SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: England showed character in adversity in defeat

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: England showed real character and spirit in adversity during defeat to Ireland… there we glimpses of a brighter future for Eddie Jones’ men and they could yet spoil France’s Grand Slam party

  • England showed spirit as they lost to Ireland and that’s a reason to smile 
  • Down to 14 men after a minute, they responded with an impressive performance 
  • There were glimpses of a bright future and they may cause problems for France
  • I’m not a big fan of smiling through defeat but this one left me more positive

England might just have discovered themselves on Saturday at Twickenham when the team showed its real character in adversity, and if they can travel to Paris with that energy they might yet spoil France’s Grand Slam party.

Down to 14 men after a minute, they reacted with their best performance of this year’s Six Nations and if ever a scoreline did a side scant justice, this was it.

They hit a wall of fatigue in the last 10 minutes and Ireland are too good a side not to take advantage of that and close out the win, but there were glimpses of a brighter future for England.

Although England were beaten by Ireland they showed good spirit in adversity

The Twickenham crowd recognised that and responded to their team to create the loudest atmosphere I’ve heard there for many years. That connection is important as it’s part of the building process.

What happened is that when a side goes down a man so early, everyone in the short-handed team automatically raises their intensity and work rate by 10-15 per cent to compensate and suddenly, because of that, England started playing at the pace and tempo I and many others have always advocated.

They became energised, precise and remorseless — that’s what a bit of adversity can do to a side.

We saw it in 2019 when England went to Dublin to play Grand Slam champions Ireland as big underdogs and produced possibly their best performance under Eddie Jones and we saw it again in the 2019 world Cup semi-final against tournament favourites New Zealand.

England suffered an early blow when Charlie Ewels was dismissed but they responded well

That was the buzz I got from this match from the second to the 70th minute and it’s something good and positive to work on. A great side plays with that energy and intensity for 80 minutes in every game and that’s what England must do.

We saw in Cardiff on Friday night that France, good as they are, aren’t yet the finished article. You can attack their lineout, and their catching in the back three isn’t infallible by any means. And although wildly excited at the prospect of a Grand Slam they will be on edge at the Stade de France.

The game on Saturday hinged on that pivotal moment when Charlie Ewels went in high on James Ryan, made contact head-to-head, and the big Ireland lock went down in some distress. It was a ridiculous red card to concede. You just can’t go in that high, head-to-head, and get away with it. You need to go in low and drive up. It was a red card all day long.

England were saying all week that they were treating this match as a World Cup semi-final. Well, if it’s a World Cup semi-final you need to be absolutely in the zone and disciplined to the nth degree. We are back to my old friend ‘TCUP’ — thinking correctly under pressure. What was Ewels thinking?

Alex Dombrandt came on for England and added a reassuring solidity to the scrum

I’m nonplussed, really, although in passing, I would congratulate the referee for his cool and clear handling of the situation.

It was a huge blow so early on but I can only compliment England for the way they reacted, especially up front where the scrummaging went to another level.

Jack Nowell might mischievously argue it was him coming in off the wing to pack down at wing-forward but let’s give credit where credit is due. Having to move Courtney Lawes back to his best position of lock was almost a blessing for England, it has reminded everybody what a class act he and Maro Itoje are in tandem.

But let’s also praise the front row, which gave Ireland a hellish time. The injury to Tom Curry also saw Alex Dombrandt come on and he added a reassuring solidity to the scrum.

Joe Marchant was strong in defence against Ireland even though he was on the losing side

In recent years, my first choice props have always been Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler, and I often get challenged about them being great around the park but not so impressive at scrum time. But I’ve always trusted their scrummaging, although I will acknowledge that both have needed to work on that aspect of their game.

It was really pleasing though to see them lead the England fightback and force a string of penalties against Ireland. They did themselves proud, as did many of the team in fact. Joe Marchant was strong in defence, Harry Randall was good again, Sam Simmonds was very prominent.

I’m not a big fan of smiling through defeat but this was a defeat that left me more positive and upbeat about England than in a good while. I’m intrigued to see how they go in Paris.

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