Five things we learned from Ireland’s win at Twickenham

John O’Sullivan explains why result doesn’t camouflage performance shortcomings

The result supersedes all other considerations from a practical perspective so Ireland’s record, four-try, bonus point victory over England at Twickenham means that Andy Farrell’s team achieved the desired outcome.

That statement doesn’t camouflage the shortcomings in performance terms, in relation to handling, discipline, scrum issues, re-starts or the failure to make better use of a one man advantage for 78 minutes but it does allow those issues to be addressed from the perspective of having won the game . . .

Red card

There should be no debate but it says everything about the sport that there are still people who argue about intent and outcome or that the game was ruined as if that should militate against the awarding of a red card.

Charlie Ewels delivered what in essence was a flying head butt to the face of James Ryan and deserved to be sent off. Ewels’ intent is irrelevant; he made contact to the face of a six foot eight inch player who didn’t appreciably dip in height, while pretty much standing upright. It was late, high and dangerous.


These are exactly the tackles that World Rugby is looking to eradicate from the game. Ryan failed a head injury assessment (HIA). What happens next in relation to the disciplinary procedure will be instructive about how serious the governing body is about cutting down on these incidents.

We will assume that Ewels is a good person and is genuinely remorseful. If he agrees that the referee was correct to send him off, apologises to the player and has a good disciplinary record the likelihood is that he’ll have any sanction halved. My guesstimate would be a three week suspension.

This is largely a matter of course at these disciplinary hearings but at some point the penny has to drop where there is no longer a desire to mitigate the punishment. Players have to be wholly responsible for the consequences of their actions.


I am going to defer to former Ireland international tighthead prop Mike Ross who is an expert on the inner workings of a scrum and is therefore better placed to try and offer an insight into Ireland’s woes in conceding half a dozen penalties and a free kick.

He was present in Twickenham and suggested on Twitter “not really understanding the scrum decisions. Whole thing is just wheeling around, no clear dominance.” His view was supported by former referee Nigel Owens who responded: “I agree with Mike. Couple of PKs to England were correct but Ireland should have had at least two as well because England illegally ran it around as well.”

Andy Farrell will look for a detailed breakdown from referee Mathieu Raynal and his officiating team as to why the Irish scrum was at fault but it will also shine a light on the succession planning at prop which might be a little more troublesome to address.

It might not be just a prop issue, as the change to a taller hooker in Dan Sheehan - in for Ronan Kelleher (shoulder) - coupled with Cian Healy starting at loosehead in place of the injured Andrew Porter might have unintentionally caused one or two technical problems, which presumably will be rectified for next Saturday.


Ireland conceded seven penalties in the first 28 minutes and 14 of their final tally of 15 with a quarter of the match still to go. The accepted metric for successful teams is to avoid slipping into double figures, so it is very much an area of concern, not just in the total but the manner in which the team transgressed. The Irish side conceded nine and two free-kicks at the set piece of scrum and lineout.

Some were easily avoidable while others were repeat offences from previous games, an example of which was when Iain Henderson was pinged for blocking as Ireland set-up a maul. He was also penalised for jumping across but harshly dealt with when conceding a third at a ruck. He had two hands on the ball and lifted it before being knocked off balance.


Ireland’s work in this facet of the game was well below standard and it allowed their opponents to not only win the aerial contest through poor structure but also concede turnovers as ball was spilled. It was successfully addressed for the most part after the interval but it is definitely an aspect of the game that requires tidying up from an Irish perspective.


It proved to be a considerable speed bump to Irish ambition as they racked up 16 turnovers to England’s four, more often than not in trying to force an offload. The manner in which this Irish team wants to play in attack places a huge premium on skill-sets and passing under pressure.

A certain amount of mistakes have to be tolerated but the Irish players will be disappointed that they finished on the wrong side of striking that balance.