Ireland captain Johnny Sexton felt like he was living through Groundhog Day as his side went down to an impressive England display at Twickenham.
A strong first-half showing set the platform for the hosts, as they led 17-0 at the break and eventually won 24-12 to end Ireland’s 100 per cent start to the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.
Astute kicking from hand limited Ireland’s possession and territory in the first 40 minutes, with both of England’s first-half tries coming from kicks through – George Ford and then Elliot Daly the men to capitalise on defensive indecision.
And for Sexton, that was frustratingly similar to 12 months ago, when England won 32-20 in Dublin – the first home Championship defeat of Joe Schmidt’s tenure as Ireland coach – thanks in part to Daly and Henry Slade dotting down from kicks through, with Slade also grabbing an interception try.
“It was very, very similar game-wise to last year,” mused Sexton. “Last year they had a chip through that they got a score off and then that score off a first phase that we would never normally concede – it was like being stuck in the same game!
“At times, when the space was wide, we tried to get the ball there but they shut us down well. We didn’t play well enough to get the ball to where the space was and then we’re going backwards – that’s where we need to be better.
“We need to make sure we’re not overplaying the ball but we overplayed at times here.”
After trailing 17-0 at half-time, Ireland did stem the tide in the second half but it wasn’t enough to salvage new coach Andy Farrell’s winning start to life in the role.
Victory would have seen the visitors seal the Triple Crown – as well as keeping them on course for a Grand Slam – and Farrell took personal responsibility for the defeat.
“The first half in general probably disappointed me most,” said the coach. “We were coming here to win the Triple Crown and they [England] were fighting to stay in the Championship.
“The reality is they came out of blocks hard, got on the front foot and we took a few punches from them.
“I need to look at myself for that – were they up for it more than us? That’s my responsibility to make sure that shouldn’t happen. I’ve got to look at myself first and foremost.
“I asked players at half-time to have some proper belief because you get to be at your best when you’re rolling forward and winning collisions et cetera. But we came off second best for large periods of that first half.”