This was another sobering fixture for Ireland against England, the fourth in a row – and the second under Andy Farrell – where they just repeatedly ran into a white wall and suffered the frustratingly bruising consequences.

ADVERTISEMENT

This one has similarities which what played out at Twickenham nine months previously, Ireland dead and buried at the interval and then responding in the second half to limit the damage. England were 17 clear at the break in February and won by just twelve. 

Here, the interval margin was twelve and finished at eleven after the rare touch of class that was Billy Burns combining with Jacob Stockdale six minutes from time made sure Ireland didn’t draw a duck on the scoreboard for the first time since the record 60-0 hammering by the All Blacks in Hamilton. 

Video Spacer

Video Spacer
Dylan Hartley and Simon Zebo talk Autumn Nations Cup

Having endured a “United Nations” quip at Ireland’s use of overseas players, five in the starting XV qualifying under the 36-month residency rule, and also the suggestions to the referee that he needed to be vigilant when officiating the scrum and breakdown, the main takeaway from the 7-18 defeat was how Farrell’s side were blunt in attack. 

They had the major share of possession and territory, yet had nothing in their locker to really ask strenuous questions of the England defence who happily tackled all afternoon to win all too comfortably. A huge focus must now come on attack coach Mike Catt, whom Farrell brought in from Italy. What exactly is he adding to the mix?

Admittedly, Ireland had a readymade excuse in that they were fielding inexperienced half-backs who had just two previous starts and eleven caps in total between them, but with the lineout faltering badly and the failure of anyone to regularly get across the gain line where it mattered, Farrell’s side never fired a shot in terms of genuinely looking capable of winning. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The twelve-point margin at the break was a relief given the pressure they were under. A scrum penalty concession on halfway gave England their first in, that award allowing them to build the pressure in the 22 that resulted in Owen Farrell launching the cross-field bomb fetched by Jonny May in the air against Hugo Keenan to score.  

That was on 17 minutes and Ireland conceded four minutes later, Ronan Kelleher’s unease at the lineout encapsulated by his overthrow in the England 22 that led to May giving Chris Farrell the slip, kicking ahead, regathering and scoring. 

With Ireland’s attack – blunted by English robustness and a suffocating line speed – restricted to a single first-half chance that was Keith Earls threatening with a breakaway, a third try would have been leaked had a maul not been sacked on one side of the field and the referee finding an infringement to deny Sam Underhill his try-steal off Gibson-Park near the other touchline.

Soft penalties from Quinn Roux and James Ryan then allowed England push the gap to 18 twelve minutes after the break and there the contest just simply fell into boredom, Ireland having ample opportunity to try and do something only to repeatedly be left frustrated until Stockdale’s sole moment of precision.   

ADVERTISEMENT

The performance was in keeping with Farrell’s Ireland in 2020, decent when throwing some shapes at home but woundingly lacking creativity to threaten to win away. Here’s how their players rated: 

15. HUGO KEENAN – 6: Targeted by England’s tactical kicking throughout. When catches were made he was too often isolated on the floor and when beaten in the air, it led to May opening the scoring. It was his no release under pressure that also ended the assault sparked by Earls’ break. Lasted 58 minutes before being replaced by Stockdale. 

14. KEITH EARLS – 6: A ray of hope. A first start in 13 months for the veteran, it didn’t reflect well on paper that his opposite man scored twice but that stat was misleading. To the fore in leading the resistance after his team fell twelve points behind, his first-half break was a sole highlight, and he continued to be defiant in the second period.

13. CHRIS FARRELL – 5: Took too much ball standing static and paid the price in terms of statistics, making a paltry five metres off from 14 carries. Was left clutching air when May embarked on his theatrical run to score his second try. Getting held up on 69 minutes over the line by Henry Slade further typified his ineffectiveness.   

