The Nations Cup progressed yesterday afternoon with England producing a dominant performance against Ireland at Twickenham.
The lack of atmosphere gave the occasion the feel of a trials match and the teams responded accordingly. England gave their defensive patterns a good work out but Ireland struggled to get their attacking plays into gear, their attritional game plan coming up short behind a well beaten pack.
England (12) 18
TRY: Jonny May (2)
CON: Owen Farrell
PEN: Owen Farrell (2)
Ireland (0) 7
TRY: Jacob Stockdale
CON: Billy Burns
Defence has become so dominant in international rugby that teams now prefer to play without the ball. Eddie Jones stated post match that it was their decision to give Ireland 70% territory and possession and work on their defence but in reality both teams will be very disappointed in their lack of creativity with ball in hand.
Ireland had some excuse as they were playing behind a beaten pack. Their backrow almost invisible, it was only when he was taken off that I realised that CJ Stander was playing. James Ryan in the second row was given a schooling by Maro Itoje. Ryan, Ronan Kelleher and Andrew Porter were targeted in the set piece plays and were found wanting, but getting worked over is something that won’t have happened to them too much at Leinster and it’ll do them the world of good.
The new “superstars” of Irish Rugby, Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe also found themselves on the back foot. Gibson-Park was too predictable, Lowe busy but ineffective. However, there were few Irish players at the top of their game, England were using Ireland’s game plan against them and as Ireland have shown us in countless World Cups when Plan A doesn’t work they have no Plan B.
A dour first half did offer up a couple of moments of excitement thanks to Jonny May playing with a degree of freedom. He was on hand to catch a cross field kick from Owen Farrell in a rare England attack on the 17th minute and four minutes later he was sprinting clear from his own 22 to hack on and collect under the posts for his, and England’s, second. Farrell converted and the teams turned round, twenty forgettable minutes later, with England leading 12 – 0.
Ireland worked hard after the break to improve their Plan A game, though improve is probably the wrong word, less ineffective is probably more accurate! England kept working on their defence, with little interest in attack, but they did chalk up two penalties from Farrell to take the game to 18 – 0 before Ireland started to ring the changes with the replacements.
On came the few players to enhance their reputation, even if it was by default, and surprise, surprise they were mostly Ulster men. Iain Henderson and Rob Herring steadied the ship up front and Jacob Stockdale and Conor Murray added some creativity to the back line.
It was ten minutes before the final piece of the jigsaw arrived with Billy Burns unlocking the English defence, within a minute of appearing on the pitch. It looked as though the move was called by Stockdale, but Burns’ chip over the defensive line was delightful and Stockdale latched on to race home for the only try of the second half. Burns added the extras to take the score to 18 – 7 with 8 minutes to go but the rest of the game petered out without further excitement as the English defence reasserted their authority.
ENGLAND: Elliot Daly, Jonathan Joseph, Ollie Lawrence, Henry Slade, Jonny May, Owen Farrell (C), Ben Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola. Replacements: Tom Dunn, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Jonny Hill, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, George Ford, Max Malins.
IRELAND: Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, James Lowe, Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park, Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, James Ryan (C), CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony, Caelan Doris. Replacements: Rob Herring, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Will Connors, Conor Murray, Billy Burns, Jacob Stockdale.
While the Nations Cup may provide a much needed income stream in these difficult times, the home nations need to watch out that they don’t turn off the hordes of eventists on whom they rely. While there were plenty of interesting individual battles, and performances, to be monitored by the aficionado, there was very little in the way of entertainment. Without the “be there to be seen there” associated with attendance at international rugby, it offers the casual eventists very little in terms of entertainment. I can’t see, “Wow, did you see that England Ireland game on Amazon Prime over the weekend”, being a phrase used often in this week’s zoom calls!
Both teams may be on their own journeys towards the 2023 World Cup and both probably ticked a few boxes on what they wanted to get out of this game, but, if they continue to serve up such tedious rugby, there may be very few left to watch them at the end of their journey.