St Patrick’s Day massacre
Jubilant Irish win Grand Slam in the snow Jones’s men lose three in a row to come fifth Wales beat France and Scotland pip Italy ( just)
England coach says some players may miss World Cup
Jones jeered after Ireland secure historic triumph
England’s 24-15 defeat by Ireland, their third championship loss in a row, prompted Eddie Jones to warn his squad that some of them may not make it to the 2019 World Cup. It is England’s worst run since 2006. France’s losing bonus point in their 14-13 defeat by Wales in Cardiff consigned England to a fifth-place finish in the 2018 NatWest Six Nations Championship, their lowest position since 1983.
Jones acknowledged Ireland’s achievement in securing only the third Grand Slam in their history, but was at pains to point out that England’s fall from grace was misleading in that he had never believed his team were as good as their record (23 wins in 24 Tests prior to this losing sequence) had suggested. Jeers rang around Twickenham at the final whistle.
England have a three-Test tour in South Africa and it is clear there will be changes. “Some [players] may struggle to participate in the future,” said Jones, who experienced his first defeat at Twickenham as England coach.
“There are some guys who are starting their international careers and they need time. I have to decide whether I have time to get them ready for the World Cup.
“We weren’t happy being the team we were because we knew whatever we had won [in terms of previous results] we weren’t good enough to get to where we wanted to get. We knew we had to change and sometimes that hurts. It’s not nice but it is part of the process of being a better team.
“You never find out about yourself unless you have these runs. When you take over it is quite easy to improve because you can fix things quickly. But internal mechanisms take time to fix. Unless you fix them they catch up with you when you get to the big tournaments, such as the World Cup. So for us it has been an enormously beneficial tournament, if disappointing.”
England were always “chasing tails”, as Jones put it, after Garry Ringrose scored the first of Ireland’s three tries in the sixth minute. Wing Jacob Stockdale touched down on the stroke of half-time for his seventh try in the tournament, a Six Nations record. The 21-year-old got his hand to the ball with only inches to spare. England had (legally) extended the in-goal area for this match. Jones did not feel that this had backfired on the hosts.
“Not really, it’s just part of the game,” said Jones, who was unaware of fans jeering him during his post-match interview on the pitch. “I didn’t hear it. Have you got a recording of it? I’ll listen to it later. It’ll help put me to sleep tonight.” Jones rejected the notion that England have regressed during the championship. “I don’t think we have,” he added. “In terms of results, we have, but in terms of where we want to go as a team, we are moving forward. I know that is hard to see. These things are sent to test you, it tests your resolve, it tests your team and that is what we are going through at the moment.”
For Ireland, there was understandable joy, especially for captain Rory Best, one of only two survivors (Rob Kearney was the other) from their last Grand Slam in 2009. “It is a little more special for me,” said Best. “To win something as captain, in that special green jersey, is something dreams are made of. This is up there as the biggest highlight of my career.”
Tumult for one, calamity for the other. For Ireland the Grand Slam, thoroughly deserved with a slick, superbly crafted victory, one that sent their supporters heading towards the bars to toast their emerald heroes with gallons of the black stuff.
Rumour has it Ireland won the drinking games, too, with The Fields of Athenry echoing round the stadium long before the final whistle, Twickenham no longer a fortress but Party Central for those sporting green. Ireland owned the turf and, later, the Twickenham environs, a takeover mission that brought reward from morn ‘til dusk.
For England, it was black stuff of a different order, a dark stain on their reputation. Jonny May’s added time try spared this being a record Irish win at Twickenham but it could do little to spare blushes.
It was not just the elements sending a bitter chill through the bones of Eng- lish rugby, so too did this loss, their first at Twickenham in the championship in six years, a salutary and sobering turn of events. Their 2019 World Cup plans are in tatters, their morale shredded and their prospects bleak with three tests to come in South Africa in June.
It has been quite a fall from grace and the contrast was stark. Ireland were assured and potent while England were ragged and slipshod, infused by the wrong sort of desperation. In the closing stages alone there were several snapshots illuminating their current lack of poise and belief, Owen Farrell firing one long pass straight into touch and moments later being swamped by what appeared to be a 100-strong mob of Irish shirts following another fumble.
