Matt Williams: Like on my Ryanair flight, Ireland were suffocated by England

This Ireland side hasn’t progressed in a year and I’m unconvinced they can change

Ireland’s Ultan Dillane (right) and Bundee Aki leave the field dejected after their Six Nations loss to England at Twickenham. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Ireland’s Ultan Dillane (right) and Bundee Aki leave the field dejected after their Six Nations loss to England at Twickenham. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

 

Last Monday on my Ryanair flight out of Dublin, I sat in seat 24A. The giant of a man who arrived and sat next to me was a doppelgänger for Tyson Fury, but bigger. Wreaking of a heavy weekend in Dublin, he immediately reenacted a German Wehrmacht, “Blitzkrieg” manoeuvre.

My 24A was poor little Belgium and faster than you can say “Eddie Jones could have declared at half time,” 24B’s Panzer division-sized bum had occupied a third of my property.

The giant invading left buttock was only part of the problem. A tricep the size of a small cow had wedged itself behind my right shoulder. I was forced to sit at an angle of forty five degrees and stare out of the window.

Just when you think things could not get worse, they did.

Flatulence is not a topic often mentioned in the pages of this august journal. Call me old fashioned, but civilised humanity usually does not forcefully break wind in public and if they do they usually blame their dog.

As our flight reached cruising altitude, in the intimate confines of a Ryanair cabin, 24B let one rip. The stench is best described by an old Australian saying, that “it would kill a brown dog.” The gagging repercussions were felt rows deep. I swear the safety stickers on the headrest of the seat in front of me began to bubble at the edges.

24B had a terrain and air attack strategy.

Dirty tricks

In the depths of adversity, under immense pressure, as my space was being attacked by a huge adversary who was using dirty tricks, I fully understood how the Irish rugby team must have felt at Twickenham.

The speed that 24B executed his Blitzkrieg suggested he had used them before. Exactly like England, who implemented the same devastating tactics at Twickenham that we witnessed at the Aviva in 2019.

Once again England’s energy was far above the Irish. With the notable exception of James Ryan, Ireland got their preparation very wrong.

It was not random that Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje both held CJ Stander in back play. England were deliberately slowing the Irish ball and illegally holding Irish defenders.

England knew they had to neutralise Ireland’s lineout. So Eddie Jones selected five locks. Tall men lifting other tall men is simple and effective. Ireland were capable of only winning low quality ball at the front.

When Ireland attempted to maul, England illegally took out the Irish lifters and stopped the maul before it could start.

All of these tactics were like 24B, a bit smelly but highly effective. England attacked the Irish strengths with ruthless efficiency and aggression. That is very smart play.

In attack, England have gloriously abandoned the New Zealand attacking shape of spreading their forwards across the field in zones. Infuriatingly everyone else on the planet is still copying this system.

To Eddie Jones’ credit he has reverted to a simple system from the 1990s that used to be called the “East Coast set up.” Forwards get deep and run hard onto the ball, either off 9 or 10. It’s that simple. I have been advocating a return to a hybrid of this system for years.

This system empowers Youngs, Farrell and Ford to read the play and change the point of the English attack at will. It also requires the other backs to work exceptionally hard so the halves can either pass behind the forwards to the extremities or kick, to exploit the vast expanses of space that were available behind the Irish defensive system. With both Irish wingers up, Jordan Lamour could not cover all of Twickenham’s “cabbage patch.”

England’s short kicking game devastated Ireland again.

Like last year, the English rushing defence smashed the Irish forwards behind the gain line. It also highly pressurised Sexton and the next back outside him. Ireland do not have two playmakers on the field. If Sexton is under pressure and the defenders attack the next back, then Ireland’s attack is nullified. Ireland need a second playmaker – Joey Carberry please get better.

Not progressed

England and Eddie Jones dominated every aspect of the match because they out-thought, out-prepared and out-passioned an Irish team who have not progressed in a year.

England played the same game plan as 2019 and so did Ireland.

Without radical change, Ireland will see Eddie Jones’ tactics used against them by the French in Paris and the Wallabies in Australia.

I remain unconvinced that Ireland’s coaches can implement the level of growth required for success in Paris or Australia.

Like Ireland, my journey was not yet finished.

Just before descent, 24B informed me he required the bathroom.

The giant elevated himself from the seat. In the manoeuvrings for the aisle, the Bilitzkreg bum rose to face height.

For a brief but traumatising moment, my face was pressed flat against the window by a backside several pick handles wide. Jammed into my right ear was a bum, that was playing “peek-a-boo” between a pair of jeans that would fit a Clydesdale and the frayed ends of an AC-DC t-shirt.

I may require counselling.

The chances of me drawing “the arse from hell,” as a future flying companion are mercifully very low. So my nightmare was short lived.

For this Irish team, their journey of pain is far from over.

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