Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global

Having moaned on Thursday about media 'rat poison', Eddie Jones better brace himself for another deluge after meekly losing this battle of the also-rans

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Niall Carson - Pool/Getty Images)

Something has to give in this battle of Six Nations 2021 also-rans and it spectacularly did, the credibility of this England team taking a pounding following the over-reliance of Eddie Jones on a plethora of his favourite players who haven’t been putting in it week to week.


With both teams running at two wins from four entering the final round in Dublin, middle table bragging rights were up for grabs. In the end, it was Ireland who exited cheering in the chilly night, outscoring England with a first-half swagger and then keeping composure in a second-half where not even Bundee Aki’s red card with 16 minutes remaining was going to deny them.

The convincing 32-18 outcome made for quite a change. The last time England were here on business 25 months ago, the place was thronged for a Saturday service that left the home crowd battered.

Video Spacer

Former Ireland and Lions back-rower Stephen Ferris guests the latest RugbyPass All Access

Video Spacer

Former Ireland and Lions back-rower Stephen Ferris guests the latest RugbyPass All Access

England produced the first episode that February 2019 night of a four-part power game series that had continued uninterrupted in recent Anglo-Irish matches, Jones’ crew scoring 131 points (17 tries) to Ireland’s 54 (seven tries).

In the meantime, the Aviva Stadium had become a place where time had stood still, sombre-looking wall adverts for tickets to an April 2020 Leinster versus Munster fixture and for fast-track passport renewal illustrating how the world has come to a halt in these parts.

Leinster and Munster, those age-old Irish rivals who are long used to packing out stadiums wherever they meet, will next contest a behind closed doors PRO14 decider next weekend around the corner at the RDS. As for passports, don’t bother. You can’t fly out anywhere these days from Ireland without the curtain twitchers demonising your movements.

It was 3.51pm, 54 minutes before kick-off, when Elliot Daly, George Ford and Owen Farrell stepped out from the Aviva tunnel to the sound of silence to get their individual warm-ups started before the rest of their gang trundled out.


Na’er a partisan boos or a hiss was uttered to accompany their arrival, 50,000 empty seats staring back at them. Even the music man hadn’t clocked on yet to belt out a tune or two to generate some semblance of a vibe that something important was about to unfold.

Anyway, enough of the graveyard-like atmosphere and onto the rugby where some prime pre-game talking points were the reshuffled Ireland back row featuring the soon-to-retire CJ Stander at blindside (he was immense), the Jacob Stockdale wing recall (he was more than adequate), the alleged ‘pattern player’ restrictions of Conor Murray (gives us this pattern consistency any day of the week) and the England gamble of positioning Elliot Daly at No13 for the first time in 52 months.

Discussion on that last topic in the two days since the Thursday morning English team announcement had become redundant hot air, though, before the England team bus had even pulled into the ground.

Daly shifted to full-back to cover for Max Malins’ kept-secret Friday training ground ache and rookie Ollie Lawrence was promoted for a midfield audition that didn’t pan out any better than his round one ball-starved misadventure versus the Scots.


The runes had it we were in store for an evening of aerial bombardment, where severe neck strain was more of a threat to health than any year-old pandemic, and with Scotland having jumped ahead of both these teams on the ladder with their lunchtime trouncing of the hapless Italians, it was quickly onto who could make better sense of this week’s French officiating.

It’s fair to say England had their issues with Pascal Gauzere in round three while Ireland were also left nervous by Romain Poite in last weekend’s round four. This time around, Mathieu Raynal was in charge of a contest where the rivals began nervously, the Irish midfielders each running into touch on halfway on either side of the pitch while Daly had a sloppy kick out on the full.

It could only get better and it did for those of an Irish persuasion. England blinked, Maro Itoje held up and a free conceded at a five-metre scrum following three Farrell points, whereas Ireland didn’t flinch, veteran Keith Earls ambling over following lineout chicanery reminiscent of the French last weekend at Twickenham.

That sumptuous converted try, added to Sexton’s earlier penalty, gave the hosts a 10-3 advantage and while the underwhelming Farrell nudged a kick back, the peerless Johnny Sexton left Mako Vunipola feeling the heat for a scrum infringement, 13-6 with 30 gone and much more to come.

We mentioned the aerial game: Sexton was supreme. His towering inferno to Hugo Keenan was run in on the other side of the pitch by Jack Conan and England’s opening half 6-20 in arrears disenchantment was complete with Farrell penalised for an extra roll on the floor just before the bell.

The Jones cavalry arrived, Ellis Genge and Jamie George thrust in for the start of the second half, but it was powdery stuff, Ireland piercing initial England pressure and vaulting back with a second tasty Earls try that was ruled out for a knock-on in the build-up.

No bother. As it was, four Sexton penalties sandwiched the Aki red card for his high shot on the out-of-sorts Billy Vunipola and consolation tries for Ben Youngs and Jonny May – the latter with Ireland down to 13 with Murray sin-binned – wasn’t going to deny the hosts their much-deserved win on an evening when many of their players jumped ahead of their English rivals in the battle for Lions tour places.

England boss Jones had moaned on Thursday about media rat poison infiltrating his players’ heads during the campaign. He had better be prepared for much more of that kind of diatribe following this stinker of a performance in Dublin that was thoroughly emblematic of their underwhelming 2021. They were dire when it most mattered.


Join free



Trending on RugbyPass


Be the first to comment...

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

TRENDING Jason Ryan labels contentious All Blacks selection call 'spicy' and 'tasty' Jason Ryan labels All Blacks selection 'spicy'