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Ireland's deeply dispiriting display at Twickenham led to the biggest 12-point tonking I've seen in quite a while

Neil Francis


Going wrong: Johnny Sexton shows his frustration in the defeat at Twickenham

Going wrong: Johnny Sexton shows his frustration in the defeat at Twickenham

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Going wrong: Johnny Sexton shows his frustration in the defeat at Twickenham

What have we learned from Twickenham? Well, the first message we got is that scoreboards do indeed lie. That was the biggest 12-point tonking I've seen in quite a while - a deeply dispiriting performance. We knew after five minutes that this was a forlorn hope.

Ireland didn't turn up, they didn't land a punch and their body language all over the park told you that they simply weren't up for this game.

A barely competent rearguard and a bit of fight from several individuals kept the score down. England, as is their wont over the last season or two, were unable to sustain their effort and mentally you could see that they had taken their foot off the accelerator from the 50th minute.

The wind also favoured Ireland a little bit in the second. Beating our Celtic neighbours and doing a satisfactory preparation in the lead-up to the game just isn't enough for this admittedly tough assignment. You have to be primed to beat England at Twickenham.

Home advantage is such a crucial element in winning Test matches and Twickenham is the ultimate. If you take into consideration the power game that England play, that usually is enough to see off most sides. England were far from being perfect, yet it was enough.

When you play with a heavy press in the power game, it can be very difficult to find answers and particularly in real time and on the hoof. England without the ball had their job made very easy by Ireland's lack of dynamism, their slavish obsession to one out runners and the inconsistency of the time the ball came out of the ruck allied to the amount of time they took the ball static.

The experts will say that you have to attack space but when there is none what do you do? Again, most of these experts have never had to deal with a consistently aggressive line speed which caught Ireland many metres behind the gain line.

So when things go your way in the physical exchanges at Twickenham the advantages are obvious. England most of the time had only one man in the ruck, usually the tackler; it meant that their defensive line was stacked and rarely troubled and on occasion they had the luxury of having four men on the back field, the back three in their normal positions and either Ford or Farrell floating in a holding position in behind the line.

Eventually, Ireland would make a mistake and cough up the ball.

So you know from the off and you can even anticipate that England would start at 100mph. Quite often the only way to deal with this is to go to the air or try your best to play the ball out of your own half and as deep as possible in English territory. In-stead, England were hammering on the door and Ireland were barely containing them.

As a consequence Ireland conceded early in the eighth minute and never really recovered from their inability to take the heat out of England's good start.

The question must be asked in terms of doing things better what could Ireland have done? Our two most experienced players, the half-backs, were the people we were looking to for direction. Conor Murray was removed in the 50th minute. He was lucky to last that long.

He managed to post five of the poorest box kicks/clearance kicks I've seen. In each case Ireland ceded good field position.

You can never anticipate how poorly your prime kicker could perform when everything really depends on him bringing his best kicking game. Sexton, too, had a very poor afternoon with the boot. Sexton's penalty kick in the 14th minute was a really dreadful strike. He snatched at it.

That missed three points and the other two from the missed conversion of Robbie Henshaw's try which was equally badly struck would have been enough to garner a losing bonus point - a miraculous outcome. You would also have to look at Ross Byrne's beautifully struck conversion of Andrew Porter's try which sailed between the posts. Just one of those days?

Once again, Eddie Jones has out-thought Ireland. Easy maybe when you have been out-muscled. Maybe Ireland looked at South Africa and thought this is how you beat England and neutralise the power game by playing a rush defence.

Maybe Eddie had moved on a little bit by thinking what every other coach who had seen the World Cup final would have thought. Blitz them. Jones obviously needed a plan B and Ireland gambled and didn't have the strength in their ranks to leave defenders off the line and placed in their back field. Now we know why Jones has persevered with George Ford and brought Ben Youngs back.

The thinking and deftness of the balls that were played into the Irish back field were good but not exactly top drawer. The difference was in the thinking. Ireland, when they dink in behind, it is normally a lateral kick.

Youngs and Ford used the diagonal kick which caught Larmour and the defending wingers short and the kick was just accurate enough to cause distress. Maybe eight times out of 10 the defence who at all stages were much closer to the ball would clear the danger.

Rugby Union, though, plays its game with an oval ball and the bobble and movement caused enough trouble for England to take advantage of it. Maybe we should ask Stuart Hogg about his difficulties. Maybe Sexton's mishandling of the ball was symptomatic of his kicking malaise. Maybe Jacob Stockdale's half-second delay was symptomatic of where Ireland were when the ball was kicked off to start.

The truth is Ireland were a long way off the pitch of this game and they weren't primed to win mentally. Too many abdicated their responsibilities.

There are elements of strategic malaise in this team at the moment and there are certain parts of their game that just are not up to scratch. It has been obvious for quite a while that Ireland are no longer a team able to pass the ball. This came to the fore almost two seasons ago.

Ireland are also unable to maul properly or with effect and all their runners seem to be either static or waiting for the ball to come slowly from a ruck.

We all settled for three home wins as a minimum for this Championship - that's all we're going to get.

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