This game has to be one of the most anticipated dead rubber matches of all time. It literally has no meaning or effect on the outcome of the tournament, however, the winner's performance could be defined off of the back of a strong finish and no one wants to spend another 12 months being lambasted by the press for a poor showing. In all actuality, a win in this game could elevate either sides Six Nations review from a disaster, to a 'meh'. Perhaps the most powerful 'meh' in Rugby history... How did they get on?
Back Row Royalty
When England were under the kosh last year despite winning the ANC and Six Nations, their back row was often highlighted as their saving grace, being regarded as one of the best back rows in world rugby. However, the future is now and that Irish back row were terrific. Although not as young as the likes of Curry and Earl, Van Der Flier and Stander put in absolute masterclasses in stealing amples of ball, hitting hard, disrupting each set piece and causing havoc around the fringes; I hate to say it, but they dominated Curry and Wilson, and then went on to dominate Earl when he came on. Conan also looked dynamic, abrasive and put in some gutsy challenges on England's biggest forwards. At times, it was really men against boys and to be honest, England sorely missed Jack Willis for a game like this. England had to throw in some many numbers to each ruck as they don't really posses a breakdown specialist; Ireland arguable have three of them when you take into account a certain second row...
Tadhg Beirne, Take a Bow
The Six Nations is a fantastic tournament due to its ability to create superstars regardless of the occasion. Beirne is the player with the highest stock heading out of this competition and has easily played himself into Lions contention. Although Ryan is regarded as the next coming of Paul O'Connell, honestly I think he's lucky to get a start ahead of Beirne and Henderson in this current Irish outfit. The crazy part for me, is that Itoje had a pretty solid game for large parts of the match, but such was the presence of Beirne around the pitch, you could only really concentrate on one Loch. Tenacious, formidable, unmovable, it's difficult to find the superlatives to match the performance of Beirne throughout the 80 minutes.
That Red Card
It didn't really impact the game as it felt like Ireland had this in the bag as soon as the whistle was called for half time, but we do still need to talk about that red card. What do I think? Well, it's a red by the letter of the law, but its perhaps the harshest red of the competition. The ref's hands were tied because if he doesn't give it, he's going to be thrown under a bus by the commission due to the outcome of the tackle on Vunipola and due to the undeniable evidence of shoulder contact to the head. The mitigating factors however, do mean that Aki can feel really hard done by; if I was Irish, I would have been going ballistic at the television. Vunipola clearly lost his footing and was at waist height heading into the colission, however, I guess the point is, you always need to be lower than your opposition and unfortunately the Rugby League fashion of driving your shoulder up on chest vs chest colission meant that it looked worse than it was by Aki.
Odogwu, Remember Him?
Now it's time to look at the English performance and honestly as an English fan, it was just deflating. It wasn't nearly as infuriating as the Wales or Scotland game, but my brows are genuinely tired from my eyes rolling so deep into my skull that all I'm seeing is red. Daly isn't a Full Back, this has been said time and time against throughout the last 24 months, his performance on the day was shoddy at best, completely anonymous at worst. Lawrence, although match fit and fully focused, cannot play the system that Jones wants him employed in; the silly comparisons to Tuilagi by commentators, pundits and coaches alike are a detriment to Lawrence's wider game. Lawrence is a baller with surprisingly silky hands, a great eye for weak shoulders and a surprising ability to run expansive support lines, if anything, he's more of an attritional Jonathan Joseph. Ford, although one England's best performers throughout this competition, was heavily hampered by an expectedly terrible performance by Ben Youngs. Ford is not bad playing back foot Rugby, that's a lazy stereotype with no proof, Youngs is the player decent on front foot ball, woeful on back foot ball and his sluggish passing and constant hesitation meant that Ford was constantly checking his run throwing his back line out over and over again. Don't even get me started on the Odogwu situation! You have a great game changer there, perfect for games like these against a romping Irish side, left to mull over stupid critiques from a coaching setup that haven't even given him a chance to prove his worth. With Malins pulling up, that meant that the bench once again chose to pick a forward-dominant split just so that Odogwu didn't get a sniff and surprise surprise, we ended up playing 20 minutes of the game with Robson covering Fly Half! (A little side note, that Robson pass to may was glorious though). May has been largely useless throughout the tournament, Watson is still world class going forwards but a liability in defence, I don't know what more there is to say. Game on game it gets more and more puzzling.
Irish Half Backs
Let's slow the hype train that many have jumped aboard predicting a Murray-Sexton combo in the Lions starting jersey. When they've featured, they've been a little inconsistent, clunky and ineffectual in previous match ups this campaign, however, credit where credit is due, they were both fantastic yesterday. Sexton put his body on the line, taking the ball to the gain line and throwing some neat passes to on rushing forwards. Murray's box kicks caused England all sorts of problems and he largely outclassed Ben Youngs in every exchange around the park. What happens moving forwards? Do we stick with those two this time next year? Hard to say, they definitely still have a big game performance in them as proven in this game, but the clock is ticking on whether they can carry a side through a tournament.
Tadhg Beirne - An absolute powerhouse on the pitch, definitely a competition defining performance for one of the players of tournament.
Tadhg Furlong - He ate England up at the scrums! Also put him some cracking runs around the fringes.
Keith Earl - Took his try really well and deserved another when a fantastic finish was cancelled out by an earlier knock on. He's been quietly one of Ireland best performers throughout the competition.
Jonathan Sexton - Place kicked like a trooper and took England apart with intelligent phase play; a real all round performance.
Ben Youngs - He's had a pretty good tournament up to this point but was back to his 2017/18 worst with this performance. Hesitant, unfocused, lumbering with passing and caught napping on many occasions.
Ollie Lawrence - The young centre wasn't given any favours by the system employed by England, but he was largely ineffectual as a crash ball runner. Two turnovers resulted from choke tackles and brought down way too easily.
Jonny May - Was he on the pitch? Has anyone seen Jonny May?
Mako Vunipola - Dominated at scrum time, uncharacteristically beaten in the contact area, far from a vintage performance.
Mark Wilson - Not up to scratch for international Rugby any more, still a good player at club level but was half a yard off the pace all game.
Elliot Daly - Yeah he's still not a Full Back, is that a surprise? Dropped a couple balls again, got held up after collecting the ball a couple times and kicked it straight out a couple of times... Shock.
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