On a whirlwind opening weekend of Six Nations rugby, it was England who brought the storm to Dublin. As the frost bit in a stifling Aviva Stadium, Eddie Jones’ men suffocated and subdued their hosts, throwing the tournament wide-open in the process. The pack were domineering, providing a stable platform for the backs to execute their shrewd game-plan brilliantly – but how did each individual perform?
Mako Vunipola – 9 (MOTM)
On his return to the International scene, Mako was immense. He was exquisite in every aspect of the game, both carrying and defending with a vigour and purpose that never faded. He was the thorn in the Irish side, completing 27 tackles and disturbing the breakdown in a display that spanned an astounding 75-minutes, something almost-unheard of for a loosehead. Matching Tadgh Furlong at scrum-time characterised the strength of England’s forwards as a whole. He was unlucky to see a try chalked-off, though I doubt he will care too much.
Jamie George – 6.5
Another front-rower who impressed with the length of his shift on Saturday. The accuracy of George’s throws ensured the lineout functioned well, he was solid in defence, and was energetic in his general play. Dylan Hartley will struggle to displace such a reliable performer.
Kyle Sinckler – 6
As ever, Sinckler was a willing ball-carrier as he barrelled into the Irish defensive line. Giving nothing away to the experienced Cian Healy in the scrums, he has shown himself to be more than capable against some of the world’s best in this area of the game.
Maro Itoje – 7
Does Itoje ever disappoint? He was typically adept at the breakdown, pivotal in the lineout, and exceptionally mobile; Jones will be praying that his knee-injury was only minor. His passion inspires the entire England team and he will be sorely missed in the engine room should his substitution prove to be more than a mere precaution.
George Kruis – 6
A classy operator and a diligent worker; Kruis was dependable throughout the contest. He didn’t offer much in the way of attack, but nonetheless held his own during a bruising battle between the forwards.
Mark Wilson – 8
Much like the man he is covering for at blindside, Wilson’s work is crucial, yet unsung. 27 tackles typifies what the Newcastle Falcon brings to the team, axing down oncoming oaks with ruthless consistency and determination. In a game where intensity and power reigned supreme, Wilson brought both in abundance. Chris Robshaw beware.
Tom Curry – 6
His sin-binning could have allowed the Irish to establish themselves more firmly in the game; fortunately for Curry, this was not the case. On his return to the action he looked to make amends, showing tenacity and endeavour across the park. Jones will be impressed by the reaction and hope that the flanker uses the experience as a learning-curve.
Billy Vunipola – 7
Billy, as you might expect, made the most metres out of any of England’s forwards. Ireland struggled to swallow the deadly cocktail of clout and dynamism that he offers, having to commit multiple defenders to stop him. His carrying was essential for England to implement their game-plan and he duly delivered.
Ben Youngs – 9
Speed off the base, astute decision-making, precision-passing; this was vintage Ben Youngs. Moreover, the scrum-half outperformed counterpart Conor Murray when it came to the selection and execution of his kicks. With this being the area in which the latter excels – and the foundation for Ireland’s approach – Youngs ousting Murray was both remarkable and pivotal.
Owen Farrell – 7
Farrell was almost infallible in open play and with his organisation of the backline. Creating the opening-score with a mesmerising pass helped set the tone for England, whilst he pinned Ireland back with his kicking out-of-hand. The captain was uncharacteristically wayward off-the-tee, however, and will want to bring back his usual reliability in this respect. In a tighter affair, his misses could have proved costly.
Jonny May – 8.5
Despite crossing the whitewash early on, May’s brilliance came without the ball-in-hand. With Jones opting for a strategy that centred on kicking, the winger’s electric pace was invaluable. His chase and aerial ability were unmatched, demonstrating why he has become a fixture in this England backline. A deft chip allowed Henry Slade in to end the contest; all facets of May’s play were on-point.
Manu Tuilagi – 6.5
The long-awaited return of this behemoth finally came and he offered precisely what England supporters and staff alike would have hoped for. He was a battering-ram, a cannon, and the entire cavalry, too. The threat he posed as a crash-ball option continuously drew the attention of Ireland’s Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose, both having to commit themselves fully to shackle Tuilagi. His tackling was equally bullish and though his game didn’t extend far beyond utilising this power, it didn’t need to.
Henry Slade – 8
His display began modestly, going about his business readily and ably. Up until the final quarter, Slade had primarily shown sturdiness in the backline and secure distribution. Thereafter, he flourished; his delightful pass to May and ensuing kick-chase made him both the creator and finisher of the game’s outstanding try, which he swiftly followed-up with a sharp interception score. In both of these, he exhibited dexterity and nous, qualities he will look to replicate in the coming games. Slade was fortunate that a fumble on his own 22-metre wasn’t capitalised on by Johnny Sexton, but the incident certainly didn’t tarnish this accomplished performance.
Jack Nowell – 7.5
In Dublin, it became clear what Jones had meant when suggesting Nowell would function like a ninth forward. In the first-half, particularly, he was industrious, bustling into heavy traffic and unsettling the Irish breakdown. His endeavour led to a crucial second score for the Roses and, despite having a quieter end to the match, he thwarted the lethal Jacob Stockdale throughout. Perhaps Nowell acting as an auxiliary forward was what allowed the pack to ceaselessly exert their dominance.
Elliot Daly – 6.5
Daly played to his strengths on Saturday, offering incisive running-lines and an adept array of kicking to keep Ireland guessing. He remains unproven as an International fullback – Mike Brown would have dealt with some high-balls better – but is undeniably capable of adjusting to the position with time. The all-rounder was instrumental in England retaking the lead just before the break.
Harry Williams – 6
An extremely distinctive individual, Williams had only a brief spell on the pitch to make his mark. He kept the scrum on lockdown and helped maintain the forwards’ authority. A reliable replacement.
Courtney Lawes – 7
One agile lock goes off and another takes his place. Lawes added to his showreel of bludgeoning hits, with his fierce defence halting any Irish momentum. A respectable 9 tackles proves his worth as a defender; his presence would make any ball-carrier think twice.
Nathan Hughes – 5
Asked to fulfil the role of lock, Hughes was competent in an unfamiliar position. More time would have allowed him to showcase his full capabilities in the loose. Hughes is a sound option off the bench, but remains unlikely to challenge for a starting berth.
Luke Cowan-Dickie – n/a
Ellis Genge – n/a
Dan Robson – n/a
George Ford – n/a
Chris Ashton – n/a