This was billed as the clash of the Farrell’s, Owen and his dad Andy leading England and Ireland respectively, but in the end, on the pitch, it often looked like men against boys. To be brutally honest, Ireland looked small, they looked overwhelmed, and they looked rattled. Just like they were in Dublin a year ago and at Twickenham in the summer.
Wave after wave of England carries in the first forty did for them. Tuilagi set the tone with a crunching tackle on Ireland’s own go-forward man, CJ Stander. Tuilagi has beaten Ireland five times now, and this was a characteristically dominant display ball in hand.
He was aided by the sheer number of ball carrying options available to England. Lawes, Itoje, Sinckler, Curry and George were all making yards, winning collisions and stamping their authority on things physically. The old axis of Ford and Farrell steered them expertly, picking the right runners, offering separate playmaking pivots and moving the game into the areas in which it needed to be played. England also looked like a more coherent attacking set up with Daly and his left foot at fullback.
Eddie Jones’ selections have come under scrutiny, but all vindicated him here. Jonathan Joseph was an assured presence on the wing, with dancing feet and composure on the ball. France used Gael Fickou in a similar way against Wales, with similar success – having an extra ball player worked well. However, Joseph was never tested under the high ball, an inexplicable oversight from Ireland. In the pack, Curry is looking increasingly comfortable at eight, and Courtney Lawes put in a totemic, man of the match display at blindside, carrying hard, towering at the lineout and attritional in defence.
Jones was sarcastic and confrontational with the press after the game, promising an extra 10% against Wales and suggesting England could have declared at half-time such was their superiority. At least this week he has earned it.
England looked like a team in captain Farrell’s image again: tough, professional, edgy, pushing things, but with a composure and control and steel there too. They are a side, that, when on song, play in the image of a certain Ellis Genge too. Boy, oh boy do I love that player. He is such a nuisance, the kind of player you’d love to play with and hate to play against. Off the bench he was great again.
For Ireland, this was a display reminiscent of too many in the late-Schmidt era. Too often losing collisions, lacking in attacking variety and with old experienced heads letting them down. I have never seen Johnny Sexton play worse. He shanked two simple kicks, was at fault for the Ford try and looked hapless ball in hand. His days may not be numbered yet, he is Farrell’s captain after all, but, if only for the day, at 34 he looked like a spent force at this level.
Inside him, Conor Murray should be dropped. He too has been poor, and John Cooney is Europe’s form scrum half, so their is a ready made replacement available. What message does it send to the rest of the squad if even he can’t force his way into the side?
Onwards, then, for Ireland and the Farrell rebuild. Caelen Dorris showed glimpses of a brighter future from the bench. He, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Byrne, Carberry and Larmour are a good core group for the coming years. Ireland need change, Farrell must be ruthless. Jones, on the other hand, deserves to be pleased with himself.
Written by Joe Ronan.