Home Features The Power Plays: How England Blitzed Ireland In 90 Seconds

The Power Plays: How England Blitzed Ireland In 90 Seconds

Just seconds from the kick-off in England’s 32-20 win over Ireland in the opening round of the Guinness Six Nations, you got the sense that Eddie Jones’ side were going to make the next 80 minutes as uncomfortable as possible for the reigning champions. 

Owen Farrell executes his kick off to perfection by sending it long but also high, just inside Ireland’s 22, and this allowed England to tackle Keith Earls immediately after his feet touched the ground.

Source: Virgin Media

England kicked to Earls throughout the first half as they clearly targeted the Munster winger before he was replaced at halftime by Jordan Larmour.

From this moment, all Ireland are thinking about is carrying out their exit strategy.

Conor Murray sends a ball back in towards Peter O’Mahony (green circle) who is brought to ground by Mako Vunipola (red circle). The powerful loosehead prop shows tremendous line speed (a sign of things to come) to bring the Munster captain to the ground as Ireland conceded about 5m in territory.

England Ireland Six Nations

It’s important to note here that losing ground in this manner isn’t the end of the world. The sole purpose of this phase from Ireland is to generate a better angle for Murray to clear Ireland’s lines – which he does by sending a kick into touch just inside Ireland’s 10m line.

It is from here that we get a good sense of just how well prepared England were for the opening moments of this game.

England form the lineout almost immediately and the television footage doesn’t show Jamie George receiving a call from one his forwards – they already know what they’re going to do.

The Irish defensive line is barely set before George throws over the top to an onrushing Manu Tuilagi and it’s from the next seven phases that we see the framework for England’s attack throughout the rest of the match.

Source: Virgin Media 

Tuilagi thunders into contact as Josh van der Flier brings him to ground but already England are on the front foot and generating momentum.

Phase 1

The first phase after the lineout move really emphasises the variation and off-the-cuff decisions which were evident in England’s attack.

Ben Youngs (red circle) initially turns his shoulders to the open side of the pitch until Farrell (white circle), who you can clearly hear on the referee’s microphone, roars at Youngs to switch the direction of the attack back inside.

As you can see from the image below, Ireland’s defensive line (green) on the open side of the pitch gets off the line quickly as they are expecting Youngs to pass the ball towards Mako Vunipola (purple) who is running a line and more importantly is animated, his hands are out in front to expect the pass.

Ireland England Six Nations

Instead, Farrell receives the ball as he cuts back in against the grain where Jonny May (blue circle) has come in off his wing to run a hard, inside line.

It’s a good example of Farrell (white circle) playing what’s in front of him because on the far side of the ruck, it’s Devin Toner (2) and Tadhg Furlong (3) as the closest defenders.

Ireland England Six Nations

Farrell will be confident that May (blue circle) will be able to target those players and make ground which is exactly what happens. There is also a clever role here from Billy Vunipola (1). Once he realises the ball is going back against the grain, he slightly impedes van der Flier (red scrum cap) which gives May extra space to run into.

Source: Virgin Media

Now that England have entered Ireland’s 22. They revert to a more one-dimensional but very effective approach.

Phase 2

The next phase sees a one-out runner carry in Kyle Sinckler who just about evades the challenge of CJ Stander who shoots out of the line before he is firmly put to ground by Cian Healy.

Source: Virgin Media 

Phase 3

Still in the 22, Youngs then sends the ball to Farrell (white circle).

Bundee Aki (green circle) shoots out of the line to meet the Saracens man but he lays off a simple pop pass to Tuilagi (red arrow) who is coming at pace.

Ireland England Six Nations

The powerful centre eyes up Garry Ringrose and with a 17kg difference between the two players, there’s only going to be one winner.

Phase 4

Tuilagi is bravely brought down by Ringrose and then Aki who comes in to support but with some forward momentum generated, the ball is shipped to Tom Curry who is coming around the corner at pace.

Looking up, Curry spots Sexton and he gives it everything as he comes into contact with the World Player of the Year.

Thankfully, from an Irish perspective, Rory Best takes Curry around the waist as Sexton goes high, bringing the 20-year-old down swiftly.

Source: Virgin Media

Phase 5

Next up, it’s Sinckler again and this time he shows great footwork as he steps off his left, gets low and powers through a small gap between Stander and James Ryan.

Source: Virgin Media 

Phase 6

For the previous phases, England have been getting over the gain line and creeping ever deeper into Ireland’s 22. On the next phase, Ireland finally get a bit of respite when a bit of hesitation from Youngs sees him pass to Jack Nowell who really isn’t in a position to make a dominant carry.

Source: Virgin Media 

Ireland manage to hold him up before he goes to deck and the ruck is formed. The time it takes for this to happen allows the home side to get their defensive line set for what is about to come which is a carry from Billy Vunipola.

Phase 7

Initially, it seems that Ireland have dealt with Vunipola’s carry well.

Aki stops Vunipola in his tracks by tackling him around the waist and initially, it looks like Toner is attempting to rip the ball from his hands but drops this tactic to get back around into the defensive line.

This allows the England number eight to get his hands free to dish out an offload to Youngs – and this is where Joe Schmidt’s side find themselves in real trouble.

Source: Virgin Media 

May will go over in the corner but defence coach Andy Farrell will be very disappointed with how they allowed their opponents this opportunity.

As Youngs (white circle) receives the ball from Vunipola and shapes to pass to Farrell (1), we can see how both teams number up.

Ireland England Six Nations

It’s clear that in this situation, if Ireland simply ‘number up’, England should find it difficult to go in for a try here.

Even inside Cian Healy (1), you have Toner and Ryan who could drift across to add extra reinforcements but two things happen here which leads to England’s try.

Firstly, Earls (4) shoots up to target Tuilagi (3).

Now, in Earls’ mind, he’s probably thinking that he needs to cut off space for the long pass. By shooting up he can deny Daly (4) and May (5) from getting the ball.

He’s also probably thinking that Tuilagi is the likely target for the final pass especially considering how England used him twice to very good effect up until this point (phase three and the lineout move).

However, what he doesn’t account for and what is the second aspect of this try occurring, is the fact the Farrell has a world-class pass in his locker and he does exactly that as he zips a low, fizzing pass to Daly, completely cutting out Earls.

The Munster winger probably would have thought initially that the only way for Farrell to get the ball out to the touchline would be by floating a high ball which would give him the time to turn and deal with the situation.

Ireland England Six Nations

Unfortunately for Ireland, the pass finds Daly (4) and England are left with a simple 2v1 situation. Daly runs hard at Henshaw (5), committing him to the tackle before offloading to May (5), who crashes over in the corner despite the best efforts of the covering Ringrose (2).

Source: Virgin Media 

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Conclusion

To sum up, Ireland were shell shocked by what occurred in the opening 90 seconds of this match.

In all the phases leading up to May’s try, there was only one clear occasion where Ireland won a collision – when Nowell carried into contact.

That is what will be of most concern for the coaching staff, that the players lost out in the physicality stakes so early in the match.

To give credit to Schmidt’s side, they improved defensively as the game wore on – two of England’s subsequent tries were due to individual errors.

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For Eddie Jones’ men and Engish supporters, they can be very excited about this performance.

In the passage of play above, there were many different aspects to be pleased about. From getting over the gain line time and time again to Owen Farrell dictating proceedings by calling plays in the middle of the action and to England cleverly using their superior size to their advantage by targetting mismatches.

England varied their attack in this 90 second period and Ireland had no answer to it. Furthermore, for the rest of the game, they showed they have more than brute size in their locker as they targetted Ireland’s backfield with some superb kicking.

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About Sean McMahon

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