England crush Ireland with ‘signature performance’: the English press react
Manu Tuilagi enjoys a fine return as Ireland’s status as world number two is questioned
Well, that didn’t go to plan.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland were brought back down to earth with a bump on Saturday, as they fell to a comprehensive 32-20 defeat to England at the Aviva Stadium.
The world’s number two-ranked side, defending Six Nations champions and odds-on favourites to retain their title were outfought and outplayed by their resurgent visitors.
Eddie Jones’s side arrived in Dublin with a point to prove after Ireland secured the Grand Slam in the Twickenham snow last March - a miserable day for English rugby.
And they exacted revenge in brutal fashion, hammering Ireland in the collisions, at the breakdown, and taking their chances with ruthless efficiency.
It was Ireland’s first defeat on home soil since the All Blacks wreaked havoc in November 2016 - a run of 11 Tests.
It was also the first home Six Nations defeat of the Joe Schmidt era, and only the second time England have scored more than one try in Dublin in the Six Nations, following their Grand Slam-clinching 42-6 victory at the old Lansdowne Road in 2003.
It all makes for grisly reading, but Ireland will come again, and remain firmly in the Championship mix.
And while Schmidt and Andy Farrell circle the wagons and start to plot a route to recovery at Murrayfield next Saturday, the English press have been basking in the glow of victory.
Indeed, in the Sunday Times, Stephen Jones has been almost gushing in his praise of England’s performance: “All the highs and lows and bewilderments and frustrations in the tenure of Eddie Jones as England’s coach were distilled - perhaps mysteriously but quite gloriously - into this emphatic crushing of the reigning Six Nations champions,” he writes.
“Those coaches who produced this team in such a positve mental state, with everything covered in the mission to shut Ireland clean out, deserve the thanks of a grateful nation. But those on the field deserve thanks almost tending towards a fawning.”
One of the most striking aspects of England’s victory was their physical dominance against a side who are hardly a collection of shrinking violets.
The visitors’ linespeed was ferocious - albeit borderline offside - throughout, and in the Sunday Telegraph, Ian McGeechan suggests English superiority on the gainline was the defining factor in their victory.
“Ireland just could not get over the gainline. Even someone like Tadhg Furlong, usually one of their strongest ball carriers, was being knocked back in the tackle. . .
“. . .Crucially, England combined that physicality with composure. They seemed in control at every point, even when Ireland scored or Tom Curry was in the sin-bin.”
England ended 2018 seemingly at a crossroads, but this victory served to highlight they have the ability to beat anyone providing their big guns are fit, and as Andy Bull suggests in The Observer, it serves as a good omen for Japan in the autumn.
He writes: “This was it, then, the signature performance England needed, a statement of intent at the start of the World Cup year. It was their first match of 2019 and it will likely be the most important they play till the last comes around, sometime, someplace, in Japan in the autumn.
“Because it was proof England have a game that can beat the best team in Europe on their home turf, something even New Zealand failed to do the last time they tried.”
Saturday’s Test match was Manu Tuilagi’s first start for England since November 2014, and he slotted seamlessly back into the midfield, delivering a solid performance which is ominous for the rest of the world.
As Bull writes: “Tuilagi, in the starting XV for the first time since 2014 under Stuart Lancaster, felt like the missing piece of the jigsaw Jones had finally found underneath the sofa cushions. He is a talismanic player, a rock for all those fast-running backs to flow around.”
The plaudits for Tuilagi have been widespread and his presence - along with the Vunipola brothers, Mako and Billy - turn England into an entirely different proposition.
In the Sunday Telegraph, Paul Hayward writes: “Tuilagi’s last Six Nations start had been in March in 2013, in Cardiff. He was worth waiting for.
“To have Tuilagi back in this role while Billy and Mako Vunipola use the oppositions as anvils lent England’s surges a percussive force. This kind of ball carrying takes England to a higher level.”
And what about Ireland? Was Saturday’s defeat merely a bump on the road to Rugby World Cup glory or a product or more serious deficiencies?
Joe Schmidt’s side were hot favourites heading into the match, and in the Guardian, Robert Kitson suggests this favouritism didn’t suit the hosts.
He writes: “One bad result does not suddenly make Ireland a bad side but this was not a day to convince many neutrals the world’s second-best team were wearing green.
“Maybe that was the problem: given the choice between being the hunters or the hunted, Irish rugby players instinctively prefer the underdogs’ basket.”
And again in the Sunday Telegraph, Hayward says Ireland’s status as the world’s second best side is now questionable.
He writes: “A 32-20 home defeat to a team who had not won here for six years raises doubts about their ability to sustain the surge that took them to number two in the world. It certainly showed England are a lot better than 12 months ago, when they finished fifth in the Championship.”
The overriding feeling coming from the English press in the wake of this result is that England are now the side to challenge the All Blacks in Japan, and that everything is falling perfectly into place for Jones.
In the Daily Mail UK, Oliver Holt writes: “The message from this stunning performance is that Eddie Jones’ side is peaking when it matters. This was more than a victory for England. It was a reassertion of their superiority. It was a restoration of their confidence.
“Ireland did not look complacent but nor did they look like the side that has swept all before them in the last 12 months and more. They wore the uncertain look of a runner who has hit the front too early and knows they are going to be chased down.”
Ireland peaking too early, as England produce themselves at exactly the right time?
We’ll see about that.