England’s astonishing defensive display gave one-dimensional Ireland no hope

Tom Curry makes one of his 23 tackles during the win over Ireland on James Lowe (Reuters)
Tom Curry makes one of his 23 tackles during the win over Ireland on James Lowe (Reuters)

That stats just don’t add up. Ireland had 20 per cent more possession than England, even more territory and spent twice as long in the opponent’s 22. They had the ball for a whole five minutes longer than the English did over the course of 80 energy-sapping minutes at Twickenham on Saturday, had to make 171 fewer tackles than Eddie Jones’s side and conceded fewer penalties.

The stats don’t show it, but Ireland were comprehensively beaten by England.

How? Because England knew exactly how Ireland were going to play, and having spoken about it all week they put a plan into place and executed it in a way that would have stopped the very best of opponents.

Ireland’s selection gave Andy Farrell’s hand away, but the Ireland head coach wasn’t too concerned by that move as he appeared to bank on his hand being stronger than that of Eddie Jones. By deploying Quinn Roux over Iain Henderson in the second row, and both CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony in the back row with Caelan Doris, Ireland sacrificed their strength at the lineout and breakdown for brute strength in the hope that they would run over England.

Boy, did they try in the second half. With 70 per cent possession and 77 per cent territory after a half-time gee-up that woke them from their slumber, Ireland just kept on coming at England. The only issue was they were met by one of the most impressive defensive displays witnessed in the game, where five of England’s pack made 20 individual tackles or more. For any player to hit 20 tackles in a game is impressive, but five is unheard of.

READ MORE: England dominate Ireland to seal Twickenham victory

Typically, Maro Itjoe led the way, just as he leads England’s defensive effort. His 24 tackles topped the charts, with Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill and Kyle Sinckler also recording impressive numbers. Mako Vunipola, the loosehead prop, low-scored among the forwards. He made 16 tackles.

To have a collective defensive effort of such defiant magnitude requires a Plan B, and Ireland unfortunately did not have it until the final stages of the match. None of the forwards, including the replacements, missed a single tackle during the match, and Ireland could have run at them all day long without reaping the success that their effort deserved. This is no slight on the backs either given both Owen Farrell and the impressive Ollie Lawrence kept pace with the pack, and when their moment to shine came they had the confidence to try something different that resulted in Jonny May’s sublime solo effort from his own 22.

“They are a smart side,” said Ireland coach Andy Farrell. “They understand what they are about and their plans, and are relentless at sticking to it.

“Set-piece pressure, they did a job on us, they controlled the defensive side of their game, disrupted our ball and made us play with slow ball.

“Some individuals became proper internationals out there today. That England side have been through some massive ups and downs and it’s those down times they’ve learned from most and have become a fabulous side.

“We’re on a different journey. Second half, of course we needed to be more clinical, but we can be proud of that.”

Maro Itoje topped the tackle charts with a monumental 24 challengesReutersMaro Itoje topped the tackle charts with a monumental 24 challengesReuters
Maro Itoje topped the tackle charts with a monumental 24 challengesReuters

Farrell is right to point out the different points of transition that the two sides find themselves in, but patience isn’t an ally on the international stage – Jones found that out himself during England’s ‘down’ times two years ago. The second half will also be a keen focal point this week given Jones’s side were outscored 7-6 by Ireland. In truth, they had only one genuinely impressive attacking phase just shy of the hour mark when Henry Slade and Mako Vunipola displayed a touch of class with the ball in hand, but Doris snuffed out the attack with a turnover penalty on the edge of the Irish 22.

However, Jones put it best in knowing there’s a time and a place for that kind of analysis. “I’m never disappointed when we beat Ireland.”

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