Ireland will turn things around for World Cup, insists Joe Schmidt
England 57 Ireland 15
When all was said and done on Saturday, it seemed almost laughable that earlier in the afternoon Ireland had been 80 minutes away from being ranked the best side in the world.
Rugby round up Newsletter
Thoroughly thumped by England for the second time in less than seven months, it was as Joe Schmidt said not so much a game but a litany of errors.
There were numerous mitigating factors - Ireland had a host of players in their first action since May and, of course, this was a warm-up fixture ahead of the real business of the World Cup next month.
But what went wrong here did so spectacularly. The lineout malfunctioned regardless of the combination of thrower and caller (six lost on Ireland's own ball), the tackling was woeful (34 missed) and the points tally (57) was the most Ireland have ever conceded against a team not named New Zealand.
"I know we can get better than that, I know we have to," said Schmidt, who has just two warm-up games against Wales before the big kick-off against Scotland on September 22 in Yokohama.
"I think the players will take responsibility for making sure that they do everything they can to turn it around next week and then build forward the week after that because what really matters is in four weeks' time.
"We've got to go out and be as competitive and as accurate as we can be against Scotland. They had a 30-point margin against them last week and they turned around to win against France.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
"So it's a little bit what happens at this time of the year in the lead-up to a World Cup, you do get some disproportionate scores, but we still have to accept that we were not nearly good enough. We've got to be a lot better next time around."
Not good enough, given Schmidt's exacting standards, is something of an understatement. After a somewhat promising first quarter, when a Jordan Larmour try and Ross Byrne penalty edged them into the lead, Ireland's game fell apart, lacking in both a functioning set-piece or any form of defensive cohesion.
Schmidt cited the Manu Tuilagi try just before half-time as the game's pivotal point, England subsequently going in 22-10 at the turn before romping home after the resumption of play with five more scores.
"There's probably a litany of them, to be honest," he replied when asked what was his biggest disappointment in the game.
"We didn't get our set-piece going, we didn't really scavenge as well as we would have liked to. We fell off 34 tackles, 21 of them in the first half.
"There was a little bit of positive in the first quarter. It was tight in that first quarter. Obviously when we went to 10-8 (up), there was a bit of promise there. But it's very disappointing.
"That try just before half-time, when Conor was down and they worked the overlap against 14 men. We've got to be able to defend with 14 men, I certainly would never use that as an excuse, but they did well there. Just to go into the shed at half-time at 22-10, it's a big difference to 15-10 because you're two scores away then.
"I think we were under-done, we were a bit heavy-legged.
"There doesn't have to be too much a margin between two teams, one-v-one, for one to be a bit sluggish and one to be on top of your game.
"Certainly for some of their guys, they've had two games, this is their third game, and they looked sharper than we were."
Ireland will return to Carton House today for what is sure to be a week of many questions before taking on Wales in Cardiff on Saturday, followed by a return game seven days later. With a team that have seemed devoid of confidence since being beaten by England back in February, a boost to morale, even in otherwise meaningless games, feels imperative.
"You've got to make sure that you can rebound from this and get a number of the different elements in the game back in order," Schmidt said.
"There were so many aspects that we didn't get right that we look dishevelled out there, to be honest.
"I know we had to make a number of changes and hopefully the guys who came off are OK. There are a number of things we're going to have to look at over the next 48 hours and try to build forward from."
Among those expected to see action in Cardiff are James Ryan, Jack Conan and Keith Earls, who Schmidt hopes will add energy, but the cost of the weekend wasn't just an unwanted place in the Irish Rugby record books.
Cian Healy hobbled off with an ankle injury while Conor Murray went off for an HIA, returning to the field after passing the test only due to a breakdown in communication before eventually leaving the game at half-time.
World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton, meanwhile, does not appear ready for his own seasonal bow this weekend meaning Ross Byrne and Jack Carty will again share time at the crucial out-half position.
"Cian has sprained his ankle," said Schmidt.
"He has had an x-ray and that's clear. We'd be hopeful. He walked from the pitch and we're hopeful that he'll be okay. With Conor he passed his HIA (head injury assessment). We had a bit of a breakdown in our communications.
"He wasn't actually meant to go back out before half-time so at half-time we took him off. We were only planning to give him maybe 45 or 50 minutes and then give Luke [McGrath] another decent run.
"It's one of things leading into a World Cup at this time of the year that you are trying to mix and match and give different amounts of time to different players to let them put their best foot forward.
"You're also trying to build a little bit of continuity for some of those guys that haven't had as much time in the team over recent years."