Analysis: Tuilagi overpowers Ireland as England flex their muscles

The next time England run out at Twickenham they will hope to do so as world champions and, on this evidence, achieving that target is well within their capabilities.

The next time England run out at Twickenham they will hope to do so as world champions and, on this evidence, achieving that target is well within their capabilities.

Ireland will once again be their opponents that day, in Round Three of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, and they may arrive in London with a sense of trepidation.

This 57-15 win was a statement of intent, even if head coach Eddie Jones and captain Owen Farrell moved quickly to dismiss it as an insignificant warm-up. In the grander scheme, they are right of course.

England have bigger fish to fry down the line and, in the unrelenting pressure cooker that is a Rugby World Cup, there is no guarantee they will be able to be produce something quite so palatable.

Eight tries, 57 points and the satisfaction of denying Ireland the world number one ranking made this as perfect a day as they could have wished for and it’s left England fans already dreaming.

Jones’ side were full of vim and vigour, fresh ideas and unrelenting energy. Deep down, the Australian head coach will be delighted.

After years of injury hell, Manu Tuilagi’s restoration to international rugby is one of the feelgood stories of 2019.

Few sights are as quite as thrilling as the 17-stone centre blasting through midfielders like a gladiator on speed and, with 11 carries under his belt, he proved his durability in his first World Cup warm-up start.

Tuilagi returned a year ago but fully accelerated during the Guinness Six Nations, impressing as England finished second in the table.

But six months down the line, he looks in prime condition as he set up Elliot Daly’s try and then surged through a gap to score himself shortly after.

Here’s what Jones had to say about his Samoan-born wrecking ball after the game:

“He’s only 80 per cent fit and when he gets to 100 per cent he will be a handful. That’s the reality, it’s scary if you have to mark him.”

For much of the Guinness Six Nations, Tuilagi made inside centre his home alongside Exeter Chiefs’ Henry Slade. But with Slade currently sidelined, Jones pushed the Leicester Tigers ace out to No.13 and brought Owen Farrell into the middle. It worked a treat.

George Ford – a player who oozes class when at his best – dictated superb from fly-half, confidently stepping up to the defensive line before picking out his preferred runner with a series of fizzing passes.

Farrell – the captain and heartbeat of this side – relished the freedom that comes when not burdened by the creative pressure at fly-half. He complimented England’s attack, dovetailing with Ford to perfection.

As a secondary option, he kept Ireland’s defence guessing and his distribution was second to none.

With Tuilagi sucking in defenders, space was created out wide for speedsters Jonny May and Joe Cokanasiga. It was Ford and Farrell’s job to exploit it and they did time and again, although full-back Elliot Daly – stepping into midfield – delivered the killer pass for Cokanasiga’s first try out wide.

The Ford-Farrell axis is hardly a fresh tactic from England, rather a resurrected one. However, this was the first time Tuilagi was alongside them and his baulk, size and speed allowed it to flourish.

Add Slade into the mix when he returns to full fitness and the talented Piers Francis, and the midfield, an area that caused such concern and debate four years ago, might just be an area of strength in Japan.

Of course to beat Ireland, it takes as much grunt as it does flair and Maro Itoje was at the heart of England’s muscular display.

The lock was immense in the loose, spotting a gap and powering through it off the back of a ruck to score just his second Test try after the break.

At the lineout, he was equally as disruptive. Alongside Saracens teammate George Kruis, Itoje helped steal five Ireland line-outs – including disrupting one on Ireland’s own five-metre line which landed in the hands of the grateful Luke Cowan-Dickie, who then rumbled through to score.

However, a faultless Itoje performance is expected.

What the Twickenham crowd really wanted to see was how Tom Curry and Sam Underhill would dovetail in the back row. The answer? Impressively.

Dubbed the ‘Kamikaze Kids’ by Eddie Jones, the prospect of them lining up together in Japan is mouth-watering and Ireland struggled to handle it.

At the breakdown they were relentlessly physical, turning over ball and slowing it down. While in possession, they both made incisive, intelligent runs and off-loaded athletically.

But Jones will be most pleased by Curry’s superb try, as the pair combined mid-way through the second half to set up a simple run in for the Sale Shark.

Joe Schmidt and Rory Best both moved quickly to downplay the significance of the result before acknowledging the performance left a lot to be desired.

Slow in defence – a rare habit for an Andy Farrell-coached side – and loose in attack, cumulative problems across the board cost them as England repeatedly took advantage.

But there were glimmers of promise for Schmidt to take with him to Dublin, not least the excitement once again provided by Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale going forwards.

It was Stockdale’s chip that set up Larmour’s try, with the Leinster man charging forwards to pounce in the early stages.

Going the other way was another story as both struggled positionally, and Schmidt will hope there is a quick fix before they fly to Japan.

Jones has fewer issues to fix and that short list is headed by Mako Vunipola’s fitness after his return from injury was curtailed late on.

Both men will hope that when the two sides reconvene here in six months, they have a trophy to show off.