Error-strewn Ireland display not what Joe Schmidt required
Concern over a number of walking wounded after loss to England at Twickenham
Ireland captain Paul O’Connell gets over for a try during the second half of the World Cup warm-up game at Twickenham. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The result may not have been terribly important but while this was the restorative win which was prescribed for England, it was not the the Irish performance which Joe Schmidt had ordered.
Both physically and mentally, an error-prone Ireland took a bit of a beating, and indeed medically too. Conor Murray could not return to the pitch after being assessed for concussion in the 17th minute, Robbie Henshaw was also forced from the pitch after a late, high hit by Courtney Lawes and there was the singularly disconcerting sight of Johnny Sexton seemingly cramping up before leaving the fray with 14 minutes to go.
Ireland had run out of back replacements when Simon Zebo also cramped up (Jonny May and Lawes were being treated for similar problems at the same time, as a Test match took its toll so early in the season) so he was replaced by Tadhg Furlong. Chris Henry had to move to the left wing, as for the second game running Ireland finished with a forward in a reshuffled backline and four frontrowers on the pitch.
Then again, given the proximity of the World Cup, no chances were evidently being taken and Schmidt didn’t seem unduly perturbed by the injuries, nor indeed by the result.
Three weeks out from playing Wales, England’s need was predictably more acute than Ireland’s, whose pivotal game is five weeks away, and they looked bigger, fitter and stronger. Even so, both England’s defensive and attacking shape also seemed in better nick than Ireland’s, and of course they also had plenty of physical power, not least off their bench.
That said, England were sloppy in possession too in a game that would not have had the All Blacks quaking in their boots, or France for that matter.
In truth, Ireland never really looked like winning this game. About the only crumb of comfort, in the first-half especially, was the Irish set piece and even their try, by Paul O’Connell, to make it 15-13 served merely to rouse England. Indeed Ireland did well to absorb almost incessant pressure in the final quarter.
England were way quicker out of the blocks, working through the phases off their first lineout and having particularly joy when they went wide left and usually had a man or two to spare.
Tommy Bowe had already been beaten on the outside by a long skip pass by Anthony Watson and as May hugged the touchline once more, Ben Youngs floated another skip pass to the left-winger again. This time Bowe was better positioned but May bounced him, and broke through Zebo’s tackle to score. George Ford also landed the touchline conversion to make it 7-0 inside five minutes.
There was a temporary reprieve for Ireland when Sexton opened their account with a 45-metre penalty via the bar after mistimed tackle by May on the airborne outhalf. Zebo also found a good touch, but making little inroads through three or four phases, despite strong carries by SeÃ¡n O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony, twice Murray opted for box kicks which found Bowe outnumbered.
England came down field, helped by a Jamie Heaslip knock-on and a penalty for offside, and after driving off a lineout maul Ford used the penalty advantage to cross kick in straight duel between Watson and the isolated Zebo. Watson, delaying his leap off a running start, won the aerial wrestle from a standing Zebo to make it 12-3.
Indeed, it could, and should, have been worse as the Irish mistakes began to mount. After Zebo prevented one try with a man and ball tackle on Jonathan Joseph, Sexton and O’Mahony executed a choke tackle on Lawes. Ireland attacked from deep off the scrum, Sexton’s wraparound giving Zebo a run, and for once got the ball to earn a penalty.
Alas, Ireland’s wastefulness didn’t change when Murray was forced off after taking an accidental kick in the head when tackling Joe Marler – after he had been missed by Devin Toner. After close-in carries by O’Brien and O’Connell, a maul was held up, and curiously this prompted Eoin Reddan to kick an up-and-under from just outside the 22. Only Jared Payne chased, and again he was outnumbered as English players flooded the channel in front of him for Brown to claim the ball.
England came downfield again, going wide to expose Ireland’s right flank again, and England players and crowd alike celebrated when the touchline-hugging May jumped past Reddan’s covering tackle after a blatant forward pass from Tom Youngs. Nigel Owens signalled a try, with no intervention from his perfectly placed touch judge Romain Poite, but the Television Match Official, Shaun Veldsman asked to have a look at the pass and after innumerable reviewing, the try was correctly over-ruled.
