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Ireland's slow Six Nations start a concern for Schmidt ahead of World Cup campaign

Ireland 20 England 32

Red Roses blossom: England’s Jonny May celebrates his try
Red Roses blossom: England’s Jonny May celebrates his try
Rory Best embraces Jack Nowell after the Six Nations opener
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is a man who it often seems has something of an encyclopaedic memory.

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He loves nothing more than reciting with unerring detail something seemingly inconsequential from an otherwise forgotten Test match years ago.

The Kiwi didn't have to delve too far back into the vault to recall the last time he was left feeling like he did on Saturday.

Having just watched a physically dominant England side batter his heralded squad into submission, ending the bid for back-to-back Slams after only the opening round of this Six Nations, the mood was akin to that of the aftermath of the All Blacks victory here in 2016.

That day, a New Zealand side hunting revenge for the humbling of Chicago two weeks prior, out-muscled Ireland to inflict only the second Autumn defeat of Schmidt's tenure. This weekend an England side similarly motivated after last year's Irish celebration in Twickenham inflicted a first Dublin Six Nations reverse in six years utilising a similar advantage in the power stakes.

"Against the All Blacks two years' ago we got bullied here," conceded Schmidt. "You have got to be prepared to give as good as you get, I don't think we did that (on Saturday).

"The players are disappointed they didn't have the same physical edge.

"Now, we don't have the same personalities they have.

"We have got to make sure our solutions get pressure on the ball. I don't think we got a turnover on the ground.

"There was very little allowed to happen on the ground. There was a lot of people off their feet. It turned into that muddy sort of battle.

"We were physically bettered.

"I don't think I've seen a game where we have played that opponents have so many physically dominant tackles, where our opponents have carried in the manner that they did.

"It wasn't a surprise to us. We knew with the side that was picked, we knew the power that they bring to the game. I laboured it to the guys last Wednesday but to contain those guys was difficult."

The "those guys" to which he refers were undoubtedly the starts of the show - a fit again Manu Tuilagi who England brought onto the ball as early as the first minute with a clever long line-out, and the Vunipola brothers, with loosehead prop Mako making a scarcely credible 27 tackles in a man of the match showing.

Maro Itoje was another key performer before he departed with injury, while the pressure brought by England's combination of linespeed and tackles behind the gainline nullified their hosts as an attacking threat.

Garry Ringrose, who was probably the best of an out of sort bunch, did give his side an opportunity with a turnover forcing tackle but when Ireland reduced England's lead rather than erase it, the momentum swing never occurred.

At 17-13, England scored the crucial try through Henry Slade despite Irish protestations of either a forward pass, a chaser ahead of the kicker, or both, but this was not a game decided by a refereeing decision - England were better in every facet.

All eyes are now on the response against Scotland in Murrayfield. It is a small sample size but when Ireland have won their opening game under Schmidt, they have gone on to win the championship.

None of their three titles have come after an initial set-back and indeed no side since Wales in 2013 was been left celebrating mid-March after been left soul-searching in the first weekend of February.

"We've worked incredibly hard to get to where we are without suddenly saying one game has completely undone us," reflected Schmidt.

"One of my frustrations is we haven't tended to start competitive campaigns overly well.

"That, for me, is a bit of a concern looking further ahead. I mentioned November.

"I mentioned France last year and how we built our way through the tournament.

"I like to think that we can demonstrate we can take a step up next week and, beyond that, we can demonstrate how we can get back into the tournament because it is a very tough championship.

"If you are a little bit off the mark, any team can knock any team over.

"Even for us, the last time we went to Murrayfield, we didn't get off the bus and we were 21-5 down at half-time.

"On the back of that experience, we ended up beating England at the end of that Six Nations and getting second.

"I think it would be a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction to believe, on the back of one poor performance, we've suddenly lost all the progress and all the confidence we've tried to build over the last number of years."

With today likely to bring clarity on the injuries sustained by CJ Stander, Keith Earls and Devin Toner, assessing the shape of his squad moving forward into the remainder of the championship.

"The first thing is I want to see as many of them glued together as possible," he added. We've obviously got a concern with CJ (suspected facial fracture).

"I don't think Keith Earls (hip) will do much, certainly not in the first part of the week. So it is very hard to say, 'this is what we want to do on Monday and show how physical we can be.'

"With a game as attritional as that one, you've really got to allow sufficient recovery time. As much as anything, it is about getting our confidence back, getting mentally re-aligned, so that we can go out and deliver in a lot more positive manner, in a physically confrontational manner."

There is no margin for error left.

IRELAND: R Henshaw; K Earls, G Ringrose, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best (c), T Furlong; D Toner, J Ryan; P O'Mahony, J van der Flier, CJ Stander

REPLACEMENTS: S Cronin (for BEst, 66), D Kilcoyne (for Healy, 61), A Porter (for Furlong, 61), Q Roux (for Toner, 56), S O'Brien (for Stander, 64), J Cooney (for Murray, 77) J Carbery (for Ringrose, 72), J Larmour (for Earls, 40)

ENGLAND: E Daly; J Nowell, H Slade, M Tuilagi, J May; O Farrell (c), B Youngs; M Vunipola, J George, K Sinckler; M Itoje, G Kruis; M Wilson, T Curry, B Vunipola.

REPLACEMENTS: L Cowan-Dickie (for George, 76), E Genge (for Vunipola, 76), H Williams (for Sinckler, 64), C Lawes (for Kruis, 51), N Hughes (for Itoje, 53), D Robson, G Ford (for Tuilagi 77), C Ashton (for Nowell, 73).

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)

Man of the Match: M Vunipola (Eng)

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