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Bleak picture for Ireland, Billy the bruiser and more Twickenham talking points

Joe Schmidt’s men haven’t won in four games now.
Feb 27th 2016, 7:07 PM 15,034 78

Murray Kinsella reports from Twickenham

IRELAND WERE BEATEN 21-10 by England at Twickenham to extend their winless run.

Error count

England, once they found the clinical edge they had missed in the first half, were superb here, but Ireland will look at their own errors as the root of all their problems.

Mike Brown scores a try Source: Andrew Fosker/INPHO

The rate of mistakes was alarming in the first half, with poor passes, missed tackles and simple dropped balls continually heaping the pressure back on Joe Schmidt’s side.

Johnny Sexton missing touch with a penalty that should have relieved the defence, Andrew Trimble dropping the ball in the England half, or Conor Murray firing a poor pass at Rory Best to allow an England counter-attack put of their own 22; the first-half examples were numerous.

Ireland were accurate and effective immediately after the break leading up to Murray’s try, but then mistakes struck again. Sexton spilled the ball on halfway to provide the English possession platform for Anthony Watson’s try, then an absent-minded penalty from Josh van der Flier was at the source of the pressure leading to Mike Brown’s.

Schmidt’s Leinster and Ireland teams have always been famed for their clinical execution, but this side – with confidence sorely lacking – are making too many errors at present.

The 68th minute spill of the ball five metres out from the English line as time ran down for an improbable comeback was typical of the overall display.

Billy the bruiser

No player did more damage to the Ireland defence than the remarkably effective Billy Vunipola, who looks fitter than ever before and is having a wonderful championship.

The Saracens man looked like that big lump in an U14s game who everyone suspects is overage and no one can tackle. He broke Irish efforts with apparent ease to consistently send Eddie Jones’ men over the gainline.

His carry in the build-up to Brown’s try was a case in point, as George Ford switched play back to the left simply to afford himself the opportunity to feed the ball to Vunipola.

The number eight battered through two tackles for an eight-metre gain and suddenly Ireland’s defence was all over the place and unable to react as George Ford and Owen Farrell spun the ball beautifully wide to Brown.

Bleak picture

Three games into the 2016 Six Nations and Ireland are without a win, extending their overall run without a victory to four when the World Cup quarter-final against Argentina is included. It’s the worst streak of Schmidt’s Ireland tenure and certainly a bleak time.

Keith Earls with George Ford and Jonathan Joseph Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Speaking before the competition even started, Schmidt identified a top-half finish as a realistic target this year and those words certainly look like ringing true if Ireland can at least beat Italy and Scotland at home in the coming weeks.

With the Six Nations breaking next weekend, Ireland do at least have time to lick their wounds again and build into two fixtures that they should win and win well.

Schmidt must consider what exactly he wants to get from those fixtures. Does he continue with experienced players or does he field even more of the younger squad members than today?

No silencing of Jones

Eddie Jones dominated the build-up to this game, drawing attention away from his team and onto Ireland with comments about Schmidt’s strategy and Sexton’s health.

Ireland were angered by some of those words and there would have been major satisfaction from beating the Australian, but Jones will be free to keep talking after his side emerged victorious.

His take on proceedings will certainly be interesting. In the end, a fired-up Sexton could not have a decisive impact on the game, though he did make a pair of scything line breaks. Otherwise, his performance was the mixed bag it has been for much of the season.

It’s difficult to say that Jones’ comments had any impact at all on this game in the end, but Ireland will regret missing the chance to shove them back down his throat.

Bench impact

There were a handful of positives for Ireland in defeat. Donnacha Ryan was outstanding in the second row, while CJ Stander was also mightily effective in the back row with his carrying and passing.

Ultan Dillane warms up before the match Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Perhaps the most immediately obvious positive was the impact Ultan Dillane made off the bench. The Connacht lock produced a bust of the English defence on a simple one-out carry, not something we’re at all used to seeing in Ireland’s attack.

The Paris-born lock is very dynamic and it would be positive to see Schmidt give him a start in the coming weeks against Italy and Scotland. His break, offload and work rate to get another touch stood out as he made his athletic ability felt.

The 22-year-old is a superb prospect for Irish rugby.

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Murray Kinsella

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