Two steps forward and now one leap back for the Farrell project

Eddie Jones was understandably pleased as he emerged from a trying week having engineered the platform for a powerhouse England performance to which Ireland could find no answer.

Two steps forward and now one leap back for the Farrell project

Eddie Jones was understandably pleased as he emerged from a trying week having engineered the platform for a powerhouse England performance to which Ireland could find no answer.

With a title chase on the line following an opening-day defeat in Paris, the pressure was on with the unbeaten Irish coming to Twickenham in search of a Triple Crown and Jones had piled it all on himself by sidelining his assistants from their media duties during the week and facing the music himself.

It had not gone entirely to plan and the knives were out for him in the English papers and on the airwaves after being forced to issue an apology to a journalist and then throwing more than a couple of selection curveballs.

Yet the critics will have been silenced by a first 40 minutes of physical dominance that laid the foundation for a win way more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests.

“We played with a lot of control, we read the conditions well, read the referee well and at half-time if it was a cricket game, we could have declared,” Jones said of the 17-0 interval lead his side had fashioned.

Ireland were manhandled in every aspect of the game during a first half that had all the hallmarks of the two capitulations to the English in 2019.

In contact, at the set-piece and in failing to defend two speculative kicks through their defensive line, Ireland were not fit for purpose against a hungrier, feistier and more clinical outfit.

Though Ireland found their feet after the break with a try from Robbie Henshaw on 50 minutes, they were never going to catch a buoyant home side who restored their advantage with another show of strength a driving maul finished off by replacement hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie as the England bench flexed their muscles.

By the time another replacement, Ireland prop Andrew Porter, had earned a second try for the visitors both the game and the clock was up and captain Johnny Sexton handed the kicking duties to John Cooney, preferring instead to gather the rest of his downtrodden troops in a huddle before they disappeared down the Twickenham tunnel into a fallow week for the championship.

Ireland will reconvene towards the end of this week for a short training camp in Dublin ahead of the visit of still winless Italy to the Aviva on March 7 but Sexton wanted to send them off for their few days’ break with a message.

What had he said to his players as replacement scrum-half Cooney slotted the conversion from wide out to bring the curtain down on a third successive comprehensive loss to the English?

“Just that we need to be disappointed with the way we started the game but we’re still in the competition if we can do the job against Italy,” Sexton had told the circle gathered around him.

“Obviously, (Italy) are going to be hurting with not having won a game in a long time but if we can do a job and give a performance, then we’re going to be in with a shout. It’s not going to be in our control, which is disappointing but it will be all to play for in the last game (in France).

“We said it again in the changing room because we want all 23 lads and the guys who are in the 27 to hear it as well. We’re proud of the way we stuck in there but we need to learn some good lessons from that start of the game.”

There is no danger of head coach Andy Farrell missing the opportunity to deliver those lessons, though he took the brunt of the blame for the lacklustre start, questioning why his side lacked the stomach for the fight when they had flown to London looking for silverware.

“We were coming here to try and win a Triple Crown and they were trying to fight to stay in the championship and one side, for one reason or another — we can try and assess all the bits, all the technicalities and ramifications of accumulative errors, etc… or refereeing decisions or whatever, but the reality is that they came out the box hard, got on the front foot and we took a few sucker punches from them.

“And it’s up to myself for that, you know, were they up for it more? And us going for a Triple Crown? That’s my responsibility to make sure that shouldn’t happen. So I’ve got to look at myself first and foremost.”

Farrell added: “I asked the players at half-time about having some proper belief, you know? Abou, how do you get to be at your best? You get to be at your best when you’re rolling forward, you’re winning collisions, etc… We came off second-best really for large periods of that first half.” That the second half was an improvement was of little comfort, as Jones’s off the cuff remark implied. Yet Ireland did look more potent with the introduction of a string of replacements, including late tryscorer Porter and back-rower Caelan Doris as well as Cooney, all of whom will be pressing hard for starting places when Italy come to Dublin.

Something needs to happen to spark this Six Nations campaign back to life, and fresh blood may be the answer if Ireland are to travel to Paris in three weeks with realistic title aspirations against a French side still with a Grand Slam in its sights.

ENGLAND: E Daly; J May, M Tuilagi (H Slade, 73), O Farrell - captain, J Joseph; G Ford, B Youngs (W Heinz, 57); J Marler (E Genge, 57), J George (L Cowan-Dickie, 52), K Sinckler (W Stuart, 69); M Itoje, G Kruis (J Launchbury, 60); C Lawes (C Ewels, 57), S Underhill, T Curry (B Earl, 65).

IRELAND: J Larmour (K Earls, 63); A Conway (R Byrne, 65 - HIA), R Henshaw, B Aki, J Stockdale; J Sexton - captain, C Murray (J Cooney, 54); C Healy (D Kilcoyne, 25), R Herring (R Kelleher, 60), T Furlong (A Porter, 57); D Toner (U Dillane, 60), J Ryan; P O’Mahony, J van der Flier (C Doris, 60), CJ Stander.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

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