Eddie Jones feels chill of the fans after uncomfortable defeat by Ireland

England’s sobering display leaves coach with boos ringing in his ears after Irish claim grand slam in style on St Patrick’s Day

It was suffering weather. The kind of cold that makes you pull down your hat and stamp the ground, shuffle your feet and clench your teeth – fitting conditions, then, for an England team struggling through three defeats in a row.

This latest, the first at home since Eddie Jones took over, stung like Saturday’s wind. It has been a long winter for England and there is not a hint of spring yet. There were certainly no green shoots to be seen at Twickenham, just green shirts – in front, on top, either side, and all around – Irishmen every last where you looked.

The scoreline, 24-15, was ugly enough but it still flattered Jones’s side, who forced their way into the game only once it was all but over, their last try a late gloss on a game in which they had been entirely out-played. “These things are sent to test you,” Jones said afterwards, “to test your resolve, to test your purpose, to test the character of your team.” He was talking about the defeat but he seemed about 80 minutes late.

The real test of his team’s resolve, purpose and character started when the referee blew the first whistle, not the final one. And England failed it.

Earlier in the week Jones spoke about how much he loved pressure. “It’s the best time in rugby, when you are under the pump and you have got to produce it.”

He believes you should leave those little loose stones in your shoes. “Players like to get comfortable,” he said last year.

“They like to have a nice house, drive a Range Rover, like to do the same thing every day in training. To get them to have the courage to try to be different is the biggest trick. Encouraging them to do that consistently, to be different, don’t be comfortable, be uncomfortable.”

Jones has spent the past two years pushing this team to be uncomfortable. He thinks the 4x4 in the driveway is the modern sportsman’s pram in the hall.

Maro Itoje shouts instructions to his England team-mates. Photograph: MB Media/Getty Images

He flogs them physically – and sometimes mentally, too – to prepare them for games such as this one, a real bed-of-nails Test match.

England had everything to prove, everything to play for, back home after back-to-back defeats, in a grand-slam match against an Irish side who have just overtaken them in the world rankings and one who robbed them, of course, of their own shot at the slam when they beat them in Dublin this time last year. On top of all this it was St Patrick’s day, too.

It was a sobering one, as it turned out, for the English at least. They were blown away by an Irish side that were sharper, stronger and smarter. England kept coming, just as they did against France last week and Scotland before that, but again all that effort did not get them anywhere. Jones praised their spirit. But, to be honest, there was not a lot else he could pick out.

The tone was set in the opening minutes, when Dylan Hartley and Kyle Sinckler both came at the Irish, charging hard heads down, and both were bounced back on their behinds. The Irish would not be bullied, did not bend or bow – and for most of the match England did not know where else to go.

Ireland took control when Garry Ringrose pounced on a loose ball after Anthony Watson had fumbled a catch under a high kick from Johnny Sexton.

Perhaps there was a hint of a knock-on from Rob Kearney, as he was challenging Watson for the ball, but not enough to sway the TMO.

Seven points down, England decided to kick a penalty to the corner soon afterwards, squandering a shot at goal that they really could not afford to spare.

The next time they had to make a similar decision the deficit had been doubled. They were 14-0 down after their defence had been unstitched by CJ Stander after Sexton’s dummy wrap-around.

England kicked four penalties to the corner, to try to push their way over.

The last attempt was when Ireland were down to 14 men, after Peter O’Mahony had been sent to the sin-bin. But they still could not do it. They were as enthusiastic as they were ineffective.

This was in sharp contrast with the rapier finishing of Jacob Stockdale, who settled the game when he chased down his own chip, grounding it just before he slid over the deadball line.

Jones had only just had that line moved back, because his team wanted more space in which to play. “When you’re having a bad run,” he said, “everything goes wrong.”

After the game Jones was booed by the Twickenham crowd during his post-match interview.

“Our effort was outstanding. We played with character and we stuck at it,” Jones said, “and we just weren’t good enough.”

The World Cup is 18 months away. His words were cold comfort on a chilling day.


Andy Bull at Twickenham

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