Eddie Jones cited England’s spirit and others will cite their determination to succeed against the odds. But in Ireland’s record 15-32 away Six Nations win yesterday, the hosts can only point to themselves to understand where it all went wrong.
In what was effectively a knockout match to keep pace with France, the anticipation was palpable ahead of kick-off.
The winner would be in with a shot of the Six Nations title next weekend, the loser out of the competition for another year.
But it took less than two minutes – just 82 seconds in fact – for that to change. Ireland’s James Ryan carried hard into his opposite number Charlie Ewels, but the defending lock failed to get low, failed to get into a proper defensive position and led with his head.
The result? A correct sending off for the 26-year-old at the hands of French referee Mathieu Raynal – the quickest in the history of the competition (Four, Five or Six Nations).
Twickenham erupted. “Farce”, “muppet”, “garbage” all audible from the middle tier of the 82,000-seater stadium but the referee got it right.
Player safety needs to count for something if the sport is to avoid a long list of post-career medical lawsuits.
England’s wall of Noise
But from the low of the red card emerged one of the most spirited England performances seen for a long time.
The crowd gave standing ovations to each kick chase, urged on the dominant scrum and jeered every opposition kick.
Alas, it came to nothing and Ireland pulled away in the last 10 minutes. But the character shown will rightly be of comfort to Jones.
Following the card, Ireland went 8-0 ahead thanks to a Johnny Sexton penalty and James Lowe try before England pegged them back twice with a duo of Marcus Smith three-pointers.
Sexton then extended the lead to 6-15 before Smith again pegged England back to 9-15 ahead of half time.
On 61 minutes, however, the wall of noise in south west London grew monumental when Smith drew England level at 15-15. It was astonishing, something an often flat Twickenham hadn’t heard for a long time.
The fatigue told though, and the away side eventually galloped away, first through Jack Conan and then Finlay Bealham, to earn Ireland a shot at the Triple Crown next weekend.
Yes, Ellis Genge, Maro Itoje and Jamie George shone for an England side who lost Kyle Sinckler and Tom Curry to injury in the first half, but it’s difficult to get away from England writing their own storyline with such an early tackling mistake.
They now head to France where they’ll look to do something they haven’t done since 1996 – deny another side a Grand Slam when they’re unable to get one themselves – and, in doing so, hand Ireland the Six Nations.
Jones’s side may still finish fifth, and that will no doubt raise questions, but when individual errors define games there’s little even he can do about it.
Snapping at the heels
Over in Cardiff on Friday night, Wales nearly toppled France in front of a less than full stadium.
The French were able to overcome their stiff opposition and remain unbeaten but they were tested.
Their 13-9 win kept hopes alive of a first championship since 2010 – impeccably timed heading into a home World Cup.
Italy’s wait for a Six Nations win rolls over until Cardiff next week after they fell to a valiant 22-33 defeat at the hands of Scotland in Rome on Saturday afternoon.
They performed well, especially in the second half, but Scotland’s class shone through.
With Spain yesterday qualifying for the Rugby World Cup, following in the footsteps of Georgia, there are teams snapping at the heels of the Azzurri – and they won’t be feeling too comfortable about that given their form.