ireland at full time
The abuse and hate from the keyboard warriors rears its ugly head yet again.

In sport, as in life, you aren’t going to be at your best every day. Ireland went away to Twickenham, and despite having an off day, they still performed well enough to force England into the 81st minute to get a winning drop goal. It’s unfortunate that some people don’t appreciate that.

Having opinions on the players and their performances is one thing, but the hate and vitriol that has been directed at them after that match really highlights what a wild place the internet can be - and what it can do to people. Have we learnt nothing from Owen Farrell’s recent experience? He made the decision to step down as captain of his country, to protect himself and his family from the disgraceful abuse he was receiving.

The level of negativity and disrespect that’s come some of the players' way after a one-point loss at Twickenham is staggering. It’s crazy that some people get their kicks by spitting hate behind the safety of their screens, but it’s also very sad. I flip from feeling sad for the people who go online and behave that way, to feeling angry because there’s someone getting hurt off the back of it.

Players will say they can switch off from it all, but there’s a certain level of accessibility that’s impossible to avoid in an age when everybody’s on their phone. And it’s not just players themselves who are affected, but their families and friends who are often seeing all this. And for what? So this person can tell their friends about their tweet that got a few likes or comments. That’s a tough slog of a life.

Like most people who’ve played professional rugby, I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve experienced any negativity face to face. But I’d need a lot more than the two hands I have to count the amount I’ve had online. I'm guessing it makes them feel good - even if that feeling is ultimately followed by shame - to drag someone down when they’ve made a mistake.

I should say there’s nothing wrong with being opinionated and passionate about your team. I’ve sat in stands at games, and been one of those people so invested in what’s in front of them. That’s amazing, because it lets us live our dream as players. But in this new age of social media, there’s a serious line that’s been crossed. Actually, I don’t think we can even see the line any more. Kicking someone when they’re down, social media pile-ons - it’s mind-boggling and I wish it didn’t exist in our society.

If someone says they support Ireland, and yet they send abusive and hateful messages to the players, then I would suggest that they're part of a very pressing societal problem.

England deserved the win.​ In the cold light of day, it’s the easier thing to admit. Then you begin to unpack that in the hours and days after the final whistle and it probably becomes a bit harder to take. England were better; Ireland didn’t show what they usually show.

Andy Farrell will be reminding them of that this week. England turned up with a potent combination of energy, accuracy and attitude, which is exactly what they brought against South Africa at the World Cup. Chipping away at the scoreboard, taking their opportunities.

There was a particular moment that summed up the massive growth in England’s game. In the 47th minute, Ireland found themselves with five players on the blindside, defending against a single English player. England had the ability and calmness to take the opportunity and play to where the space was. In the past, England would have hit up, and by the time they’d done that, that phase would have gone. The small things are the big things.

England are appreciating the fine margins and how limited opportunities proper good international teams will give you, and they had other half-chances which, while not resulting in a try, were indicative of that awareness. When they started taking those, I realised things were starting to click for them.

There’s still a gap in quality between both squads, but on any given day, when England have players like Ben Earl giving world-class - or, dare I say it, career-defining - performances, they’re in with a chance. Ireland have been in situations where things have gone against them and they’ve found a way to win, but in this game they couldn’t because England were that good on the day.

I expect Ireland to be really, really good on Saturday.​ Coaches can sometimes respond to a loss by giving players more minutes on the field in training, or harder levels of contact if they lost a few collisions on the weekend. Faz won’t do that. He understands how to build the team back up after a tough defeat.

Ireland’s flow of attack has given Scotland a lot of problems in the past. It’s fair to say Scotland have a psychological hurdle to overcome when it comes to playing us. That’s based on evidence. Even going back to when they met in last year’s Championship, everything that could possibly go wrong for us did go wrong - we even had Josh van der Flier playing hooker at the lineout - but Ireland still ended up winning by two scores.

Finn Russell may have a Finn Russell-like special day, which would give Scotland a chance against anyone. But Scotland struggle with the flow of Ireland’s attack. Presumably they’ve learned from last year’s World Cup, because watching that game and their defence against Ireland, they looked like they were so scared of all the options Ireland were coming at them with. They just did a whole load of nothing; didn’t commit to one style of defence.

The gulf between the two sides isn’t enormous, and Scotland will get that elusive win against Ireland at some point, but this weekend in Dublin? When Ireland can win back-to-back Championships? I don’t think that will happen at all.