England signalled their Rugby World Cup intentions by hammering Ireland 57-15 at Twickenham in their third warm-up game ahead of the global showpiece in Japan.
Tries from Joe Cokanasiga (2), Elliot Daly, Manu Tuilagi, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Tom Curry and Luke Cowan-Dickie proved that Eddie Jones’ men will be genuine contenders this autumn.
For Ireland, Jordan Larmour and Bundee Aki touched down, but the Men in Green were simply vulnerable everywhere in attack and defence.
Here are the key talking points from a one-sided contest.
ENGLAND BACK TO THEIR BEST
After last week’s defeat to Wales, England controlled everything from the efficiency at the breakdown, tight defence, excellent continuity play, quick line speed, detail around the set-piece and general commitment to the contest.
All the ingredients for a positive performance were on show at Twickenham.
To underline the solidity of England’s defence in the first, in particular, they only missed three out of 63 tackles in comparison to Ireland’s shocking 21 missed tackles from 65.
In the second half, as the players tired out due to the soaring London heat, England missed 13 out of their 43 tackles but continued to push Ireland on the score board.
In total, the Red Rose dominated possession, territory, rucks won, conceded less turnovers and enjoyed more clean breaks and defenders beaten.
It will take a tough and fearless side to beat Jones’ men.
STAR MAN TUILAGI
The England centre was an inspiration for the home side and the most dangerous runner on the park.
Tuilagi got on the scoresheet just before half-time, turning on the power setting to burst over for a try.
He made a stunning 56 metres from 11 runs, with one clean break, seven defenders beaten and even one offload.
Defensively he also did a job with seven tackles made and none missed.
If the 28-year-old can stay injury free, he will be one of Jones’ pivotal figures in Japan.
Special mention must go to Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Cokanasiga and Billy Vunipola who were also top class.
CONTRASTING SET PIECES
Ireland struggled at set-piece and their line-out, in particular, was a complete shambles, losing six of their 15. In contrast, England enjoyed a 100 per cent record at scrum (8/8) and line-out time (15/15).
It was off the set-piece that England looked sharp as they initiated some formidable attacking opportunities, and for all their possession and territory, they made Ireland suffer whenever they stretched the ball out wide.
The line-out did improve once Sean Cronin was introduced for captain Rory Best. At that stage Ireland had lost four out of their eight throws, and once the Leinster man came in, they won five from seven.
Ireland are simply not good enough without a rock-solid set piece.
IRELAND LACK KILLER INSTINCT
The Men in Green weren’t able to hold on to possession, missed tackles and gave away easy turnovers.
They couldn’t string together some precise phases, made bad reads in defence, and, similar to February’s comprehensive Six Nations defeat, they were bullied across the park.
It bodes the question about selection and, even though these are just warm-up games, Jack Conan needs to start ahead of CJ Stander at No8.
The Leinster man has been flawless for his province, while Stander was non-existent against England and has been poor form for the majority of this calendar year.
At lock, Jean Kleyn’s stock certainly dropped after his promising debut performance against Italy two weeks ago. If it is a shoot-out on selection between Kleyn and Tadhg Beirne, then Schmidt needs to opt for the latter because of his versatility and overall impact.
For a side that needs to start with a bang in Japan, Ireland need to improve vastly against Wales next week.
INJURIES TO KEY MEN
The danger with the warm-up matches is the risk of key man picking up injuries.
Bar Mako Vunipola coming off with a hamstring injury late on, England escaped their third warm-up match injury free, while Ireland were robbed of two stars today.
Conor Murray sustained a head injury while tackling Jonny May on 32 minutes and was replaced by Luke McGrath.
The Munster man did look fine when the camera panned to the stands during the second half, but it was Cian Healy’s injury which looked more severe.
The Irish prop was in serious pain but chose to walk off the field with his right ankle in clear discomfort.
Hopefully it’s something minor and he’s not ruled out of the World Cup.
With Australia’s first match in the Rugby World Cup just four weeks away, we take a look at star players who will be key to their Webb Ellis trophy prospects in Japan.
DAVID POCOCK (31)
The Waratahs icon is only just back from a calf injury, but looks primed to take the No8 shirt in Japan.
