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Tony Ward: Reality check as England expose lack of creativity

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Luther Burrell of England tackles Rory Best of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium

Luther Burrell of England tackles Rory Best of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium

Cian Healy takes the ball into contact against Dylan Hartley and Joe Launchbury

Cian Healy takes the ball into contact against Dylan Hartley and Joe Launchbury

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Luther Burrell of England tackles Rory Best of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium

To describe this as an epic would be stretching it but certainly as low-scoring, defence-dominated games go, Saturday's Anglo-Irish head-to-head was right up there. We got nothing we didn't expect as both teams sought to snuff out the other, beginning at the breakdown.

In the end the team playing the more pragmatic, lower-risk rugby won out and deservedly so. Yes of course Ireland could have won. In any game with just the kick of a ball in it at the death, the result could have gone either way.

Stuart Lancaster's new-look team is learning as it goes. The context of this win and the manner of it will do wonders as the host nation builds towards World Cup 2015.

England are no world beaters but they know their limitations and work within them. Their head coach exudes honesty and that is already the trademark of his quick-learning squad.

Given the fact they gave up eight, possibly 10, points in the opening half, found themselves trailing by seven soon after the restart, they showed huge resilience to eke out a character-forming victory.

MOMENTUM

So there will be no Grand Slam or Triple Crown as Brian O'Driscoll's extraordinary career enters the home straight. In the final analysis, the better defence playing the more error-free rugby prevailed.

It is still debatable whether they are a better team than us at this point in time but on Saturday's evidence, particularly that 'all hands to the pumps' in the final quarter, there can be few complaints at the outcome from anyone on this side of the Irish Sea.

Joe Schmidt will have learnt some valuable lessons about himself and his team. Chief in that respect is that what works so effectively for Leinster in Pro12 and Heineken Cup is a lot more difficult to replicate when moving up a level.

The provincial blueprint of holding on to possession, building phase upon phase before working the inevitable line-break doesn't quite follow as a matter of course in the Test arena.

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The principle is the same but the execution anything but. We struggled with our tactical kicking – even the nerveless Johnny Sexton was guilty of poor club selection and equally poor execution in a particularly frustrating last quarter.

We missed tackles, kicked indifferently and never really threatened another try-scoring line-break beyond Rob Kearney's well-taken early second-half effort.

We missed Sean O'Brien badly, as we knew we would. Every player gave his all but collectively the English juggernaut was stronger and in Danny Care and Mike Brown they possessed the two best backs, while second-row Joe Launchbury played like a third flanker. He was a man possessed. His work at the breakdown was exceptional.

We wondered which of two extremely well-organised sides could suffocate the other more effectively, and on this occasion for sure the final scoreline fully reflects that key aspect.

The English plan of action might not be all that aesthetic but then we are not exactly overly easy on the eye ourselves in terms of stretching opposition defences. So when a side is as well drilled as this developing English one, the creativity problems are magnified.

We are still an extremely competent side, well capable of winning our last two games (including France in Paris) and closing this competition out.

A Championship-winning performance on the last day in Paris, were that to materialise, would see our most iconic player's career go full circle since that never-to-be-forgotten hat-trick of tries in 2000.

We haven't become a lesser side because of Saturday's defeat but we have been hit by a dose of reality.

Triple Crowns, never mind Championships or Grand Slams, are extremely hard to come by. We have been spoilt by this generation in that key respect, but twice now since 2010 we have seen Triple Crown opportunities slip out of our grasp.

We still have it all to play for. We have won just one Six Nations title since the Italians joined the party in 2000 – England, France and Wales have amassed the other 13 titles between them.

Schmidt set his maiden pre-tournament objective as a top-two finish. He is still on course for that and perhaps even one place better still.

But for now we have to accept that we were beaten by the better team playing the more effective, tailored brand of limited rugby much more efficiently.

What we need is a clinical Italian job next up and then start thinking about the trip to Paris.


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