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Rory Best and the Ireland bench dejected.
Rory Best and the Ireland bench dejected.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

More questions than answers for Ireland after record-breaking loss to England

There were no winners in Irish colours today.
Aug 24th 2019, 5:54 PM 22,565 46

IRELAND WILL BRING just 31 players to Japan next month for their latest tilt at the Rugby World Cup and today’s humiliating, record-breaking loss to England delivered far more questions and concerns than answers for Joe Schmidt as the deadline for submitting his squad draws closer.

Winners

We could use this term advisedly, or re-emphasise that even the most humiliating outcomes can be funnelled towards some potential positive outcome in Japan next month.

But while there were plusses from some performers in the back-line, it seems futile to pick out a silver lining after Ireland have suffered the worst defeat to England in all the 144 years and 135-Test history against the old enemy.

The largest points total England posted against Ireland before today was 50, when a young Ireland side went to London in the 2000 Six Nations. Today’s 42-point winning margin eclipsed the previous high watermark of 40 when England marauded to victory on Lansdowne Road in 1997.

There were no winners today, not in green.

Losers

Rory Best

“It was hard to describe it without using a lot of profanity,” Rory Best told Sky Sports post-match. 

As captain he is not only the first face to front up to the cameras after a loss as seismic as that, but he was also a poor performer in his own area as the line-out badly malfunctioned. Without Devin Toner as a totem, four throws were lost on Best’s watch and England were sufficiently supercharged to take full advantage.

In that post-match exchange, his face bore the deep concern of a man who fears that his retirement plan may be in jeopardy. Niall Scannell and Rob Herring will likely get their chance to impress again next weekend.

Conor Murray and Cian Healy

The number of players feeling confident of going to Japan should be dwindling, but Murray and Healy were not among the examples of men playing their way out.

True, Murray looked far from his fluid best during the time he was on the field. But the sickening connection he made with Jonny May when tackling the England wing brought old concerns for the neck injury which limited him last season back to the surface.

Joe Schmidt said that the scrum-half passed his HIA, but he had not wanted to send Murray back on the field after the knock. That he did was down to a communication breakdown, far from the only one from Ireland today.

For Healy, the sight of him walking off the field was a positive, but Schmidt reported a sprain post-match and so the prop’s preparation for Scotland will be limited for (at the very least) the next week.

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Jacob Stockdale

This was not a result to be blamed on one individual and the autopsy will show errors in all corners, but we fear for Stockdale in the defensive review after two glaring mis-reads.

Throughout his sensational run of try-scoring through the 2018 Six Nations, there were always underlying murmurs of concern in camps over the young Ulster star’s defensive assurance. When things were going well, he was picking off intercept tries, and his outrageous try-scoring ability in attack more than counter-balanced the headache he gave Andy Farrell.

While his trademark attacking threat was on show for Jordan Larmour’s try, England appeared to figure out how to isolate and play beyond the big Ulster man today, using his willingness to shoot up to raid gaps for Manu Tuilagi and England’s first seven pointer, the first-phase opener for Joe Cokanasiga.

How Ireland’s coaches react to Stockdale’s symptomatic errors will reveal a lot about how they plan to bounce back and put things right in Japan.

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