Ireland’s lavish dream of winning a second Grand Slam in succession was shattered at the first time of asking in the 2019 Six Nations Championship, England serving up a sobering 32-20 defeat.
It was a crushing blow for Joe Schmidt’s side. Ireland had held England to a meagre 15 points or less in five of their last six meetings in the tournament, but there was no mean defence evident here as the playmaking Owen Farrell was to the fore in outfoxing his dad Andy, the Irish defence coach.
Ireland have had these poor defensive days under Farrell where their rearguard loses its credibility and the sight of England heading back to London to face France in round two with a bonus point victory will dent the reputation of the assistant coach who is set to take over from Schmidt at the end of the World Cup in Japan.
Here, RugbyPass runs the rule over how the Ireland players performed in what was their first defeat in 13 matches in Dublin since the November 2016 loss to New Zealand. It doesn’t make for pleasant reading on a disappointing first round evening for the defending champions.
Robbie Henshaw – 4
Struggled to show composure in only his second Test start at full-back, his first since his debut in June 2013. England’s canny kicking variation kept him busy. Was spotted too often racing back to tidy up. It was his poor clearance off his weaker left foot that gave the visitors the territory to secure Elliot Daly’s 30th minute try. Came into game with just 60 minutes’ action since early November and his rustiness left him exposed.
Keith Earls – 4
Normally a model of consistency, but his evening started poorly and only got worse. His jump out of the defensive line less than 90 seconds in was an unnecessary try-costing gamble. This error unsettled him, as did some heavy legal and illegal impact in the collisions. Wasn’t an aerial threat due to soreness and he didn’t reappear for the second half, Jordan Larmour coming on in his place.
Garry Ringrose – 6
Was one of Ireland’s few bight spots. Demonstrated intelligence with a kick through that was his team’s best moment during Tom Curry’s scoreless sin-binning. There was an excellent fetch under a 34th minute Garryowen. His crunching tackle on Owen Farrell 18 minutes later then pieced considerable English pressure while his step enticed Kyle Sinckler to give away the high tackle penalty for 13-17 with 25 minutes remaining. On flip side, penalised for holding to allow England go 13-25 up.
Irish press conference live from Dublin.
Posted by RugbyPass on Saturday, 2 February 2019
Bundee Aki – 5
Usually the fulcrum of the midfield, but here he was put under constant scrutiny all through by an England thriving on Manu Tuilagi’s rumbustious return at No12. Was often left with poor passes to deal with, which affected his go-forward momentum, while the physicality of the visitors left him dealing with too many threats. Probably his poorest effort so far in an Ireland shirt.
Jacob Stockdale – 5
Was busy hunting possession in the opening half and he carried encouragingly, making over 60 metres off seven carries. However, his first half will be remembered for the calamitous mistake that saw him turned in defence and left juggling a loose ball from his left to right hand that escaped his grasp and was lapped up by the scoring Daly. Became much too quiet in the second half and didn’t feature much.
Johnny Sexton – 4
Much like Henshaw, his lack of recent action these past five weeks told a punishing tale. Unlike Owen Farrell, who kicked his team around the park and had width on his pass, Sexton behaved like a conductor who had left his baton in the dressing room. His concession of a 60th minute penalty for hands in the ruck highlighted his unease, and his miserable evening was rounded off with the rash pass to Henshaw that was picked off for England’s bonus try.
Conor Murray – 5
So many Ireland celebrations have much to do with the calibre of his box kicking, but his accuracy dropped quite a few levels in this tournament opener. His performance was summed up by a missed touch finder on 36 minutes that left Ireland handing on for the remainder of the half and fortunate to only concede three, not seven, points. He was also unsettled by the attention of the English pack who were ravenous to grab hold of him and let him know he wasn’t going to get anything easy.
Cian Healy – 5
His Saturday looked promising when he delivered Ireland’s try on 25 minutes, but his lack of aggression in the collisions typified how green his pack looked as they got their title defence off to the worst possible start. Ireland needed him to carry more than he did and he was hooked just after the hour, leaving Mako Vunipola go on and impressively seal his deserved man of the match award.
Rory Best – 5
Was in the ear of referee Jerome Garces early on, but this influence wasn’t enough to help Ireland in a first half where they struggled to combat England’s pent-up aggression. It was his crooked lineout throw on 38 minutes that led to Vunipola’s disallowed try. The second half then passed him by before he gave way to Sean Cronin with the result already decided.
Tadhg Furlong – 6
A quiet evening by his world class standards but he still had his positive moments, none more so when he carried meatily in the lead up to the penalty that cut the English lead to four points with 25 minutes remaining. Needed more people to step up with him to counter the cohesiveness of the opposition in the tighter exchanges.
Devin Toner – 3
Having scaled the heights with a monumental effort when Ireland beat the All Blacks in November, this was a return to the sort of iffy form that resulted in him being dropped from the starting XV prior to the 2015 World Cup. He didn’t have the craft or the guile to cope with England’s engine room and was pulled with 23 to go for Quinn Roux.
James Ryan – 6
This loss with serve the youngster greatly in the long run. Bad defeats were the making of the legendary Paul O’Connell and Ryan will learn much from this, particularly how Maro Itoje made his presence felt through a litany of nuisance interventions. Best moment was catching at the lineout off the penalty kicked to touch to set up Healy’s try.
Peter O’Mahony – 5
Inspirational moments were visible all through his 2018, but you wonder if the injury sustained for Munster at Gloucester three weeks ago is still present and held him back here amid bruising exchanges. Make a Murray-like pass from an eighth-minute ruck, but couldn’t get in among the English lineout and wasn’t impactful enough at the breakdown to make a telling difference.
Josh van der Flier – 5
His tackle count was right up there in an energy-sapping way, but this was a contest where he left the impression that he is still learning his trade at Test level as he struggled for positive moments elsewhere. There will now be a clamour for Sean O’Brien to start in Scotland as Ireland were short of pack ball-carriers.
CJ Stander – 5
England saw him coming and put manners on his. Stander was tremendous 11 months ago at Twickenham, revving up the Irish Slam clincher, but he was eclipsed here by Billy Vunipola. Too many of his carries were negative as he was chopped before he could even move forward and he became an anonymous figure in the second half.
Sean Cronin – N/A
Result was gone from Ireland by the time he was thrown on at 13-22. This was a contest where he could have been introduced earlier and given a meaningful role.
Dave Kilcoyne – 5
Given a run for Healy when there was just four points between the sides, but he couldn’t swing the momentum in a finishing period where England scored 15 points before John Cooney’s consolation.
Andrew Porter – 5
Came on at the same time as Kilcoyne and while there was a promising first carry, he didn’t have enough of a presence to save Ireland from a wounding defeat.
Quinn Roux – 5
With Toner off his game, Roux was summoned with 23 minutes remaining to try and tilt the balance when the contest was still to be decided. Made one good early tackle but that was about it.
Sean O’Brien – 5
Stander gave way for O’Brien but he is in the rusty phase following injury, just like Henshaw and Sexton. Was asking too much of him to make a difference.
John Cooney – N/A
Played the last three minutes and trooped off with a late try.
Joey Carbery – N/A
Sent on at full-back, allowing Henshaw to go into midfield for the last seven minutes in place of Ringrose. The tactic backfired with Sexton’s intercepted pass gifting England their bonus.
Jordan Larmour – 4
Much more was expected of the youngster who was introduced at the start of the second half. He made little or no impact under the high ball, his dancing feet was pedestrian and his defensive rawness was exposed by how he was sucked in and allowed Jonny May to kick ahead for England’s third try.
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