Ireland turn simplicity into gold

Date published: March 2 2015

The main takeaway from Ireland's dominant performance against England was how simple but effective their game-plan turned out to be. 

Of course Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton were going to boot the leather off the ball as they have done to such great effect in recent months, yet England couldn't find an answer despite that extra week of time to prepare.

Ireland kicked the ball 44 times but what that statistic doesn't highlight is the accuracy of those kicks, especially when their outstanding chasers did better than their English counterparts in the air. They did it so well and so consistently,

Robbie Henshaw's higher climb than Alex Goode is the obvious example given it ended with the game's only try, but time and again Rob Kearney, Tommy Bowe or Sexton were winning the aerial battle.

Twice a combination of kicks from Murray and Sexton ended directly in Ireland scoring points, with a penalty and then later on for Henshaw's try.

Having the combo of Murray and Sexton kick so consistently well meant that Ireland could domiante the territory, 58 percent of it, with a nervous England then conceding those penalties that Sexton so rarely misses after being hounded at the breakdown.

Ben Youngs enjoyed plenty of time against Wales and Italy at the back of the ruck to make decision but Ireland were ferocious. They hassled England off the ball with their counter-rucking, the visitors losing six rucks in total, and forced Youngs to make mistakes with his passing and boxkicking, which was miles off the standard set by Murray.

England did lack experience from 9 to15 but not in Youngs, who at 25 has close to 50 caps. Life is never easy for a scrum-half when his forward are falling backwards but England needed more authority from the Leicester nine than he provided.

That's a minor note however in the face of larger English problems in Dublin. Until Sexton went off England were miles off the pace in both the mental and physical battles. Conceding 13 penalties is unacceptable, the first two in particular from Joe Marler and Billy Vunipola enough to send Stuart Lancaster into a desk-punch that would have made Martin Johnson proud.

No excuses have been made over England's injuries but the absence of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes did finally tell in Dublin, as three lineouts went array. Fall short in one area and you might get lucky in Test rugby, but fail to match the standard when it comes to discipline and the set-piece and your hopes go up in smoke. The scrum fired into life all too late as Ireland's more than held firm.

England's chances of a Grand Slam are gone again while Ireland are on track for a second in six years, if they can go to Cardiff and Murrayfield and get the job done. 

Ten Test wins in a row is a fine achievement for Joe Schmidt and Ireland have only lost twice in Cardiff going back to 1983.

Sexton's fitness though is vital after his outstanding 50 minutes on Sunday and Ireland noticeably dipped following his departure, but then the game was arguably won at 19-3.

Whether he and Murray can manipulate Wales into coughing up penalties and territory in the same manner as England will be telling, along with how Ireland's pack fares against a confident Welsh eight following their victory in Paris.

Win that in two weeks' time and there will be no debate that Ireland are Europe's standout team as their World Cup prospects continue to improve.

by Ben Coles