Ireland simply did not have enough to unlock the English defensive wall and their pressure forced mistakes. Ireland 20-32 England.
Ireland started slowly, hit by surprise, perhaps, by the ferocity off the line by the England players. They were stretched and battered and a slight mistake by Keith Earls, rushing out of the line, opened up space for England to get in at the corner.
They had come to do a smash and grab in fortress Aviva, but the visitors looked the most comfortable in the opening quarter, almost as if they were playing in their own backyard.
England smashed us in every tackle, hit us marginally late, and targeted the Earls and Henshaw with excellent kicks that made it hard for Ireland to get any momentum.
We found it impossible to make ground by carrying the ball. The statistics show an incredible amount of tackles by both sides, but Ireland were playing a slipping, sliding game and were stuck in their own half for much of the game, pinned there by a wall of white and devastating kicks.
We got back into the game, but it was more through England’s indiscipline than any guile or skill on our part. There was one yellow card for a late, high hit. As Best pointed out to referee Garces, there could have been another only a few minutes later when Earls was hit again. It was as if the English were so pumped up for this game, so psychologically ready, that they could barely manage to keep their play within the limits of the rules.
So Ireland got on the scoreboard with a penalty. Penalties allowed us to kick our way into their half and then, in a kickable position, we won another. This time Best and Sexton decided to go to the corner.
It was probably the best of Ireland’s set pieces all night. The maul was set up quickly and edged to the line. Within a couple of pick and goes, Cian Healy got his hands on it and barrelled over the line.
Ireland were in front. We started to think that maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad day after all. We were wrong.
Restarts are key in rugby, especially at international level. There is simply no excuse for not dealing with them. Ireland did not deal with the restart immediately after scoring, and it just piled pressure on us, keeping us pinned in our own twenty-two. Henshaw is being kicked at into both left and right corners. His clearance off the left boot slices, barely making any ground.
Their second try came from another mistake, one engineered out of resolute pressure; Stockdale could not deal with a clever, bouncing grubber kick that seems to move into the path of the Elliot Daly for a score.
Ireland’s defence was really tested in the closing minutes of the game. Mako Vunipola came within a whisker of scoring a try, but the TMO deemed him to have made a double movement in placing the ball. A let off for Ireland who might find solace in the fact that they were only seven points down, 10-17, against a superior team.
The second half was harder to watch. Ireland were kept prisoner in their own half. Every rush at the English line was repelled, every kick sent back with interest, and when they got the ball they looked like they could make meters with every carry.
England slowly squeezed the life out of the Irish. While the statistics show that they missed almost thirty tackles, when you look at the total tackle count, two hundred and nine, it makes it look like Ireland were running up against a brick wall all night.
We edged closer with a penalty, but England were not letting us out of our half. Every time they kicked into our backfield it looked dangerous. But the deadlock held for the first fifteen minutes of the second half before a break down the left touchline let England in for a try.
Was the pass forward to May forward? Was Slade in front of the kicker, May? Perhaps the latter, but it was inconclusive from the angle shown by the TMO.
I feel that last year this try might have been overruled. That was when the TMO had more power, he had the last word on the decision. With referees being encouraged to make on-field decisions the TMO is less important, has less of a voice. Either way it was given as a try. If Ireland had scored it, I think that we would have argued that there was nothing wrong.
England were denied a try against New Zealand in November in similar enough circumstances, a TMO and referee decision that cost England the game. I prefer it when benefit of the doubt is given to the attacking team so I have no problem with this, more the way in which Garces dismissed the potential forward pass.
On review after the game, the pass looked fine. The hands moved backwards and it was only forward momentum that allowed the ball to cross the half-way line before getting to May. Good score for England and Ireland were now looking wobbly.
England looked comfortable, and probably would have been happy with their three try haul, but things were about to get silly.
The first was Johnny Sexton’s madness to give away a penalty. He made a great tackle, looked like he was rolling to his own side, but for some reason stuck his hand out to hook the ball over to Ireland’s side of the ruck. Totally illegal, totally obvious, total madness. Farrell made no mistake.
At 13-25 down things were getting desperate, especially with only ten minutes left on the clock. That’s enough for a couple of tries I thought. How right I was!
Slade’s intercept try was created by England‘s constant pressure on the Irish. Even with our substitutes, the two Seans, Cronin and O’Brien, making some nice carries, we did not seem to be making any progress.
Slade timed his dash out of the line brilliantly to get his hands on the ball, juggling it before putting it down. Game over.
All that was left was for some consolation. Sean Cronin made a break in midfield, a rare thing, and offloaded to Cooney for a try. The game was lost but a losing bonus point was up for grabs so Johnny Sexton took the conversion as a drop goal.
The nightmare continued, however, as we once again were stuck in our own half. England put us out of our misery by running the ball into touch.
France showed that they are dangerous but ultimately stupid. A wild pass when they were two points up and deep in Welsh territory handed an intercept try to North. It ended France 19-24 Wales.
Scotland ran rampant against Italy, who got some late scores to put a gloss on the result. It was interesting that the game ended with them chasing a double bonus point; Scotland had taken their foot off the accelerator. Scotland 33-20 Italy.