Did Ireland lose this one in the dressing room?

Joe Schmidt sensed his Ireland team were in for a rough ride as he surveyed an unusually quiet home dressing room prior to kick-off.

Did Ireland lose this one in the dressing room?

Joe Schmidt sensed his Ireland team were in for a rough ride as he surveyed an unusually quiet home dressing room prior to kick-off.

Just 11 weeks earlier it had been a vibrant place as his hungry team prepared to make history against the All Blacks but on this Saturday as the start of their Guinness Six Nations campaign beckoned, that fizz had evidently gone flat.

When the team along the corridor was England, intent of seeking vengeance after their Twickenham travails at Irish hands 11 months earlier, there must have been foreboding in the head of Ireland’s head coach.

By then it is too late to change course, too few minutes to spark a group of men, even as celebrated and successful as this Ireland team, into life. As Schmidt would later point out, there are only human after all.

A couple of hours on, the reality of a first championship home defeat for the head coach in six campaigns and worst in this tournament since Martin Johnson’s soon-to-be World Cup winners steamrolled the 2003 Grand Slam with a 42-6 victory, had long sunk in.

Ireland’s hopes of a fast start to their title defence are in tatters and Schmidt has to act quickly to ensure his players this week raise the psychological as well as physical standards required to turn things around in Scotland this Saturday.

That will be no mean feat, particularly against a Scottish side which wreaked similar havoc to Irish ambitions at Murrayfield in the 2017 opener. Schmidt’s men came away from that 27-22 defeat needing to play catch-up and despite a further loss in Cardiff managed to claim second place thanks to a Slam-smashing victory over Eddie Jones’s men in the final round.

Which makes this England victory a right royal payback on so many levels. In Dublin on Saturday they had their revenge, both for 2017 and last March 17 when Ireland secured their own Slam with an outstanding 24-15 victory, turning the tables on the number two side in the world with a thoroughly deserved bonus-point win.

A slow start as damaging as that one in Scotland two years ago had seen Jonny May open the scoring with a converted try inside two minutes and though Ireland responded with a Johnny Sexton penalty and converted Cian Healy try, Elliot Daly’s try had given the visitors a 17-10 interval lead. Another Sexton penalty offered hope on 55 minutes only for two tries from centre Henry Slade to seal Ireland’s fate and send some home supporters heading for the exits with five minutes still to play.

Replacement scrum-half John Cooney grabbed a consolation try in the final minute, Sexton adding the extras, but it did little to cheer up Schmidt ahead of a testing week.

“Yeah, it is a mental challenge,” the Ireland boss said. “There is a lot of guys hurting at the moment and they will be looking for a way back in and I think the only way back in is to roll our sleeves up, show that resilience mentally that we are going to have to be able demonstrate next Saturday.

“It is not just about physically getting up and having that vibrancy, it is about mentally being attuned and ready to go and retaining the confidence that we should have.

We are human and there are times that human beings without ever being complacent if you assume anything in this world of high-performance sport, assumption will undo you. We couldn’t assume we could rock up and just deliver a performance that (England) would accept. They accepted nothing from us and gave us as little as possible and that’s a credit to them.

What will undoubtedly assist Schmidt in healing process for his squad is his confidence that despite them being outmuscled and bettered in as many areas as they were by a ferociously energised England side, this an Ireland team that has always rebounded well from setbacks.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard to get to where we are without suddenly saying one game has completely undone us.

“One of my frustrations is we haven’t tended to start competitive campaigns overly well. That, for me, is a bit of a concern looking further ahead. I mentioned November. I mentioned France last year and how we built our way through the tournament.

“I like to think that we can demonstrate we can take a step up next week and, beyond that, we can demonstrate how we can get back into the tournament because it is a very tough championship.

“If you are a little bit off the mark, any team can knock any team over. Even for us, the last time we went to Murrayfield, we didn’t get off the bus and we were 21-(8) down at half-time.

“On the back of that experience, we ended up beating England at the end of that Six Nations and getting second.

“I think it would be a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction to believe, on the back of one poor performance, we’ve suddenly lost all the progress and all the confidence we’ve tried to build over the last number of years.”

As for that pre-game sense of foreboding, Schmidt explained: “We were very quiet before the game, I didn’t sense the same kind of energy levels that I would have noticed in November when the All Blacks came.

“And if you don’t have those energy levels and have that mental preparation done, it is pretty difficult to get a foothold back into the game… you almost get this vibrancy from the group and we didn’t quite have it tonight.

“It is disappointing and difficult to put your finger on exactly what it was, but you are talking about human beings here. There is emotional energy that needs to be switched on collectively and it is very hard if that is not quite present to suddenly generate it if it does not begin at the very start. I am not sure quite why but is disappointing that we did not have that same vibrancy that we normally do have.”

Ireland will spend this week searching for the solution.

IRELAND:

R Henshaw; K Earls (J Larmour, h-t), G Ringrose (J Carbery, 73), B Aki, J Stockdale ; J Sexton, C Murray (J Cooney, 77); C Healy (D Kilcoyne, 61), R Best, capt (S Cronin, 67), T Furlong (A Porter, 61); D Toner (Q Roux, 56), James Ryan; P O’Mahony; J van der Flier; CJ Stander (S O’Brien, 64).

ENGLAND:

E Daly; J Nowell (C Ashton, 74), H Slade, M Tuilagi (G Ford, 77), J May; O Farrell, B Youngs; M Vunipola (E Genge, 77), J George (L Cowan-Dickie, 77), K Sinckler (H Williams, 64); M Itoje (N Hughes, 55), G Kruis (C Lawes, 52); M Wilson, T Curry, B Vunipola.

Yellow card:

Curry 12-22 mins

Replacement not used:

D Robson.

Referee:

Jerome Garces (France)

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