Ireland’s Grand Slam ambition on course after England put to sword

Robbie Henshaw scores first try in stunning display as Joe Schmidt’s side make it 10 wins straight

Ireland 19 England 9

A strangely comprehensive dismissal of England, to end a four game losing streak dating back to 2011, this will be remembered as the day the Robbie Henshaw era begun.

His predecessor had warned us he was the one. First try for Ireland, a rake of bone-jarring tackles, Henshaw brings a power game never seen before from an Irish midfield.

“Bit of a dream for me to get the first score for Ireland here,” said the man of the match.


Turns out forewarned does not necessarily mean forearmed. Mikey Ned O’Sullivan, one of Kerry’s revered footballers from the 1970s, was interviewed by The Times of London this week.

“Unless you have started early it is very hard to,” said O’Sullivan.

By this he means catch up, with Ireland's high fielding. Point being the GAA fundamentals learned as boys by Henshaw, Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo gives Ireland a crucial advantage over every opponent besides the Wallabies who have their Aussie Rules.

England fullback Alex Goode is quite simply not as dominant in the air as Mike Brown. Or Henshaw for that matter. Heavily concussed a fortnight ago in Rome, the English medics stood Brown down on Wednesday morning. Goode, a fine player, was exposed by the dropping ball.

Henshaw rightly dominates the highlights reel, but it's his unseen work that will please the Irish coaches. That's saying something when Jonathan Sexton's four from five kicks is considered. Sexton also made two powerful tackles to force turnovers off Luther Burrell and George Ford.

Sexton glared at his opposite number. Shame that penalty was off key; only his second miss in a green jersey this season.

But Henshaw’s value continues to soar. As does the value of his new position.

Second-five-eight or inside centre, so important they named it twice; the number 12 jersey in rugby union continues to increase in importance. This isn't the first time Joe Schmidt has sought to shoehorn his most talented, or certainly biggest and athletic specimen into the slot.

Luke Fitzgerald ran there for a while in the middle of Schmidt's Leinster reign. Munster-bound flanker Jordan Coghlan was switched from the longest queue in the Irish game in an attempt to mould an intimidating figure down the inside channel. It goes back to schools with Terenure College switching Harrison Brewer, son of former All Black captain Mike, from backrow to centre. Brewer sat on the Irish under-20s bench on Friday night in Donnybrook.

You get the idea, it's a long-term plan. All the major nations have been at it for years; Think Yannick Jauzion for France, the dazzlingly gifted Sonny Bill Williams for New Zealand and Burrell – all big powerful men running hard lines off the outhalf.

Ireland are only beginning to see how important it is to be able to launch a 6’ 3”, 16-stone plus man over the gainline off first phase. This is not to besmirch the endurance and worthiness of Gordon D’Arcy’s 16 year Test match innings. He too, like Henshaw, was squeezed from fullback to outside then inside centre.

Difference is Henshaw, still only 21, has done it within a 12 month period.

It’s working.

Even on the stroke of half-time, moments after receiving attention for a damaged left foot, there he was to bundle Jack Nowell into touch.

Such physicality is comforting, especially on seeing Seán O'Brien rise and stumble, in that all too familiar concussed manner, thereby forcing Dr Eanna Falvey to hold the flanker's arm as he desperately attempted to rejoin the play.

O'Brien had carried through Ford's forearm. Billy Vunipola appeared to make contact as well. After the George North incident, O'Brien's day was certainly done.

Ireland always seemed in control. This despite England’s threat from open play or their heavy impact up front. All were matched. Ireland dominated.

Conor Murray ignited the second half with a rare line break. The attempted offload was nearing earth before Henshaw fly hacked it over Goode's head. The Saracens fullback retreated, scooped, skipped away from Henshaw, danced past Sexton, making it all the way to the 22's edge.

But they couldn’t turn the territorial tide.

England made some fundamental mistakes in selection. It seems like the presumption was that Plan A would work. They might be playing the long con with a view to getting Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes and Geoff Parling some game time at club level. A luxury that Ireland largely ignored with O'Brien, Iain Henderson and Cian Healy picked as soon as they were fit.

The only obvious flaw with Ireland was the lack of control when Ian Madigan replaced an injured Sexton, Schmidt afterwards saying Ireland's prize asset had suffered a hamstring injury. But the damage was already done.

Henshaw’s brilliant, leaping try off a Murray box kick effectively decided the result 13 minutes into the second half. It came off exactly what England had talked about countering during the week.

"The key thing is catching it! We've been practising," defence coach Andy Farrell had said.

But unless, as Mickey Ned had warned, you start early it is very hard to catch up. Pun intended.

Scoring sequence – 3 min: J Sexton pen, 3-0; 9 min: J Sexton pen, 6-0; 12 min: G Ford drp gl, 6-3; 30 min: J Sexton, 9-3. Half-time. 48 min: J Sexton pen, 12-3; 53 min: R Henshaw try, 17-3; J Sexton con, 19-3; 59 min: G Ford pen, 19-6; 68 min: G Ford pen, 19-9.

IRELAND: R Kearney; T Bowe, J Payne, R Henshaw, S Zebo; J Sexton, C Murray; J McGrath, R Best, M Ross; D Toner, P O'Connell; P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Murphy.

Replacements: T O'Donnell for S O'Brien (25 mins, HIA), I Madigan for J Sexton (54 mins), M Moore for M Ross (58 mins), C Healy for J McGrath (59 mins), I Henderson for D Toner (65 mins), F Jones for J Payne (71 mins), S Cronin for R Best (73 mins).

ENGLAND: A Goode; A Watson, J Joseph, L Burrell, J Nowell; J Nowell, G Ford; J Marler, D Hartley, D Cole; D Attwood, G Kruis; J Haskell, C Robshaw (capt), B Vunipola.

Replacements: T Youngs for D Hartley (53 mins), T Croft for J Haskell (62 mins), M Vunipola for J Marler, N Easter for D Attwood (both 65 mins), R Wigglesworth for B Youngs, B Twelvetrees for J Joseph (both 68 mins).

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa).

Perfect 10 - Ireland’s winning run


March 8th

Ireland 46 Italy 7 (Aviva Stadium)

March 15th

France 20 Ireland 22 (Stade de France)

June 7th

Argentina 17 Ireland 19 (Estadio Centenario, Resistencia)


Argentina 17 Ireland 23 (Estadio Monumental Jose Fierro, Tucumán)

November 8th

Ireland 29 South Africa15 (Aviva Stadium)

November 16th

Ireland 49 Georgia 7 (Aviva Stadium)

November 22nd

Ireland 26 Australia 23 (Aviva Stadium)


February 7th

Italy 3 Ireland 26 (Stadio Olimpico)

February 14th

Ireland 18 France 11 (Aviva Stadium)

March 1st

Ireland 19 England 9 (Aviva Stadium)