Ireland left in championship dogfight after being bullied by England again

Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton bemoan sloppy start as Six Nations hopes suffer blow

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell says he "needs to look at himself" after England raced into a first half lead in Twickenham and went on to beat his side 24-12 in round three of the Six Nations. Video: Perform/Reuters

 

Not for the first time Twickenham proved a graveyard for Ireland’s ambitions. No Triple Crown and, as a result, no shot at a Grand Slam either. What’s more, the odds on a realistic shot at the title have also receded in the light of Ireland’s 24-12 defeat by England yesterday, which has in turn revived the home side’s chances of winning the 2020 Six Nations.

It’s now a three-way fight to be champions, with Ireland, realistically, down to third in the table and the outsiders of the trio after this.

This was especially so in the defining first half, at the end of which the Irish supporters among the 82,000 full house were probably relieved to merely be trailing 17-0.

So it was that Andy Farrell admitted that the most disappointing aspect of the performance was “the first half in general”.

He added: “We were coming here to try and win a Triple Crown and they were trying to fight to stay in the championship and one side, for one reason or another – we can try and assess all the bits, all the technicalities and ramifications of accumulative errors, etc, etc – or refereeing decisions or whatever, but the reality is that they came out the box hard, got on the front foot and we took a few sucker punches from them.

“And it’s up to myself for that, you know, were they up for it more? And us going for a Triple Crown? That’s my responsibility to make sure that shouldn’t happen. So I’ve got to look at myself first and foremost.

“I asked the players at half-time about having some proper belief you know? How did you get to be at your best? You get to be at your best when you’re rolling forward and you’re winning collisions etc, and we came off second best really for large periods of that first half.”

The captain, Johnny Sexton, was a little unlucky not to bring a wickedly bouncing grubber from Ben Youngs under control in the in-goal area before George Ford pounced for the opening try, and a similar seven-pointer followed by Elliot Daly when Jacob Stockdale couldn’t deal with Ford’s chip.

Yet Sexton accepted culpability for that opening try when also accepting the players had to take responsibility.

“No, Faz will always say that. Look, as players, I think we were in the right frame of mind. At 7-0 down, I didn’t deal with the chip through. We missed a shot at goal. Another chip through and we’re 14-0 down. A couple of chances, a couple of decisions against us and then we’re chasing.”

“I was proud of the lads in the second half. Proud of the way we stuck in and fought back and we could have got another score or two maybe. Obviously, we were trying to chase to get that bonus point or deny them,” said Sexton, who maintained they’d had “a brilliant week’s prep”.

Capricious wind

Sexton had described it as quite an open ground and the strong, capricious wind did not make this the ideal day for kickers or back three players under a swirling high ball. Sexton, his right knee strapped again, skewed his two kicks although Ireland were fortunate to be within a dozen points at the final whistle.

It was like being stuck in the same game and at times

Admitting he’d love to have the missed penalty and conversion again, the skipper said he was trying to smash it by getting the middle of the ball. “I just got it slightly high on both occasions and that’s it.”

He had no issues with his right leg. “I would have taken the last kick, I thought it was more important to get the boys in a huddle and say a couple of things that I wanted to say,” he said, specifically that they had to take the hurt from this but were still in the title picture.

Akin to last season’s defeat at the Aviva Stadium, the Ireland attack struggled to cope with England’s line speed in attack, and in this and much else Sexton admitted: “It was like being stuck in the same game and at times when the space was out wide we tried to get there but they shut us down.

“At times we didn’t execute well enough to get the ball to where the space [was] and then we’re going backwards. That’s where we need to be better. We need to get rid of the ball and not overplay. We overplayed at times when they had us on the back foot.”

Robbie Henshaw scores Ireland’s first try during defeat to England at Twickenham. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images
Robbie Henshaw scores Ireland’s first try during defeat to England at Twickenham. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

About the only relief was that the threatened massacre never came to light, thanks in part to the impact of a fairly youthful bench, albeit when the game was up. Caelan Doris especially looked the part on this stage. There would have been scope for change when playing Italy in any case, but now even more so. Postponed after the World Cup, this felt like it may have marked the changing of the guard to at least some extent.

“Yeah, I thought they did really well,” Farrell said of the bench. “I thought we played some decent stuff toward the end but obviously a little bit too late. You don’t want to be playing your best rugby when the game is over really. But having said that you look at the scoreline and it’s pretty important, isn’t it, that we get over for the try.

“As disappointed as we are, we’re in a competition, we are. To lose by 12 points, yeah we’ll be realistic and understand the reason why, we’ll take that apart and take our learnings from that.”

Cian Healy suffered a hip injury which has to be assessed and on the likelihood of changes for the Italian game, Farrell said:

“We’ll see. We’ll see how people pitch up, who needs a game. We’ve got people going back to their clubs, we’ve got a fallow week and people will be refreshed anyway. We’ll assess the game and what’s best for the team.”

Ireland have the opportunity to take their title claims into the final weekend when facing Italy at home on Saturday week. However, that tournament finale in the Stade de France at 9pm on Saturday, March 14th, is beginning to look altogether more daunting. The rejuvenated French could be going for a Grand Slam should they back up last Saturday’s thrilling win over Wales in Cardiff by beating Scotland in Murrayfield a fortnight hence.

Facing Les Bleus last up on a late Saturday night when they are going for the their first Grand Slam in a decade – a famine by their standards – is not exactly the ideal script, all the more so after something of a no-show here.

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