The 31-year-old has been instrumental for his country over the years with his strong tackling, solid carrying and smoking footwork all serious threats.
A high-class operator at the breakdown, Pocock will be looking to shine in what is likely to be his World Cup swansong.
MICHAEL HOOPER (27)
One of the best players in the Southern Hemisphere, Hooper could step into any team with little fuss.
It’s hard to believe he’s still only 27 – and his ability to win his own ball and produce magic with every touch has seen him evolve into one of the game’s most-influential figures.
If the Aussies go well, expect the Waratahs man to light up their campaign.
The Wallabies scrum was a massive strength at times during the Rugby Championship and will be key against the likes of Wales and Georgia in the World Cup.
Scott Sio and Alan Alaalatoa were major parts of the Wallabies’ granite-like defence in Perth two weeks ago, with the latter in particular, shining with his strong carries.
That’s not to forget Taniela Tupou, Sekope Kepu and hookers Tolu Latu, Folau Fainga’a, Tatafu Polota-Nau, all of whom will be battling to play starring roles if the Wallabies are to push on and reach the last eight.
SAMU KEREVI (25)
Fijian-born Kerevi is part of a dominant Wallabies back-line that can attack from any position.
The 25-year-old can orchestrate the game from first centre and, with Reece Hodge and James O’Connor likely to be outside him, can upset the tempo of any opposition if presented with quality balls.
Solid in the tackle and always a threat going forward, the Queensland Reds man will be a major force for Cheika’s side.
MARIKA KOROIBETE (27)
One of the stand-out stars in the win over the All Blacks, Koroibete has been a colossus for the Wallabies.
With eight tries in 23 appearances, the Melbourne Rebels winger is a totemic presence who has a knack for catching opposition attackers behind the gain line and, coupled with his strong offloading ability, is a superb asset to any starting line-up.
The former NRL star also has the edge in the physical and defensive battle against his rivals.
Warren Gatland says Wales will not get carried away after replacing New Zealand as World Rugby’s top-ranked nation.
Wales’ 13-6 World Cup warm-up victory over England in Cardiff saw them end the All Blacks’ 10-year unbroken rankings reign.
And their debut rise to the summit comes just 34 days before the World Cup kicks off in Japan.
But Wales head coach Gatland said: “It’s just a number, isn’t it.
“It is a nice accolade to have, but it is all about the next few months and backing that up by performing well in the World Cup, and we’ve a couple of games against Ireland to go as well.
“It’s nice for a day, but we won’t be shouting from the rooftops about it. We have got to keep things in perspective.
“Lots of journalists will be out there saying ‘this is a joke’ – probably Kiwi journalists more than anything! It’s just a number.
“We are not making a big fuss of it. We will keep it in our pocket and go from week to week.”
Fly-half Dan Biggar starred with an accomplished all-round display, converting wing George North’s 38th Wales try and kicking a penalty.
The performance answered recent criticism from former international JJ Williams, who claimed Wales would not win a World Cup with Biggar at 10.
“He (Biggar) was really good today,” Gatland added.
“I don’t know about that former Welsh player. Was he really old? Played in the 70s probably? Did he play over 50-odd years ago? Probably. That does explain a few things.”
England were slicker and more cohesive after the break, but Wales restricted them to a couple of George Ford penalties before a late Leigh Halfpenny penalty sealed victory.
Gatland said: “The players drove a lot this week, and you could tell they were on Test-match edge today.
“We showed some fantastic character and big cojones out there. That’s what these boys are about, they wear this jersey with pride.”
Gatland confirmed flanker James Davies suffered a head knock that forced him off midway through the first half, while Jake Ball and Aaron Wainwright had dead legs. Biggar had a stinger to his shoulder and a tight groin, and Gareth Davies a knock to his hip.
Full-back Liam Williams, meanwhile, experienced hamstring tightness during the warm-up and was withdrawn and replaced by Halfpenny.
“There is nothing serious as far as I am concerned at this stage, and all players will be medically assessed in the morning to see where we are at before we fly out (to a training camp in Turkey),” Gatland added.
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