Brian Smith's Analysis - Ireland Slam England - Green and Gold Rugby

Brian Smith’s Analysis – Ireland Slam England

Brian Smith’s Analysis – Ireland Slam England

Ireland comprehensively rolled England at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day to win the Grand Slam and send shockwaves through English rugby. Last season in the reverse position, Ireland had a chance to rain on England’s parade in Dublin and did so, denying Eddie Jones’ team the elusive Grand Slam.

This time around England could not return the favour and were well beaten by half time with Ireland going into the sheds at 21 v 5. This was such an epic game that what follows is a blow-by-blow of how it unfolded. A story board of the match if you like.

High Ball Fast Start – Eng 0 Ire 7

Ireland got off to a very fast start with an age old tactic called the “Garryowen”. Johnny Sexton basically put up a high ball to test out Anthony Watson. It is called a Garryowen after the rugby club in Limerick that used the tactic in the 1920’s to great success – the name of the club has been synonymous with the tactic ever since.

Whatever it’s called it was effective with Sexton’s kick chased well by Rob Kearney to force the error from the rookie England fullback. If Watson has an issue it’s the high ball, and Ireland asked the question early in the contest. They came up trumps with Garry Ringrose benefiting from the skill of Sexton and Kearney

Ireland’s Strike Play – Eng 0 Ire 14

Midway through the first half Ireland threw a peach of a strike play at England and came up trumps as CJ Stander scored from a Bundee Aki bust. The play started with a 4-man lineout and a regular looking runaround play that is Johnny Sexton’s calling card.

However, Ireland had laid the trap for England’s Sam Simmonds and instead of Sexton receiving the ball on his runaround it was Aki taking the short ball to make the bust. The fact that it was Tadhg Furlong, the big Irish tight head prop, being the ball player makes it more embarrassing for England’s young back rower.

England Hit Back – Eng 5 Ire 14

Having conceded 2 tries in the first quarter of the match England simply had to strike next or it was game over. They did so from a penalty advantage play that saw Owen Farrell put in a beautifully weighted kick for Jonny May to score.

Keith Earls got far too narrow in defence and could not scramble well enough to stop the try being scored. England had the strike back but they failed to convert the try.

Game Breaker – Eng 5 Ire 21

With the clock at 41 minutes into the first half Ireland’s young left winger Jacob Stockdale delivered the killer blow to with Ireland’s third try in the first half. It was a brilliant chip and regather effort down the shortest of short sides and England’s Mike Brown could not do enough to stop the Irish flyer touching down inches inside the dead ball line.

The game was turning into a nightmare for England and Sexton slammed home the conversion to pile on more misery

England Hit Back Again – Eng 10 Ire 24

Eddie Jones must have had some choice word at half time and England rallied.

They should have scored on their left edge as Keith Earls was again caught out in defence by the Farrell and May combination. However, Earls somehow scrambled enough to tap the ankle of May and a certain England try was denied.

England continued to fight and their next try came from a lineout drive again under a penalty advantage. It was midway through the second half and Jones had injected Danny Care and George Ford into the action. With nothing to lose under a penalty advantage, Care bounced out from the maul and fired a long ball across Ben Te’o to Owen Farrell standing at outside centre. Farrell turned the ball back to Ford and fired another cutout pass to Brown how drew to Irish defenders giving Elliot Daley a free run to the line.

Again England attacked Earls and it paid off. However, England missed another conversion and they were fast running out of time

The Last Say – Eng 15 Ire 24

Towards the end of match the Irish contingent in the crowd were singing “Ole Ole Ole Ole”. It’s originally a Spanish bullfighting chant but has been adopted by European football and rugby crowds when their team is going to win easily. Let’s just say it was salt into English wounds and there were some English fans booing their team at the end – I guess with the going rate for a single ticket at £900 the punters are entitled to do what they want.

Anyway, if you listen at the start of the clip the Irish fans are singing “Ole” as England run in their last try to make the game respectable. This time it’s Ford putting Te’o into space on the right edge and it’s May who catches Jacob Stockdale too narrow


For England the tide has well and truly turned. They entered the Championship as favourites with dreams of winning the Grand Slam themselves. They’ve now been humiliated at home with their third consecutive loss and Ireland have won the Grand Slam at Twickenham. Finishing 5th in the 2018 RBS 6Nations Championship was never on the cards.