It has been a horrible time for England, bewildering for their followers who had thoughts only of a supposed global shoot-out with New Zealand in November. The All Blacks will be sleeping easy in their beds.
Eddie Jones has gone from messiah to the man with his finger in the dyke as the water comes pouring through. The head coach made 10 changes here (three positional) but the outcome was no different from that which it had been in Murrayfield or the Stade de France. Sure, Dylan Hartley, played a captain’s part while wing Elliot Daly was busy and Farrell did as Farrell does, with heart and head aligned, his break and subsequent kick through creating Daly’s try in the 32nd minute.
But these were glimmers, sporadic upbeat bits of action. Ireland had far too much class, far too much collective understanding, too much cleverness in all that they did to be unduly bothered by anything that England threw at them.
They were in control from the moment Garry Ringrose touched down in the sixth minute. Grand Slams are never easily earned and, of course, they had to scrap and toil but there was an authority and purpose about them that England were never able to match. They were immense across the field, from Tadhg Furling in the front row through their game-shaping halfbacks, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, to the sensation of this championship, 21-year-old wing, Jacob Stockdale, and his record-breaking seventh try of the tournament.
What an item Stockdale is, from novice to master in one exhilarating season, fast, eager, opportunist, living the dream. Ireland have a clutch of such talents: Ringrose, lock James Ryan, a team not just for now but also for the future. By contrast, England have to review all aspects of their game.
Confident sides do not continue to get penalised. Confident sides do not compound error upon error. England were guilty on all charges. There were three infringements against them, for example, in the closing two minutes of the first half alone. Little things have big consequences. Ireland escaped from their half and within the blink of an eye, Stockdale had shown what a predatory force he is when touching down after a chip-and-chase in added time. Details matters. Ireland are masters of their brief.
England are in a rut of indecision and mental frailty. They had to come back strongly from Ringrose’s early try, show composure and clear heads.
They had a penalty shot well within the range of Farrell yet opted for touch. That was a dubious call but it was indefensible that Farrell’s kick still left them 15 metres from the Ireland try-line. It was no surprise that they were then turned over.
A free-kick for messing around with the line-out formation, Farrell miscuing a clearance kick straight into the back of James Haskell’s head, George Kruis knocking on – mistake after mistake left England on their uppers, shorn of assurance and stability.
When the gods are agin’ you, they show no mercy. Even Stockdale’s record-clincher would not have happened if England hadn’t inadvertently extended the in-goal area when painting new blue-coloured lines in anticipation of the snow.
England had done little to earn any good fortune, though, and when Sexton’s penalty pot in the 24th minute hit a post, they might have expected to have earned a reprieve. Not so. From the line-out, Bundee Aki carved through England’s defence following a lovely flip-on pass from prop, Furlong, the centre steaming towards the line and feeding his No.8, CJ Stander, who completed the job, Sexton converting.
It was a trough of misery for England, deepened when they made a mess of repeated pressure on Ireland’s line, enough to see Peter O’Mahony sinbinned for pulling down the drive, but on the fourth penalty line-out, England bombed the position by throwing too long.
It was a gilt-edged chance and they did not take it. Ireland were sharp, relentless and decisive. England, quite simply, were not.
Nothing went their way and nothing deserved to. Right from the moment when Anthony Watson fumbled in the air from Sexton’s wicked kick in the sixth minute, jostled legitimately by that Gaelic-reared footballer, Rob Kearney, the ball falling to the turf and Ringrose being alert enough to capitalise, England fretted and frittered. TV replays suggested the ball had come off Kearney but the rub of the green was with the men in green.
England had too much ground to make up. Daly did get his second in the 65th minute with a smart out-the-back pass from Mike Brown and May’s late effort put a spin on the scoreboard but it was catch-up rugby and Ireland were too far in front. The day, and the Grand Slam, belonged to them.
Scores 0-5, Ringrose try; 0-7, Sexton con; 0-12, Stander try; 0-14, Sexton con; 5-14, Daly try; 5-19, Stockdale try; 5-21, Carbery con; 5-24, Murray pen; 10-24, Daly try; 15-24, May try.
Slammed: England’s players reflect on a third successive defeat; (left) James Ryan and Jordan Larmour celebrate Ireland’s victory