The meeting of Europe’s best sides according to the World Rugby rankings, and the Six Nations table, was supposed to showcase the finest elements of northern hemisphere rugby and produce a shock wave strong enough to be felt on the other side of the globe by their main rivals for the sport’s biggest prize later this year.
But only one side appeared to read the script with Ireland claiming a tactical triumph and a fully deserved 19-9 victory thanks to an impressive display that kept them on course for back-to-back titles and also propelled them past England and back into third place in the world rankings.
It may not have been easy on the eye with the ball seeing plenty of air time but don’t be fooled into thinking that such an approach stems from a lack of tactical acumen.
The truth is far from that with Joe Schmidt’s side having notched a record-equalling 10th win in-a-row – matching Ireland’s run under Eddie O’Sullivan between 2002-03 – thanks to a brutal desire at the breakdown and a deliberate kicking-heavy policy executed superbly in the heat of battle.
A modest Schmidt is quick to stress that this current Ireland side is largely player-driven and it helps when you have players with the kind of skill and vision boasted by scrum-half Conor Murray.
Fly-half Jonathan Sexton may hog the limelight – and perhaps quite rightly as arguably the world’s best in his position – but Murray is no mere support player as he showed in Dublin with an outstanding display including the key moment in the Aviva Stadium showdown.
Ireland had the lead but not the game shortly after the re-start and were turning the screw inside the England 22. Events continued to unfold at breakneck speed and as bodies flew in all directions, Murray found a moment of crystal clear clarity to alert team-mate Robbie Henshaw of his intent to chip ahead before delivering an inch-perfect kick that led to the game-defining try.
It was just one example of a precise kicking game that offered Irish runners ample time to contest the ball and apply pressure while denying England time and space to exploit any turnover they were ale to conjure.
In contrast, a lack of care and attention contributed largely to England’s downfall.
A game that was tipped to be a close contest was proving just so with only three points separating the sides midway through the first half.
Fuelled by the belief that came with their victories over Wales in Cardiff and most recently against a stubborn Italy side at Twickenham, England captain Chris Robshaw opted to kick what would have been a relatively easy three points to the corner for a lineout.
The game had offered precious little breathing room to that point such was the ferocity of the rush defence and kick chase and maybe that played its part in Robshaw’s rather hasty thought process.
Had he been able to grab just a moment’s clear thinking maybe he would have remembered where he was and who his side were playing.
Three points against a side that had conceded just one try in its first two Six Nations clashes should not have been passed up so readily and given the decision again he would surely opt for the sticks.
Rest assured that the should Robshaw be handed a similar decision in the future he will not spurn the chance to keep the scoreboard ticking over – with the stern words from Lancaster, that are sure to follow this game, set to ring in his ears for some time to come.
It was a gamble that failed to pay off as towering Ireland lock Devin Toner plucked the ball out of the air stealing with it priceless momentum that the hosts would not relinquish.
England’s willingness to roll the dice at that moment in the game was all the more puzzling having chosen not to do so as the game slipped away from them.
As the brutal intensity of the breakdown battle started to take its toll and breathing space appeared where previously there had been none, the game was crying out for a player who could perhaps exploit it – namely Danny Cipriani.
But England coach Stuart Lancaster chose to stick with first choice playmaker George Ford for the duration having provided much of what little spark his side could muster.
A lack of experience proved costly for England and continues to haunt Lancaster who will be painfully aware that his side remain some way from world beaters.
It has been a case of two steps forward, one step back. The question is whether they can make sufficient strides in the coming months and find the mental strength that will be pivotal for a successful assault on the World Cup. Unfortunately, time suddenly does not seem to be on their side.
Perhaps more alarming for the southern hemisphere giants is that there is also more to come from Ireland.
Schmidt has instilled belief into a talent heavy squad and his tactical prowess threatens to propel them to unprecedented heights.
To see how Ireland go about dominating the breakdown, check out this link to Murray Kinsella’s recent analysis of the Irish at this game defining aspect of play.