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Off Days Happen, What Matters For Ireland Is What Comes Next

Off Days Happen, What Matters For Ireland Is What Comes Next
By Michael McCarthy

Battered.

This is what the aftermath of Six Nations Saturdays used to feel like. It's been a while.

England were phenomenal from the opening kick off, setting the tone they promised all week. Ireland never seemed to get going. They played a warm-up game while England were at the full pelt of a test match. It wasn't good enough.

That said, but for a try inside the first three minutes, the bounce of a ball over Jacob Stockdale's head, and a clear forward pass that the referee confoundingly refused to check, Ireland are in the game, at least on the scoreboard.

But do Ireland fans need a reality check? No. This is still a team that can win a World Cup ("can", not "will", or even "should"). Off days happen for every team. The best teams have fewer than most. Ireland came up against one of the best teams in the world today and were caught cold. There is, as yet, nothing to suggest the team are trending downwards.

England have targeted this game since November. It was their entire Six Nations, Eddie Jones said as much. He picked a squad to beat Ireland, and he did just that. It was a coaching masterclass, and his players were superb in following the gameplan.

They hit the Irish line with a speed that made you certain they were offside. They weren't, usually. To do that for 80 minutes showed a rabid commitment to the cause that was astounding. Reactions throughout the game from Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and Johnny May showed how pumped up England were. They had the "nobody believes in us" attitude that still has its place in modern professional sport. This was everything for England and they showed up.

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For Ireland, the story is different. After an insanely good 2018, there was certainly going to be a determination to not let it slip, but that can be easier said than done. When you win a Grand Slam, a series Down Under, and beat New Zealand, there is a target on your back in every game. If you aren't at your very best, you will be exposed. Ireland were far from their best today.

Tactically, they were outthought, and on the field, there were lethargic and frankly poor performances from players like Murray, Earls, Sexton, Stander and Henshaw who are just much better than they displayed. In defence, the line speed didn't even nearly match England's. In attack, deep balls from a static position played into their opponents' hands. A poor kicking game cost them severely in possession and territory.

It's not unusual for Ireland to start the tournament poorly under Schmidt. Last year, we were blessed to get a win in Paris. A miracle drop goal disguised the worst Irish performance of 2018. They generally play their way into a season. The coach, in his final year, will not be happy with being tactically and physically outfought. It will be rectified.

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There will be the usual self hating articles in the coming days from the usual suspects. Ireland were never any good to begin with. They beat New Zealand in a friendly. England and Wales were in disarray last season. Now, here we are, in a World Cup year, and the big boys are here. It does the achievements of Joe Schmidt and his players a massive disservice.

2019 will require another step up, there is no doubt about that. But the inferiority complex in all of us always assumes it's only others that are holding back. Ireland have a lot more to show over the course of the next few weeks. Good players played poorly today. A world class coach was outperformed by another. Recovering is the true test now.

Motivation was an issue. England were rabid dogs. Ireland were comfortable champions. Today ends all that. This hurt brings back all the motivation needed. Murrayfield awaits.

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The long term consequences of today is that England are viable World Cup contenders. But so are Ireland. Still. An off day doesn't change that.

 

SEE ALSO: Watch: Joe Schmidt Reflects On The Most Disappointing Home Defeat Of His Reign

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