford scores England’s first try after a mistake by Ireland skipper Jonathan Sexton. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

George Ford scores England’s first try after a mistake by Ireland skipper Jonathan Sexton. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile


George Ford scores England’s first try after a mistake by Ireland skipper Jonathan Sexton. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It wasn't so much the defeat itself, but rather the manner of it, particularly because we have seen it all before.

The man in the street could have told you that England would play exactly as they did, yet it is one thing recognising their physical threat, withstanding it is an entirely different proposition.


Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile


Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

When Courtney Lawes arrived at Saturday's press conference with his black and blue eye swollen shut, it felt like a premonition for what was to come the following day. And so it proved.

Having been on the end of two thumpings from England last year, it was difficult to see if Ireland had learned any lessons at all.

We didn't learn anything from yesterday's latest defeat that we didn't already know - Ireland struggle to live with the most powerful teams in the world.

The biggest challenge now facing Andy Farrell is to devise a smart game-plan that is not only able to live with that kind of ferocity, but one that can beat the best teams.

The All Blacks did the same thing in the World Cup quarter-final as they cranked up the physicality, safe in the knowledge that if they hit their peak, they would blow Ireland away.

It's an uncomfortable truth, but the fact is, after scaling new heights in 2018, Ireland have lost their fear factor.

That doesn't mean they have suddenly become a bad team, yet at times, watching what England did to them in Twickenham yesterday, felt like they were operating at a very, very different level.

Don't let the 12-point margin fool anyone because the scoreline definitely flattered Ireland, who accounted for seven of their points in the last play of the game after England had already turned their attention to what is coming down the line.

You can't legislate for the kind of mistakes that Johnny Sexton and Jacob Stockdale made, but they were indicative of the muddled thinking that was a feature of the whole game.

Time and time again, Ireland made sloppy errors which punctured what little momentum they threatened to build up.

That was as much down to England's pressure as Eddie Jones' men forced Ireland into making countless poor decisions.

Having spent the last four years in the set-up, Farrell won't be naive enough to think that these problems have just suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

The head coach will have been encouraged by the impact that his bench made, but even at that, it is difficult to read too much into it as the game was as good as over.

As Jones quipped afterwards, if this had been a cricket match, his side would have 'declared' at half-time, so from that end, Farrell can be pleased that his team didn't throw in the towel as they will still go to Paris with a Six Nations title to play for.

"I asked the players at half time about having some proper belief," Farrell said.

"You get to be at your best when you're rolling forward, you're winning collisions, etc. We came off second-best really for large periods of that first half.


"I wouldn't say (we were) off the pace. I think they started pretty well. No excuses though because they started pretty well against us before and we should have been ready for that.

"When you say off the pace, I suppose the opposition have got something to do with that. When you're rolling forward pretty well at the start of the match, certainly for the first 10 minutes, then things start to go your way really."

And that is one of the most jarring aspects of the defeat. England have made a habit of starting fast. Both of their wins over Ireland last year came off the back of flying out of the traps, while they also dismantled New Zealand in Japan by doing the same.

Ireland still managed to somehow look shell-shocked and perhaps the most telling stat of all was that England made 32 dominant tackles compared to Ireland's paltry eight.

Something has to change between now and the game in Paris because if it doesn't, France will know that if they are at their physical peak, Ireland will struggle to contain them.

"We were coming here to try and win a Triple Crown and they were trying to fight to stay in the Championship," Farrell continued.

"For one reason or another - we can try and assess all the bits, all the technicalities and ramifications of accumulative errors, etc, etc, or refereeing decisions or whatever - but the reality is that they came out the blocks hard, got on the front foot and we took a few sucker punches from them.

"And it's up to myself for that, you know, were they up for it more? And us going for a Triple Crown? That's my responsibility to make sure that shouldn't happen. So I've got to look at myself first and foremost."

Farrell will almost certainly make changes for the Italy game in a fortnight and perhaps an injection of fresh faces is exactly what is needed.

That won't mask the bigger problem at play here, which is that right now, Ireland are falling further behind the heavyweights of what is becoming an increasingly physical sport.

When you look at how South Africa won the World Cup, it is now increasingly imperative that Ireland think outside the box in order to counteract the game's behemoths.

They have the tools to do so, yet it is concerning that England didn't just beat them up, but turned Ireland's strengths into weaknesses.

The review will make for grim viewing, particularly as to why Ireland lost the aerial battle so easily and also why the scrum was marched backwards at an alarming rate.

"The first couple of high balls that went up at the start of the game they had easy access to get straight through and they got some momentum from the back of that," Farrell added.

"You've got to deal with these type of things that don't go your way.

"The reasons we want the learnings and to make sure that type of first half doesn't happen again is to make sure that we're still in with a chance to win the competition - that's the reality.

"We dust ourselves down, don't feel too sorry for ourselves for too long and look at the reality of stuff.

"We'll see what we can do against Italy. If we can perform well, then who knows? We'll see if we can take it to the last weekend. We're still in a competition."

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