Rugby Lineout and defensive malfunctions key to Ireland’s dismal day

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England 57 Ireland 15

True, it was the first hit out of the season for all but three of the side. They were in warm-weather training in Portugal until Thursday, aiming to peak for four weeks from now. They also faced an English side match-hardened by two games against Wales and in Twickenham. But this was more than a little humiliating and potentially very damaging.

It has undermined confidence regarding the squad both within, now, as well as outside, with specific malfunctions that are liable to be felt for some time. It has also raised serious questions about selection.   

Aside from rustiness and the lack of match hardness, nothing undermined Ireland’s dismal performance more than their malfunctioning lineout and defence, witness half a dozen lost throws and a scarcely believable 34 missed tackles.

With the Saracens spine in the pack, England have a wonderful defensive lineout and had clearly done their homework better too, perhaps drawing on the experiences of the last Lions tour given so many of the key protagonists here were in New Zealand.

Evidently looking to distract Rory Best, England threw up either George Kruis or Maro Itoje at the front, and held them up for an age, with the other of the two Saracens locks then going after the ensuing throw, to the middle or the tail.

Itoje picked off throws intended for Henderson and O’Mahony outside the English 22, thus twice denying Ireland their attacking lifeblood. Two more led to 14 utterly deflating points either side of the break.

Kruis snaffled a throw intended for Henderson on a defensive lineout which led to England’s third try before half-time and a soft fourth followed for Itoje after Best’s throw beat Henderson’s outstretched fingers.

As is invariably the case, it was a collective Irish failing, with general sluggishness, questionable calls and timings, and it’s one of the toughest skills on a rugby pitch, but many of Rory Best’s throws were off their intended mark.

Devin Toner’s importance to the lineout is usually highlighted in his absence, and Best will take the rap for Saturday’s implosion. That said, two more were lost after the skipper was replaced by Sean Cronin, and the latter had Toner to hit too.

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