The game at Kingsholm last evening proved once again that experience is what counts when players step up a level. Ireland fielded a team with far more experience in representative rugby – and it showed.
For all the possession and territory that England Saxons enjoyed against the Irish Wolfhounds they rarely looked like breaching the solid green defence. The English defence was pretty good too for most of the game to be fair – apart from two occasions where again experience let them down and they let in the Irish tries which made the difference at the end of the 80. Both were pretty soft and will make some players cringe when they see the replay.
The first was a break from the back of a maul following a lineout where Isaac Boss went through virtually untouched to score with ease.
England got back in the game when Anthony Watkins grabbed a fumbled pass in the Irish centre to speed away for a try that made it 7 – 5 – it was the only time in the first half that the Irish line looked vulnerable.
The second Irish try came from man of the match Ian Madigan – taking a quick tap from a penalty that England expected him to kick he drove over from 5 yards out.
At just 14 -5 down and with the second half wind behind them the Saxons should have been able to put the Irish under pressure – but despite something like 60% possession their only reward was a penalty from Freddie Burns.
This was supposed to be the match that saw Burns regain the form of the last couple of seasons – it didn’t – he missed kicks that should have been straight forward for an aspiring England fly-half and he didn’t look comfortable on the ball. Henry Slade looked far more assured when he came on and will be putting pressure on Burns for a place in the elite squad.
Until Sam Dickinson and Rob Miller arrived from the bench the only players who looked capable of giving the Irish some cause for concern were Eliot Daly and Watkins. Dickinson and Miller supplied extra power but the Irish defence looked to have contained them. With the clock turning red it was Daly who almost made the line – the re-cycled ball went to Burns who passed to the touch judge as he went for the touchdown. It summed up the day for both Freddie and the Saxons.
Lessons will need to be learned before the Saxons game against Scotland A on Friday. At the breakdown the Irish were far more aggressive and it is an area where England need to work on this week.