England will supply the bulk of the Lions: 5 things we learned from Twickenham
Battle of the finishers
Two superb tries by Jonny May – the second among the very best seen at Twickenham – lifted the electric wing to joint second in England’s all-time scoring list, just 18 behind Rory Underwood. They share similar strike rates of around a score every two games and at 30 years old, May has every chance of chasing down his predecessor in the number 11 jersey if he avoids serious injury.
The white wall
England turned defence into a offensive weapon through the sustained ferocity of their tackling. The statistics are remarkable – they made 238 hits to Ireland’s 72, with seven of them categorised as dominant. Irish runners made few dents on the line strung out before them and despite controlling territory and possession, they never looked remotely capable of winning. England have raised this element of their game to a new level.
Leading that staggering defensive effort was Maro Itoje, who made 24 tackles alone to edge May for the man-of-the-match award. The Saracens second row is always in the eye of the storm, his strength and high work rate marking him out as a player of towering influence. Once his leading rival for next year’s Lions series, James Ryan was mastered at Twickenham and the next assignment is Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones. Week by week Itoje mounts a compelling case to travel to South Africa as captain.
England building for Lions and World Cup
On current evidence England will provide the bulk of Warren Gatland’s tour party. Even with an entire Six Nations to be completed before selection is made, Jones’ team is populated with outstanding options at a time when the other home unions are in the doldrums. And England’s head coach will be looking towards the 2023 World Cup with confidence knowing that foundations for a strong challenge are already in place.
Travelling in the opposite direction to the Six Nations champions are Ireland, a side in transition who fought manfully at Twickenham and finished strongly, but had already been beaten out of sight by the time they came alive in the final quarter. It has been a tough start to Andy Farrell’s reign as he rebuilds a team that bombed at last year’s World Cup. He says they are on a “completely different journey” to England and it is one that might take time to yield the desired results.
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