But the Irish errors kept coming, despite one excellent defensive read by Dave Kearney, who again looked sharp and fit, whereas Bowe didn’t look right, and struggled.
Furthermore, no-one seemed to be on Sexton’s wavelength, Mike Ross dropping one inside pass and Payne another, either side of O’Brien offloading to a surprised Dan Cole. Geoff Parling stole a five-metre throw from Toner at the front after a penalty to the corner and and overly cautious call, and then came poor kicks by Sexton, Bowe and Reddan, Toner missed a tackle on Ben Morgan, and although knocking on the door in over time, the phased attack ended with O’Brien knocking on in contact.
On the resumption, Reddan knocked on from a lineout and England’s big scrum won a penalty, albeit after Marler had illegally dropped to the ground. From almost the exact same spot as Sexton in the first-half, Ford’s penalty also went over the crossbar.
Ireland did create half-chances out wide, Payne’s skill creating space for Kearney, and quicker hands by Zebo and Bowe might have seen Heaslip put Henshaw over.
In any case, Ireland countered down the blindside though good hands by Payne and a kick ahead and chase by Henshaw to earn an attacking lineout. The Irish pack feinted a maul off Toner’s take, but instead Heaslip came charging around the tail and after a superb clear-out by Rory Best, O’Connell did very well to pick up and just make the line. Sexton’s conversion somehow made it a two-point game.
But it only served to arouse the home team. Ireland were grateful for a steal by Sexton on Tom Wood and a driving tackle by Kearney on Brown after Ford had dummied Reddan and Watson stepped O’Connell. Ireland threatened to break out, but Henshaw’s pass inside to Zebo was adjudged forward before he took that hit from Lawes.
Cave was pinged off his feet, and Joseph wrestled the ball from Payne for England to come knocking again. May, a constant menace, beat Heaslip on the outside, and Owen Farrell’s loopy pass to ground butchered another try before the Richardt Strauss’s alert tackle seemed to prevent Richard Wigglesworth from reaching the line. The try was ruled out for Chris Robshaw almost handing the ball forward to Wood a couple of phases previously.
Two well-struck penalties by Farrell sealed England’s deserved win, before Donnacha Ryan’s eye-catching recovering speed prevented another try. The scoreline could easily have been worse.
Scoring sequence: 5 mins May try, Ford con 7-0; 8 mins Sexton pen 7-3; 14 mins Watson try 12-3; (half-time 12-3); 48 mins Ford pen 15-3; 50 mins Sexton pen 15-6; 53 mins O’Connell try, Sexton con 15-13; 73 mins Farrell pen 18-13; 78 mins Farrell pen 21-13.
ENGLAND: Mike Brown (Harlequins); Anthony Watson (Bath), Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Brad Barritt (Saracens), Jonny May (Gloucester); George Ford (Bath), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers); Joe Marler (Harlequins), Tom Youngs (Leicester Tigers), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers); Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Geoff Parling (Exeter Chiefs); Tom Wood (Northampton Saints), Chris Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), Ben Morgan (Gloucester).
Replacements: Joe Launchbury (Wasps) for Parling (13-19 and 45 mins), Jamie George (Saracens) for T Youngs, Mako Vunipola (Saracens) for Marler (both 56 mins), Billy Vunipola (Saracens) for Morgan, Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens) for B Youngs, Owen Farrell (Saracens) for Ford Sam Burgess (Bath) for Barritt (all 60 mins), Kieran Brookes (Northampton Saints) for Cole (62 mins).
IRELAND: Simon Zebo (Munster); Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Dave Kearney (Leinster); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster); Jack McGrath (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster); Devin Toner (Leinster), Paul O’Connell (Munster, capt), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), SeÃ¡n O’Brien (UCD/Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Dublin University/Leinster).
Replacements: Eoin Reddan (Leinster) for Murray (17 mins), Nathan White (Connacht) for Ross, Darren Cave (Ulster) for Henshaw (both 60 mins), Richardt Strauss (Leinster) for Best, Chris Henry (Ulster) for O’Brien (both 61 mins), Donnacha Ryan (Munster) for O’Connell (66 mins), Ian Madigan (Leinster) for Kearney (60-66 mins and for Sexton (66 mins), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster) for Zebo (70 mins).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)