Mike Brown

With less than a fortnight to go before the 2015 Rugby World Cup begins, the importance of each warm up game dramatically increases.  Both England and Ireland suffered setbacks at the hands of lesser ranked teams recently, Ireland against a strong Welsh team and England against an immensely powerful French side.  Both teams would have been desperate to revive their warm up campaigns, and it was a dominant England side that managed to do so.

Lead by a seemingly revived forward pack England set about winning the game displaying the kind of immense pressure that we had become accustomed to in the last few years.  A true captain leads by example, and Chris Robshaw did exactly that, heading the tackle count and running destructive lines in the loose.  Back row partner Tom Wood had strong competition for the man of the match honours from the likes of Jonny May and Mike Brown however his tireless efforts at the breakdown and workmanlike tackling earned him the bragging rights and were second only to his captain.  Wood’s efforts were typical of an English pack much different to the one that failed to turn up in Paris.  With their lineout troubles largely (not entirely) rectified the English forwards created a platform on which George Ford’s backline could flourish.  With tries from both wings it seems that England’s most potent attacking threat comes at the hands of Jonny May’s blistering pace and sharp finishing, and Anthony Watson’s unpredictable footwork and immense skill under the high ball.  Indeed Jack Nowell will have been watching on in dismay as England’s outside backs produced a near perfect display in both attack and defence.  Perhaps more impressive though was the control and composure displayed by half backs Ben Youngs and George Ford.  Up against a most formidable Irish midfield England’s halfbacks produced a stellar performance to lead England to victory.  Youngs’ beautifully delayed pass allowed May the space to finish in the corner, while Ford’s perfectly weighted kick allowed Anthony Watson to soar above Dave Kearney’s outstretched arms and tap down in a beautifully constructed move between the Bath pairing.  It was this flair and confidence that England so lacked in Paris and it is this flair and confidence that will allow Stuart Lancaster to breathe a brief sigh of relief, a luxury Joe Schmidt cannot enjoy.

It has been a poor few weeks for Schmidt and his team as they lose their spot behind New Zealand in the world rankings.  With less than two weeks to go South African born Schmidt will hope that his team can turn their poor form around by the time they face a France team coming to them off the back of victories against Scotland and England.  Despite losing Schmidt will be pleased at the way his team rallied to comeback in the second half.  The introduction of Ian Madigan brought a flair and pace to the Irish game that was not present in the first half.  Dave Kearney was a thorn in England’s side throughout while Sean O Brien tackled courageously in typical fashion as Ireland battled back to 15-13 at one point in a tense encounter.  Despite being on top for much of the second half however Ireland could not break the English defence, but for a forward move culminating in a try for veteran captain Paul O Connell.  Though encouraging, Schmidt will worry that Ireland could not turn their dominance into points the way their opponents did in the earlier stages of the game.  It was this deadliness that proved the difference between the two teams, despite England having a try disallowed due to an unfortunate Tom Youngs forward pass.  England’s ability to finish off their opportunities will please Stuart Lancaster however Ireland’s failings in this department were exemplified when Ireland broke from their own half and a forward pass from inside centre Robbie Henshaw prevented them a golden opportunity to claw their way back into the game.  These misgivings will worry Joe Schmidt and his team as they come all too close to the competitions beginning.  Perhaps Ireland lack the discipline and composure to win when the odds are against them, perhaps Schmidt’s side are concentrating more on the real competition, than the warm up matches.  Who can say what the next month has in store, it will be interesting to find out.