Rugby

On An Afternoon Littered with Mistakes, Ireland’s Grand Slam Hopes Crumbled Into Dust

On An Afternoon Littered with Mistakes, Ireland’s Grand Slam Hopes Crumbled Into Dust

Ireland have always had a strange relationship with Twickenham at the Six Nations.

On occasion, England’s home has been the venue for some golden times for Irish rugby, from the win in 2004 that helped Eddie O’Sullivan’s side to a memorable Triple Crown, to the 24-15 triumph on the final day of the 2018 Six Nations – St Patrick’s Day – which secured the Grand Slam.

The more frequent story of Ireland at Twickenham, however, has been one of underperformance and humiliation. It’s a stadium where Ireland have so often struggled to do themselves justice, seemingly overawed by the occasion time and time again. 

So it proved in Sunday’s clash between England and Ireland, as the glimmering hope of a Six Nations Grand Slam in Andy Farrell’s first campaign in charge was violently extinguished on a grey afternoon defined by defensive ineptitude, attacking impotence, and individual errors.

From the first whistle England were faster, sharper, more aggressive, and generally hungrier than an Ireland side that looked far from Grand Slam pretenders.

England seemed buoyed by the win over Scotland two weeks previously – a gutsy, gritty performance in the most trying of conditions.

It was the kind of win that has the power to gel a team that bit tighter, and the result of this was the fast-flowing rugby we saw on Sunday. 

But for as much as England outplayed their opponents, it was individual errors of the most basic kind that ultimately cost Ireland.

For the host’s opening two tries, the roll of the ball was fatally misread, first by Jonny Sexton and then Jacob Stockdale, allowing George Ford and Elliott Daly to steal in for the easiest of scores.

Overall, it was an afternoon to forget for captain Sexton, as a series of shanked place kicks cost Ireland the chance to reduce the arrears at different moments in the match.

But while anyone can have a bad kicking day, the mistake for England’s opening try was far more significant, and set the tone for a collective Irish performance dogged by errors.

Sexton failed to shepherd the ball into touch, and Ford pounced to give England a lead they would never relinquish.

A theme of Ireland’s performance, or lack thereof, was mistakes by experienced, trusted players like Sexton and scrum-half Conor Murray.

The number nine’s box-kicking left a lot to be desired, and ultimately led to England’s second try, where Stockdale, like Sexton before him, misjudged the path of the ball to allow Daly to pounce.

There was a glimmer of hope for Ireland when Robbie Henshaw crossed the line in the 50th minute, but Ireland possessed neither the quality nor the drive to pick themselves up properly and mount a comeback.

In the end, the 24-12 scoreline flattered Ireland, and the chance of an unlikely Grand Slam had evaporated on the Twickenham turf.

All is not lost, of course. The Championship is still up for grabs as Farrell’s side welcome Italy to Dublin on March 7th.

With three wins in three, France will be fancying their chances of a remarkable clean sweep of wins, and are now the favourites to win the title for those who bet on the Six Nations Championship outright.

Ireland’s trip to Paris on the final weekend could prove decisive in determining which side gets their hands on the trophy. 

It was another disappointing performance from Ireland against England, to go with last year’s poor showing at the Aviva Stadium.

After their heroics at Twickenham two years ago, this was a very different afternoon. Ireland have waved goodbye to the dream of another Grand Slam, and Farrell will have to hope that this bump in the road does not prove fatal to Ireland’s Championship hopes.

Rugby

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