Side effects of swallowing rat poison: shortness of breath, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, fatigue. Eddie Jones compared the noise surrounding English rugby to vermin killer last week — and his team played like a group that had consumed several trays of the stuff.
This was a slow and painful death. England showed signs of life against France last week, but here they unravelled with bleary-eyed ill-discipline and a loss of strength up front. The classic symptoms.
The defeat left them fifth in the table, just above lowly Italy. They ended the tournament with a record penalty count of 67 — matching the previous figure set by the Italians a few hours earlier.
Ireland cruised to an emphatic victory over an underwhelming England in the Six Nations
Johnny Sexton produced a kicking masterclass for Ireland as they ran out 32-18 winners
Inspired Conor Murray (right) also stood out for Ireland, thwarting the visitors several times
Eddie Jones’ side finished fifth in the Six Nations in what has been a wretched campaign
It was Johnny Sexton who proved to be the head of pest control. The 35-year-old has been labelled a fading force in international rugby, but here he kicked 22 points, as England ended the campaign with their biggest overall points concession in Six Nations history.
There is little doubt about the level of talent in the ranks of English rugby. Yet there are huge questions about their lack of consistency.
Jones inherited a golden generation of players but they play like a team who are less than the sum of their parts. Asked if his messages were still getting through, Jones responded: ‘Ah, yeah, most definitely, mate. I don’t think that’s the issue. If I thought that was the issue I wouldn’t be coaching the team.’
Yet Jones had no answers. He claimed there were plenty of positives to take away. Just four months ago, the head coach was touting 20 of his players to make the Lions team but, watching from the stands on Saturday, Warren Gatland may now think otherwise.
Ireland’s Keith Earls scores Ireland’s first try after sprinting past Jonny May to reach the line
Earls takes the plaudits as Ireland surge into a lead that they rarely looked likely to surrender
Ireland’s Andy Farrell recalled some of his old warhorses in Dublin. Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw roamed the midfield like a pair of nightclub bouncers, wrapping up anyone who attempted to get between them.
The half-backs, Sexton and Conor Murray, used all of their experience to control the game — before and after Aki’s 64th-minute red card — and proved they may be worth one more Lions tour before being checked into rugby’s retirement home.
There were key duels were in the pack. The Tadhg team — Beirne and Furlong — were out to prove their worth against Maro Itoje and Kyle Sinckler. Both came through with distinction, as Ireland took the power to England through the set piece.
Owen Farrell kicked his side ahead with an early penalty but, from thereon in, it was one-way traffic. Disciplinary issues crept back into England’s game, with Luke Cowan-Dickie sealing off and Mako Vunipola guilty of a neck roll at the breakdown.
Jack Conan pictured scoring a superb try for Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday
NIGEL OWENS – FORMER NO 1 REFEREE
Once again we are talking about England and their penalty count. If you want to win Test matches, you really need to get it down to single figures.
That is especially so against a team like Ireland, who control the game so well, put you under pressure, force mistakes and then take advantage. England made too many mistakes.
It’s been the question all through: how do England get the count down?
You have to prepare for the referee. What are they going to be strong on? If they’re technical, then you have to be technical as well. If the referee is going to be strict, don’t take the risk.
England need to look at which penalties they can avoid. It is the ones where you don’t need to push the line that cost you. It goes to show that if you keep being put under pressure, you will give penalties away. The same thing happened to Wales.
Having made easy yards downfield, Rob Herring overthrew a lineout to Jack Conan, who skilfully palmed down the ball into Keith Earls’ try-scoring path. The battle lines were drawn.
In the past, England have tried to suffocate Sexton to destabilise the Irish gameplan. But the Irish were smart to their tactics. They mixed up their first receiver options to confuse England’s defence.
With 37 minutes on the clock, Ireland launched a 23-phase attack and Sexton only stepped in to pull the strings at the key moments. He targeted Elliot Daly with a high ball, which was claimed by Hugo Keenan, before a series of pick-and-goes resulted in Conan crashing over Cowan-Dickie to score.
England attempted to kick their way into Irish territory, but their ploy was neutralised by green defenders. In the echo chamber of the empty Aviva Stadium, most of the defensive plaudits could be heard going in Henshaw and Beirne’s direction.
Jones’s side flew out of the blocks in the second half, revved up by the introduction of Jamie George and Ellis Genge, but their gains were undermined by cheap penalties. They were camped in Irish territory, but were marched back into their own half following penalties for lineout crossing and an offside.
Billy Vunipola had the ball stripped in contact, before Farrell sprayed Ollie Lawrence after he drifted into an illegal blocking position. Sexton, true to form, made no mistake in kicking the penalties, extending Ireland’s lead to 20 points.
Jonny May scores late on but it proves too little, too late despite England’s one-man advantage
Sexton is understandably all smiles after the victory, celebrating with the Millennium Trophy
There was fleeting hope of a comeback when Aki was sent off for a high tackle on Vunipola with 16 minutes remaining, but England failed to make their numerical advantage pay.
Ben Youngs scored a smart try down the blindside of a lineout maul, before Tom Curry fumbled a restart, Ben Earl gave away a breakdown penalty and Jonny Hill was penalised for changing his bind at the maul. Sexton and Murray showed their experience, slowing down the tempo and milking every second out of the clock as Sexton lined up penalty after penalty.
Englishmen were playing their way out of the Lions discussions —and perhaps even Jones’s future plans. ‘We need to assess where we are going,’ said Jones. ‘As I’ve said all along, we are going through a transition period in the team. This is almost a natural time for that to happen, with two years before the World Cup. Those things will happen.’
With Murray sinbinned in the closing minutes, leaving Ireland with 13-men, Dan Robson threw a pass to Jonny May for a try. It provided scant consolation, but it at least spared England from their biggest defeat since Jones took over in 2015.
So much for Jones’s campaign mission to put smiles on the face of the nation. Following defeats by Scotland, Wales and Ireland, the only thing England could claim was the Triple Frown.
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