12. BUNDEE AKI – 5: Was there to supply heft but didn’t figure and was largely anonymous as Ireland needed to create with the copious amount of possession they have. He just didn’t have what we necessary in his locker and it’s not the first time this has happened. 

11. JAMES LOWE – 5: His athleticism was visible in how he adjusted to catch a blocked kick of his early on, but was otherwise of restricted impact and the sight of him kicking ball away in the second half when it was there to be run was emblematic of the lack of confidence which existed in the Irish attack overall.

10. ROSS BYRNE – 5: Stuck resolutely to kicking game in opening minutes and kept on going that way, kicking on 18 occasions by the time he was hooked on 72 minutes. Played way too deep to make a telling impact and the difference between his ineffectual kicking and Burns only took a few minutes to be highlighted as the replacement No10 created Stockdale’s try with a chip in behind. Twickenham cost Byrne his RWC place last year in his sole previous Test start and there were just little good here worth talking about.   

9. JAMISON GIBSON-PARK – 4: Needed to be given a chance to see can he hack it at this level but he suffered behind a pack that struggled to generate quick ball. Showed his inexperience when gobbled up by Underhill in a first-half play that nearly cost a try. His general unease then culminated in the second-half hoof that went dead to ruin a sound Keenan take in the air that set up good field position. Was left to replacement Conor Murray to help Ireland limit the fallout.  

1. CIAN HEALY – 6: Lasted 65 minutes and his presence helped to ensure that England didn’t enjoy a runaway on the scoreboard. His issue, though, was this was a game where the onus was on forwards to carry, but just three metres off eight runs highlighted how difficult it was to make headway in the traffic. 

2. RONAN KELLEHER – 5: Horrible day at the lineout but he will learn heaps in what was just his second start. The costliest error was on 21 minutes, Ireland having gone to the corner with a penalty only for the set-piece mess to result in May scoring down the other end. The straw to clutch was his ability to gain metres on the carry. He was a rare exception.  

3. ANDREW PORTER – 6: The concession of a scrum penalty gave England their first in but he went on deliver a credible shift, his boundless energy typified by how he was seen diving on loose ball on 78 minutes. Will have enjoyed getting a scrum penalty back on the English. His ball carrying was also in double figures but few metres were gained.   

4. QUINN ROUX – 5: Looked to have smashed up his knee on 23 minutes but carried on. Was his team’s top tackler by the interval but can’t really take solace in that given how the physical exchanges panned out. Damaged his team when he needlessly rag-dolled Tom Curry early in the second half, allowing England jump out to 15-0. He was soon hooked for Iain Henderson who, in line with Murray, helped keep the damage from getting worse.  

5. JAMES RYAN – 6: First outing from the start as captain wasn’t a winning one but he was gritty and carried well despite the black mark was the concession of four penalties. Will not be pleased with the damage Maro Itoje and co did at the lineout and was at fault for the ruck penalty that made it 18-0, but if you are looking for someone who can put this lesson to very good use, this loss will serve a purpose. 

6. CJ STANDER – 4: There are days when his display falls off a cliff and this was one of them. Ireland needed to break the gain line but two metres off five carries illustrated how restricted his influence was. Did stop Jamie George from scoring on nine minutes when England tapped quickly, but the only surprise was that he wasn’t pulled long before Will Connors eventually appeared on 65 minutes.  

7. PETER O’MAHONY – 5: Grafted hard when it came to damage limitation but in terms of helping to speed up Irish ball, it just didn’t happen. His game has changed under Farrell in that he sought to carry ball more than he would have done under Joe Schmidt but it was immaterial against the brick wall English defence. He also missed the Kelleher throw that became May’s second try.    

8. CAELAN DORIS – 5: Will do plenty of growing up after this experience. Was living off crumbs, his counter ruck to win a 57th-minute penalty typical of an arduous outing where the influence of head-on opponent Billy Vunipola and his fellow England back-rowers was much too dominant. 

Mailing List

Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.

Sign Up Now