Well England’s run had to end sometime but I didn’t expect such an anti-climax of a game. 18 wins out of the last 19 and a second consecutive Six Nations is still a great accomplishment, but England were distinctly ordinary in this potentially record-breaking game. In particular, they came second best to a physical and snarling Irish back row – Peter O’Mahony only came into the side in the pre-match warm up due to Jamie Heaslip’s injury, but he pulled a man-of-the-match performance out of his kit bag.
Here’s how the England players rated.
1 Joe Marler – 5 / Mako Vunipola – 6
Marler produced a steady performance and worked well to disrupt the Irish maul. Made a few metres with the ball but sacrificed at half time for Mako Vunipola’s extra physicality, although it didn’t have enough of an effect to change the outcome.
2 Dylan Hartley – 4.5
A few lineout wobbles. One carry for zero metres is not enough for such a supposedly aggressive player; Hartley was outplayed by Rory Best and replaced on 55 minutes. As a captain his record is exemplary, but as a player and given how early he is being subbed, surely it is time for a change?
3 Dan Cole – 5
Cole again conceded a daft penalty at the breakdown, but he did carry the ball more than usual. Just edged the scrum contest.
4 Joe Launchbury – 7.5
Pick of the forwards. Another impressive match for Launchbury, who never seems to take a backwards step and it felt like he was trying to drag England back into the game single-handedly at one point. Tackled ferociously and won a turnover to boot.
5 Courtney Lawes – 6
A poor game for Lawes by his previous standards. Dropped the ball a couple of times, gave away a penalty, and failed to make much ground with his carrying. Still got through a big defensive effort though and made 20 successful tackles.
6 Maro Itoje – 6
A very mixed game for England’s young star. Itoje gave away three penalties, including one for a late hit and had to be told to calm down by the referee. However, he also made some huge (legal) hits as well and finished joint top with 20 tackles, including winning two turnovers.
7 James Haskell – 6
Suffered at the hands of the Irish choke tackle and didn’t make much of an impact on proceedings. Still seems a way off his best and was subbed on 60 minutes for Tom Wood.
8 Billy Vunipola – 5
Billy didn’t have his usual impact with his carrying and was well shackled by the dominant Irish back row trio. Gave away the penalty that led to Ireland’s first try. Although England have been gagging to have him back in the team, he was tellingly replaced with nearly 20 to go.
9 Ben Youngs – 5
Sniped well early on but increasingly struggled under the suffocating Irish defence. Had a kick charged down and was responsible for some poor passing as well. Replaced by Care as usual.
10 George Ford – 6
Kicked one ball out on the full and was targeted by the big Irish ball carriers almost as much as Sexton was by the English tacklers. He had to make 12 tackles and while he succeeded with them all, he often concedes yards. Regardless, 12 tackles is too many for a flyhalf to have to make and reinforces England’s back row issues. Ford also struggled to create space for his backline like he did last week, although he still threw a few excellent delayed passes. Replaced by Te’o on 63 mins as England opted to try a more direct approach.
11 Elliot Daly – 8
One of the few England players to enhance his reputation. Daly chased kicks all day, was safe under the high ball and made some brilliant long clearances. One bit of skill to stop a ball going into touch was particularly impressive. Also England’s biggest attacking threat in the backline. If his long-term position for England is to be at 15 this was a good audition.
12 Owen Farrell – 6
Also fell victim to the Irish choke tackle a couple of times. Played a lovely chip through for Daly which almost put him away and kicked at goal flawlessly. Like Ford, he failed to create any attacking momentum for his team.
13 Jonathan Joseph – 5
Unable to replicate the brilliance of last week. Ford and Farrell struggled to create opportunities and Joseph was not given an inch of space by the Irish defence. Seems to fade from game to game, and despite supposedly being England’s primary attacking threat it is interesting he was replaced by Nowell with all still to play for. His defence was tight as usual.
14 Anthony Watson – 5
Although he was not the only one, Watson was conspicuous for some poor handling: he dropped a simple pass and knocked on a couple of times. Other than that he barely touched the ball. Watson was brought in to cope with Ireland’s planned aerial bombardment but didn’t have two much to do – instead he was targeted in defence by their backs, with some success.
15 Mike Brown – 7
Just copy and paste my comments from last week’s ratings for Brown. Brave and aggressive as ever, and returned the Irish kicks with a couple of excellent runs. He finished on 62 metres from 10 carries – more carries and more than double the metres of any other England player. Made the game-ending knock on as England tried to run from deep with the clock red.
For the first time England’s replacements were unable to win the match for the team. In another first, I also disagreed with Jones decision to make some of the substitutions. Sometimes the introduction of a player can spark a change in fortunes, but such substantial changes seemed to disrupt the flow more than anything. Although they were certainly having quiet matches, was bringing off three of your game changers in Ford, Joseph and Billy Vunipola – players who can create something from nothing – the right decision?
How do you think the players rated?
By Henry Ker