The build up surrounding England Rugby's trip to Dublin had been intense, for two weeks we had discussed the match ups, pondered on the strategies and come 3pm on Sunday 1st March expectations were high. Hearts across the country predicted an English win by 3, based on the character they showed on the road in Cardiff and the flair showcased in both of the opening fixtures it delivered high hopes of a fourth consecutive victory over Ireland. However after eighty minutes of rugby, those hopes were dashed, England were beaten and they were beaten well by an steely Irish side.
England's 'curse of the slow start' continued, Ireland enjoyed 95% of the possession in the first ten minutes and whilst this did even out as the half and indeed the game wore on, it had set the tone for proceedings. Ireland opening points were delivered by the master, Jonathan Sexton. For the 52 minutes that he was on the field of play, along with his half back partner Conor Murray, he dictated the game. The aerial bombardment that we expected was delivered and it was delivered with accuracy and intent. They say that lightning doesn't strike twice but in the case of Sexton and indeed Murray it will strike again and again, regardless of the opposition.
The breakdown was another area that Ireland excelled at, they were brutal masters of proceedings whether that be from O'Connell, O'Mahony or indeed any Irish forward. England's set pieces, the ones that were so sturdy against Italy and Wales were meddled with, lineouts were disrupted and scrum time was not the source of positivity that it has been.
It has to be said that England did not lack for brawn, work rate or physicality. English tanks were emptied, Billy Vunipola in particular worked himself until he had nothing left to give and the same could be said for a number of his colleagues. Across the board English bodies put on the line however critically they were masters of their own undoing with 13 penalties given away to Ireland's 8. The kick chase, some important against the Irish didn't quite cut it and that is a disappointment. There were positives, Jack Nowell looked more secure on the wing than the man he replaced, his eyes were bright and he was hungry for work. Mike Brown was always going to be a huge loss to the side however Alex Goode, in spite of being out elevated at a critical moment by Henshaw did do exactly what was asked for me, provide a secure presence and like Nowell looked for work.
In the aftermath there will be a number of questions being spoken about, none more so than whether or not the man wearing the 22 shirt should have taken to the field? Would he have made a difference, well frankly we will never know. Now England will return to Twickenham, hurting both physically and mentally. The Grand Slam has again eluded them and in spite of the fact that Stuart Lancaster's side were well beaten in Dublin, one defeat does not make them a bad team. For sure, it makes them a team with areas to develop and work on however it should not throw everything into turmoil.
On 1st March 2015, Ireland had all the answers and the questions that England asked of them weren't taxing enough. It will be a long road home, they'll stew on this game, on their individual performances and they will learn from it.