Take 5: What we learned from Ireland’s defeat to England
Set piece was excellent but Joe Schmidt’s men have work to do in other areas
England loosehead prop Joe Marler is forced out of the scrum during the World Cup warm-up game against Ireland at Twickenham. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
The English should have been out of sight on the scoreboard after 30 minutes but instead found the visitors desperately and defiantly hanging onto the coattails of the hosts.
England’s failure to execute when enjoying a numerical advantage out wide cost them three tries, even allowing for Dave Kearney’s brilliant defensive read on George Ford.
Lancaster did have the satisfaction of watching his side close out the game by continuing to exert pressure territorially and in terms of possession, but watching Owen Farrell butcher a run-in try with a wild pass in the second half must have been perplexing.
The character that Ireland displayed in clawing their way back to 15-13 down was heartening but against a more clinical side they wouldn’t be afforded that opportunity. The visitors’ scrum was outstanding, forcing two turnovers and the build-up to Paul O’Connell’s try was striking for the amalgam of precision, power and nuance with the lineout variation.
But there were several aspects of the Irish performance that remain a concern, notwithstanding the fact that the team is looking to peak in five weeks and that they are deliberately not showing anything of the attacking playbook that they are keeping for the tournament.
It does not matter what defensive system that a team is looking to operate if players miss straight-up tackles. There were numerous examples in the first 20 minutes and that coupled with a lack of line-speed and aggression ensured that England were given easy gain-lines.
Ireland were also slow to realign and because England were getting easy yards, and able to recycle quickly, they were able to concoct mismatches in midfield between their backs and Irish forwards. England’s offloading in contact caused the visiting side huge problems and offers a blueprint for future Irish opponents.
The Irish team has conceded nine tries in their World Cup warm-up matches and that is a concern. Defence is about attitude and communication as well as technique. The collective needs to improve but that is completely reliant on individual techniques and accountability. Ireland missed 22 of 125 tackles, a figure that will have to come down going forward.
SCRUM AND LINEOUT
It was excellent. Taking two against the head when pitted against England’s first choice frontrow and to all intents and purposes their premier pack is a massive coup for the Irish eight and scrum coach Greg Feek. Ireland’s excellence in this area gives them an opportunity to force penalties and also a platform to launch Jamie Heaslip of the backline with the benefit of a favourable angle.
A clever lineout variation (kudos to forwards’ coach Simon Easterby) led to a try for Ireland captain Paul O’Connell. It’s another strength and a platform from which Ireland can launch Robbie Henshaw, and as they showed on a couple of occasions find holes in the opposing defence, amongst the forwards.
Ireland’s clear-out here still needs a bit of sharpening and there is a continuing tendency for players to get isolated thereby giving up turnovers, or just as bad, penalties for not releasing after the tackle.
If Ireland eschew an offloading game then the accuracy and speed of the ball at ruck time has to improve; there’s little to be gained from having to send four, five or six players in to rescue ball. Offloading doesn’t have to be at the centre of Ireland’s gameplan but it has to be a constituent. Players have to fight more vigorously in contact too.
Much of Ireland’s kicking game is about contesting the aerial battle and they were a distant second best against England. Many of the box-kicks from first Conor Murray and then Eoin Reddan didn’t have the requisite number of chasers and others were simply overcooked in terms of being out of range of the pursuers. Anthony Watson’s try from George Ford’s cross-kick saw the Irish side get a taste of their own medicine. Some of the punting and grubbers were flawed in both conception and execution. It’s an area of the game that needs more polish.
Ireland certainly weren’t overly narrow. They did go wide but the ball out-the-back is predictable for the most part. For it to be successful the dummy runners have to convey the impression that they are potential recipients. Ireland need to be flatter at times and change the lines of running. That’s down to individuals making good decisions. England easily read Irish intentions and just drifted out wide before zooming in on the final Irish ball carrier.
Dave Kearney excelled in every aspect of the game and carried a threat whenever he touched the ball but there doesn’t look to be a connection between the back three. Ireland did manage to go through several phases and get gain-lines for the opening 20 minutes of the second half but they still look a little out of kilter going wide.