jonny may penaud
England’s victory against Ireland must be the most significant win we’ve seen at Twickenham in a decade.

I knew it would be closer than most people seemed to predict, even if I didn’t necessarily think England would win; just that it wouldn’t be a one-sided affair. That’s the nature of these backs-against-the-wall encounters, except that England played as if the shackles had been taken off them.

I’d watched Italy beat Scotland on the television at Twickenham earlier in the day, and it set things up nicely for another upset. You could almost feel it in the air.

Speaking to George Ford after the game, we discussed England’s speed of ball. It was so quick. A lot of things need to happen for you to be able to produce that, such as aggressive carrying, effective clearouts, playing flat. We saw all those things against Ireland. `The weather was nice too, which always helps.

It looked like England had more options of people wanting to carry aggressively. That creates speed of ball and it allowed the boys to stay on top of Ireland. When the team has been criticised in the past for kicking, it’s not simply a case of them being told to kick the ball: that’s an informed decision based on momentum (or lack thereof). If you’re going backwards or getting slow ball for two phases, and your chance of scoring looks to be reduced - while your chance of getting turned over is increased - more often than not you’re going to want to kick the ball.

We hark back to the emotional element of England’s performance. You can’t underestimate its value, but neither can you bottle it or produce it on a whim. England in front of their home crowd following a hard defeat to Scotland, stung by the criticism that was coming at them from all quarters. How do Ireland compete with that? It’s not that the Irish boys weren’t up for it either - they just didn’t have a direct line to that well of motivational energy that adversity can produce. 

That’s why it’s so hard being the best team in this Championship. Ireland are the undoubted favourites, which means everybody is going to want to play their best against them.

The yellow card for Peter O’Mahony came at a critical time and swung things a bit. Ireland were rattled, which you could see in the way they were challenging the referee. They’re simply not used to those calls going against them. Because they’re such a good team at the moment, things tend to go their way, but here were 50/50 calls going against them. 

Everybody would say England were the better team on the day, including people from other nations. England have won a lot of respect for that result, which is fully deserved.

Playing away against France always captured my imagination. When you play them there the game tends to be faster and freer. The game in France has a unique charisma and culture, so a trip there always excited me. Especially for a wing, you’ve got the nuts and bolts of your role to fulfil, but you always got the feeling the game would be more open. It’s that famous joué spirit.

One of my favourite England memories was playing against France in 2019, when I scored a hat-trick within the first 30 minutes of play. Two tries were from kick-throughs, but off the back of getting on top of France through our speed of ball. That was a great day. Funnily enough, we’d actually also beaten Ireland well the week before, and I’d managed to score in the second minute.

I would love to see England go to Lyon and finish on a high this weekend. I believe they will. Elsewhere you’ve got an under-the-pump Scotland coming up against an Ireland team looking not just for a response, but the Championship title. I can’t see anything other than a green victory there. Then there’s Wales v Italy. That’s a difficult one to predict, but I think Wales are going to win in what should be another close game.

It’s going to be a brilliant finale to this year’s Championship.