Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
# big issues
Kearney is a World Cup starter and more talking points from Ireland's loss
England ruled the skies and bossed the breakdown, while Ireland showed signs of their game plan.

IRELAND WERE BEATEN 21-13 by England at Twickenham in their final World Cup warm-up clash. Read our match report here.

England rule in the air

It was clear from early in the game that Ireland were keen to gain territory through their usually effective kicking game, but England ruled under the high ball at Twickenham this afternoon.

Mike Brown and Brad Barritt with Jared Payne Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Though the likes of Dave Kearney had impressive one-off catches, the Mike Brown-led English dealt with Ireland’s kicking game superbly. The ever-improving Jonny May was excellent in covering the backfield too whenever Ireland looked for distance on kicks.

The chase from Joe Schmidt’s side was uncharacteristically poor, as they failed to hit the exacting standards the Kiwi places on them to get off the ground and disrupt. Brown consistently dismantled the danger.

Another concern was when Ireland kicked the ball, particularly on exits. England seemed to dictate the terms and when Schmidt’s side might have used an extra phase to get chasers on their feet, they instead kicked from weak positions and put themselves under pressure as England bounced back.

First-half failings

The loss of the aerial battle was only one element of a desperately poor first half from Ireland in which the error count was off the charts. Dropped passes constantly stunted attempts to regain momentum, while ball carriers had little impact on the gainline.

Anthony Watson out jumps Simon Zebo to score a try Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Defensively, the same disjointedness we saw in the earlier warm-up games against Wales and Scotland was evident again. This may still be pre-season but with two weeks until the tournament begins, that was a concern.

Making the system errors even more telling were missed one-on-one tackles, though England deserve credit for giving their carriers chances to win those battles with good ruck speed and their clever rugby league-style diamond shape in phase attack.

To go into the break just 12-3 down was, in truth, a good return for Ireland based on their first-half display.

Ireland lose the breakdown

Perhaps the key issue again today, following on from last weekend’s defeat to Justin Tipuric and Wales in this area. England were ferocious at the breakdown in defence for the first 40 minute in particular, consistently slowing the Irish ball.

Jared Payne after the game Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

That fed into the aforementioned lack of gainline impact from Ireland and Schmidt will have been hugely disappointed with some of the rucking from his players.

It’s a fine art, and even when Ireland vastly improved in this department after the break, there were moments when they had too many players in the ruck. Finding the balance is essential, but we can rest assured that Ireland have done so on numerous occasions in the past.

The likes of Jamie Heaslip got a better handle on England’s rucks in the second 40, managing to slow their possession and force George Ford to kick the ball slightly more. That was certainly a positive sign.

Exclusive Six
Nations Analysis

Get Murray Kinsella’s exclusive analysis of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign this spring

Become a Member

Rory Best’s sublime piece of rucking for Paul O’Connell’s try, when the hooker opened up a huge hole for his captain by driving the England defender deep beyond the breakdown point, is the standard Ireland will aspire to in the coming months

Did we see more?

This summer has, of course, partly been about what we’re not seeing from Ireland. A simple game plan against Wales last weekend came up just short in attempting to deliver a win and Schmidt realised that more was needed as Ireland looked to mount a comeback in Twickenham.

Paul O'Connell scores a try Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The maul play that led to O’Connell’s try was hugely welcome, particularly in an area where Ireland have previously excelled but stalled more recently.

A week after something similar-ish almost saw Sean O’Brien score against Wales, the signs are that Ireland’s maul will have many tricks ready for the World Cup.

In phase play too, there was some growth in Ireland’s tactics as they reverted to some of the linking plays we saw against Scotland in Dublin. The likes of Devin Toner and Peter O’Mahony were asked to pass rather than simply trundle into big English defenders and those plays give Ireland so much more potential in attack.

Still, we await the strike moves Schmidt has concocted for his backline and off lineout and scrum platforms at the World Cup.

Dave Kearney is a starter

This performance surely nailed down Dave Kearney’s status as a starter for Ireland in the biggest games at the World Cup. Over on the right wing, Tommy Bowe may have ensured exactly the opposite.

Dave Kearney is tackled by Joe Marler and Ben Youngs Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Kearney was incredibly effective in defence, forcing carriers back in almost every single tackle he made. Combine those moments of big contact with some magnificent reads and it was stunning stuff from the Louth man in defence.

Going forward, Kearney was similarly effective, making yards with each of his touches and positively bursting with energy. The 26-year-old looks to be in the shape of his life and promises so much at the World Cup.

Bowe, meanwhile, appeared to be struggling with the pace and physicality of the contest, such a rare thing for the Monaghan native. He was brushed off by Jonny May for the England wing’s try and had some poor touches with hand and boot.

Schmidt has put pressure on Bowe to deliver after a poor pre-season had seen him come close to missing out on the World Cup altogether and with Simon Zebo, Luke Fitzgerald, Keith Earls also competing for the wing spots, Bowe needs to find form.

Here’s the final instalment of Jean De Villiers’ inspirational Road to Recovery doc

Andrew Trimble launched a rampaging Stuart McCloskey try for Ulster