All teams have a bad run and sport can be fickle, but remember this England team have won over 80% of their last 30 matches. That being said, the England coach will need to move decisively now to address this slump. He’s got some breathing space until the November Test Series but his team will need to bounce back. With Billy Vunipola fit he’ll have the back row in better shape and there will be pressure for him to restore the Ford & Farrell combination. Captain Dylan Hartley is aging too. so Jones’ll also have leadership questions to answer.

The life of a coach – it’s never easy. That’s why its so enticing.

  • Joe Carbery

    It was Joey Carbery that converted Stockdale’s try. Sexton was off the pitch.

    • Brian Smith

      Correct, my bad.

  • I think England have more problems than you’ve suggested, winning merely let them paper over the cracks (and bear in mind they were lucky to beat Wales this year and 6 of those victories are over Italy and Argentina who they should be beating if they have any chance of lifting the RWC next year).

    England are lacking a fetcher, a truly creative attack (they scored, by some margin the second least number of tries, ahead of only Italy, and only just ahead of Italy) and rely on their big forwards to try and bully teams but it just doesn’t work that well now everyone is prepared for it and either they’ve had the time to work out how to negate Itoje or he’s gone off the boil. The return of Billy Vunipola should give them another big ball carrier but will that make enough of a difference with their existing frailties?

    • mikado

      I agree about England’s weaknesses, although I think the lack of a fetcher is less significant than a team-wide failure to compete effectively at the ruck. I think that latter failure is partly one of tactics (England seem to have misread the refereeing interpretation) and partly of organisation (too many players going in as individuals rather than in groups).

      Last year England got lucky a few times and ended up with an overly flattering record. This year they’ve not had much luck and their Lions players look under par (Ireland’s, by contrast, have been better rested). The season has ben bad but it’s not a catastrophe – yet.

      • I think the lack of a fetcher really underlies that weakness, although the lack of a consistent defensive 13 (playing like Basteraud did for France in this year’s championship) contributes too.

        Everyone tries to contribute and makes a mess of it, instead of letting a specialist decide and if they’re not there do something else – hitting a defensive ruck and making it move is clearly not as good as securing a turnover but it’s clearly better than giving away a penalty and it’s just as likely to slow their ball down as a play for the ball that doesn’t get it and doesn’t concede a penalty, or make them put an extra man in and disrupt their next phase or whatever.

        If you look at Scotland, Ireland and France they each had a dedicated fetcher (Wales sometimes played with two, so it’s a bit less clear cut, although they worked it out so only one went for the ball at each ruck) and the forwards knew their role at the ruck. There were penalties still of course, but lower numbers for handling in the ruck and so on than England had because you didn’t have props getting in the way of the fetcher. You equally, as England did on Saturday, didn’t have a prop in a good position, hands on the ball, and the openside land on top of him, instead of supporting him, leading to an easy penalty because the prop is suddenly off balance with an extra 100+ kilos on his back and can’t hold his weight up in the jackaling position when hit from behind/on top like that, instead of being hit from in front.

        It’s not a catastrophe yet, agreed. But if the early improvement in the SA Super Rugby teams carries on and carries through to the Bokke, and they improve under their new coach losing 6 in a row is not the preparation for winning a RWC next year…

  • Eoghan Hayes

    They don’t have as much breathing space as you think- England face a fired up South African team in June which is under a new coaching ticket, is showing signs of green shoots at Super level and will have no restrictions on overseas player selection. Jones plans on facing this apparently without the 16 English Lions- could be an interesting series, 2/3 games at altitude…..

  • Fatflanker

    Well they pantsed us four times in a year so I won’t be writing England off for the RWC yet. If they lose Farrell they’re stuffed.

    • Twoilms

      Farrell is the most overrated rugby player in the history of all rugby

  • NickAJW

    A bit late to the party, but did anyone else think after watching the Scotland Ireland game that the Wobs would actually stand quite a decent chance of beating Ireland?

    Rationale being that Scotland managed to play quick and wide, with 2 playmakers and in doing so created a lot of opportunities, barring some dreadful passing execution the game would have at least been a lot closer if not a Scotland win.

    With the way that the Wallabies backs can potentially play, I would think that provided the forwards hold up, and Foley doesn’t have a shocker, it seems like Ireland are quite vulnerable to the way we should like to play.


Brian Smith is a rare breed who has both played and coached international rugby and doesn't mind telling it as he sees it. He's currently putting his Oxford degree to good use teaching Commerce and coaching rugby at the Scots College, Sydney.

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