Well that didn’t go to plan did it? England arrived looking for a scalp, looking to dominate and looking to put a marker down. Unfortunately for Ireland, they did just that.
So is it all doom and gloom?
Going into Saturday afternoon Ireland and their supporters (and fans, more on that later) where confident and expectant. After the selection of Eddie Jones the thoughts of inventive England play was pushed to the back of the mind. England where coming with beef that would be cooked in the bright lights of the Aviva Stadium.
I was absent from my lucky seat in my lucky pub (shoutout to the Queens in Dalkey), so the unfamiliar surroundings made me uneasy. And so the anthems started, the pub was quieter than I would like, especially for the volume I would reach during the game. Both teams looked ready, the crowd sounded in fine form too, let battle commence.
The questions for Ireland where, would the slow start in the 6 Nations happen again? Would the players arrive match sharp after a week in Portugal? Would there be more tricks up their sleeve to handle the beef that was coming from England?
The answer to most of the above, on the day, was no!
England started like they were chasing the game. Far from the bish bash bosh we expected, they played a fantastic move that was nearly thwarted by a shooting Keith Earls on the wing. Both sides where reading the game well in the very early stages, Earls saw the shot and missed which opened up a gap and England where in in the first 90 seconds of the game. Not how we expected the day to start. The fight was there from England and it could have been a long day for Ireland.
But then, it disappeared. Ireland regrouped and started working. Not really getting anywhere but taking the sting out of England. Never challenging their try line, but showing them some Joe Ball. This continued to 24 minutes where Ireland got on the board. This was the first time that Rory Best had a chat with the referee about being unable to compete at the breakdown, England where constantly trying to seal everything off. Ireland managed to keep the ball and Healy scored but it was a massive amount of work. Healy powered through 2 massive challenges to score. The game turned again from an England attack where they grubbered (is that a word) the ball through the Irish line, Stockdale looked to be in position to pick the ball up but then suddenly it appeared that he thought he was in the fossetts circus as a juggler, the ball just didn’t stick to his hand and he was tackled, opening the entire try zone for England to score again. Another un characteristic move from an Ireland team that looked to be having a yard off of everything so far. They could have scored again at 39 minutes but a double movement kept Ireland in the game.
So far England where working harder, tackling harder and playing the situations better,
At half time let’s look at the stats:
Ireland ran for 332 metres (nearly 100 more than Eng.), passed 202 times (nearly 100 more), made 10 runs in comparison to 105 from England, Ireland had 60% for 53% territory, so there was a lot of ball in hand but not actually going anywhere. Ireland made 117 of 130 tackles and coughed up only 4 penalties (a great stat), England made 181 of 209 tackles for 8 penalties (again shows massive discipline and work rate), and Ireland conceded 14 turnovers to 11, Ireland beat 28 defenders to Eng. 13.
The interesting stat is that the missed tackles from both sides are all over the field. So the play was moving, no one specific area was signalled out for attack. It appeared that England saw Earls as a target; they negated kicking to Stockdale for the most part due to his size. Earls didn’t see the second half after the treatment he received. I yellow for Curry and what should have been another for Itoje (the worse of the 2 in my opinion).
The second half had an altercation involving O’Mahony and Sinckler, showing that the Irish weren’t going to take a backwards step, or showing the pressure on their shoulders. Either way you look at it, it resulted in a massive noise from the crowd.
A penalty brought Ireland closer to the visitors at 13-17. England looked the more energetic; they had the gas for this game which was a surprise. At 65 minutes they tore Ireland up with a move up the left wing, a chip and chase and a score that was just too easy for Ireland to be conceding. A team second in the world shouldn’t let this in. So we knew this was going to be a tough day at the office now, Ireland would have to win ugly. Much like Paris last year, we needed magic to save the day. Our players came in with minimal game time at 9 and 10, O’Mahony with a nasty rib injury and Stander with a broken face it was all adding up to a massive hill to climb.
Ireland tried and worked, but never really got anywhere. A pass was intercepted from Sexton and it was all over. England wins the day 32-20, which flattered Ireland a bit.
To finish, the reaction online has been beyond silly. People calling for players to be dropped, Ireland aren’t as good as we think we are etc. etc. It is real fans v supporters stuff. Fans have no idea; one loss doesn’t make a bad team. In sport you are never as good as people think, and never as bad as people think. So I would suggest that anyone calling for players to be dropped and going overboard in their criticism maybe to have a look at themselves. It is fairly pathetic really, and if you did the above I look forward to hearing your response. @nkeegan on twitter
Lastly, if you left the game early based on the score line then you are just as bad. Supporters stay to the end no matter what, if you didn’t do that, then you are just a cliché bandwagoner
I look forward to your letters, bandwagoners!
On we go to Scotland!