After a quarter of an hour, the RFU council members may well have been thinking about how to word the dreaded vote of confidence for Eddie Jones. They will never sack their head coach before the World Cup but, trailing 8-0 with Charlie Ewels sent off and Tom Curry injured, Jones’s detractors were ready to shout louder than ever.
England were doomed to bloody defeat when Mathieu Raynal branded a red card after just 82 seconds. They stepped into the coliseum with a knife already in their side but, rather than limp through, they demonstrated enough pride and resilience to silence calls for Jones’ head for another week.
As far as defeats go, this will be remembered as one of England’s best. What could have become a disastrous day in the ‘New England’ project in fact provided a foundation stone in their journey towards the World Cup.
A host of England players like Maro Itoje showed gladiator-like spirit in defeat by Ireland
Ellie Genge (left) tackled with titanium shoulders while Itoje caused havoc all over the pitch
They will take pride in the gladiator-like spirit of Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Ellis Genge and Jack Nowell who, against the odds, stayed in the fight for more than an hour.
Jones must bottle this spirit and take it with him to Paris next week. The emotional levels of their pack were sky high. Genge tackled with titanium shoulders, Itoje caused havoc all over the pitch and Nowell moved from winger to flanker to play his part in a dominant scrum.
There were reasons to take positives notes from defeat but, still, there are plenty of questions to answer. The red card was self-inflicted and inexcusable. Why have they not hit these emotional highs with 15 players on the pitch? They promised a wave of physicality but it boiled over when Ewels hit 6ft 7in James Ryan in the head for his red card.
They showed fight but not creativity. Where is the attack? All of England’s points came from the boot of Marcus Smith and, at this rate, they are in danger of finishing the Six Nations with more positive Covid cases than tries.
Eddie Jones must bottle the attitude and desire from his players to take into the clash in France
Ireland arrived in London with emperor status. For the first time in 10 years, England ran out as underdogs in the betting for a Six Nations match at Twickenham. Ireland were expected to make easy meat of their opponents but they left their ability to execute back in Dublin.
They scored their first try after six minutes, counter-attacking from their own 22 after Harry Randall was turned over. Dan Sheehan and Josh van der Flier combined to set loose James Lowe down the left wing. Then Curry limped off, destined to miss next week’s finale against France, and a rout seemed inevitable.
But Ireland’s instincts deserted them. They found space out wide but failed to string together phases, with English bodies lying in their way. They were forced into throwing panic offloads and the home crowd grew louder with every defensive stand.
George dominated the set piece. Itoje disrupted lineouts and Genge got underneath Tadhg Furlong at the scrum. England won six penalties at the scrum, allowing Smith to keep the hosts moving up the scoreboard, yet somehow Ireland escaped without a yellow card.
Marcus Smith helped the hosts move up the scoreboard, before Ireland broke their resistance
‘I am bit disappointed the referee didn’t allow us to scrum fully,’ said Jones. ‘That would be my only complaint, we were not allowed to play advantage away from the scrum. We got scrum penalties and there was no sign of a yellow card.
‘We want to have a powerful scrum and if World Rugby want to have the scrum in the game, they have got to allow the strong scrums to dominate. We are disappointed we didn’t get more out of that.’ The physical effort took its toll. Hugo Keenan picked a line of Jamison Gibson-Park’s shoulder to score Ireland’s second, with Kyle Sinckler’s game ended with concussion at the same time.
England hustled. Nowell disrupted every restart. Freddie Steward smashed Keenan when he caught a high ball and Joe Marchant won a turnover. Ben Youngs controlled the kicking game after coming off the bench and, with 61 minutes on the clock, Smith kicked his fifth penalty to level the scores.
Swing Low swirled around the stands, Ireland turned down shots at goal and England’s body language showed a team on the rise. But eventually fatigue kicked in.
Caelan Doris broke through an exhausted defensive line and the visitors soon took control
England could only fight for so long. Johnny Sexton edged the visitors back in front and Caelan Doris broke through an exhausted defensive line.
‘It’s a crazy old game,’ said Ireland coach Andy Farrell. ‘Test matches are never perfect. Sometimes when you’ve got 14 men, you’ve got nothing to lose. Sometimes when you’ve got 15 men playing against 14 men, you’ve got everything to lose. At 15-15, you could tell the lads were still calm. We managed to find a way. If you paid good money for that at the stadium, I’m sure you’d be happy.’
With eight minutes left to play, Ireland finally discovered their phase play. It took them long enough. After 13 phases of short, sharp runs, marshalled by Johnny Sexton, Jack Conan scored from close range. Finally, the English resistance was broken.
Minutes later, Finlay Bealham drove over from an attacking lineout to secure the bonus point. It rounded off a record points haul for Ireland at Twickenham but, from an English perspective, things could have turned out far worse.