England beat holders in Six Nations clash
England beat Six Nations holders Ireland in a thrilling encounter in Dublin. Resisting the urge to field a defensive line up, Eddie Jones was rewarded with a 20-32 England win.
England fans couldn’t have wished for a better start to this years’ Six Nations tournament. Facing the holders Ireland in Dublin for the first game was a stern test but England emerged victorious, even taking a bonus point from their hosts in the process.
Pre-match, most of the speculation centred on the mindset of the English team. Only one English victory on Irish soil in the Six Nations in 16 years and Ireland winning 18 out of their 19 matches meant that England were rightly regarded as underdogs. So the question was, would Eddie Jones fight fire with fire and attack the Irish or would a defensive set-up be a better option?
Jones decided to go for the attack and courageously opted to leave Mike Brown out of the starting line-up, a surprising choice, as Brown is particularly good at dealing with Ireland’s box-kicks. This change, however, enabled England to be much more offensive. This, combined with a frantic start, did the damage to Ireland and within the opening two minutes England led courtesy of a superb try scored by Jonny May.
Whilst Ireland did lead a spirited fightback, they trailed 17-10 at the break but did start the livelier of the two teams. Jonathan Sexton converted a penalty but when Henry Slade chased down May’s kick to score, the game as a competition was over. John Cooney scored his first international try on his 5th international appearance but it was only a consolation as England claimed their first win in Dublin since 2013, giving the Irish coach his first taste of home defeat since he took charge.
After the match, Ireland’s coach admitted that the frantic nature at the start of the game had caught his team by surprise. Joe Schmidt said he expected England to be physical, but the intensity and the way England closed down spaces wasn’t something he had anticipated. While Schmidt was disappointed by the result and performance, he was also quick to point out that last year Ireland also started sluggishly but became stronger with every game, something the Irish will need to do quickly if they are to be genuine challengers.
Reflecting on the Irish loss, former Ireland fly-half Tony Ward believes Ireland paid the price for becoming over-reliant on box-kicking. Ward, who was capped 19 times for his country, believes his national team are too predictable and lack a ‘plan B’. The 63-year-old admits that when it works, it works well, but believes the big teams have planned to counteract it. He said:
While we do it well, I think we’re overplaying it. It’s a tactic we’ve really come to depend upon and it’s very easy to negate, as England proved on Saturday.–Tony Ward, former Ireland fly-half
Slow starts have hampered the Irish in previous tournaments. In last year’s successful Six Nations campaign it took a last-second Johnny Sexton drop-goal from 45 metres to claim victory over the French and the year before they lost to Scotland at Murrayfield. The Irish coach said it is something they need to work on, especially as the Six Nations this year acts as a warm-up tournament for the World Cup that starts in September.
England will face France in their second match of the Six Nations at Twickenham Stadium on Sunday. Ireland faces a difficult challenge against Scotland who beat Italy in Edinburgh by a 33-20 scoreline. A task that will not be helped by injuries to Keith Earls, Devin Toner and CJ Stander. Ireland are however likely to reinstate full-back Rob Kearney to the starting line-up after the UCD & Leinster player was dropped from the team due to poor form.
The Welsh will also be hoping to continue their winning start after securing an impressive 24-19 win away in Paris. George North was the Welsh hero in that fixture, taking a second-half double, as the Welsh fought back from trailing 16-0. Wales face Italy on Saturday in what should be an easier encounter.